The characteristics and post-16 transitions of GCSE ‘lower attainers’

Sanne Velthuis, Ruth Lupton, Stephanie Thomson, Lorna Unwin

Research output: Working paper


In recent years, around two in five young people did not achieve a ‘good pass’ (grade A*-C or 9-4) in English and maths GCSE at age 16. Since 2014, those not achieving this level have had to continue studying English and maths until age 18, further increasing the salience of the C/4 grade in English and maths as an important benchmark of educational attainment, shaping future options.

Despite the importance of the GCSE benchmark, neither the characteristics of those who do not attain it, nor their experiences and wider learning trajectories during the 16-18 phase are currently well understood. To help address this gap, this working paper examines publicly available data on young people who do not meet this benchmark, referred to here as ‘lower attainers’. The research reported here is part of a wider project exploring the opportunities and constraints faced by those with lower GCSE attainment during the 16-18 phase, funded by the Nuffield Foundation. The analysis uses data on five recent cohorts of pupils
completing Key Stage 4: the 2012/13 cohort (who sat their GCSE exams in the summer of 2013) up to the 2016/17 cohort (who sat their GCSE exams in the summer of 2017).
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018

Bibliographical note

We are grateful to the Nuffield Foundation for their funding and support.


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