The £200,000 'reward' for better GCSE grades

The £200,000 'reward' for better GCSE grades

July 8, 2021

The £200,000 ‘reward’ for better GCSE grades: Pupils who score one grade higher than their classmates can get ‘significantly’ higher wages across their career, research shows

  • They can expect to gain ‘significantly’ higher wages across their careers
  • The findings have established a link between attainment and lifetime earnings
  • DfE tracked more than two million young people over a 12-year period 

Teenagers who score one grade higher than their classmates across nine GCSE subjects are likely to earn up to £200,000 more in later life, research has found.

They can expect to gain ‘significantly’ higher wages across their careers.

The findings have established, for the first time, a link between attainment and lifetime earnings, said the Department for Education.

Statisticians and economists at the DfE tracked more than two million young people in England over a 12-year period.

They studied their GCSE grades between 2001/2 and 2004/5 as well as records from the Longitudinal Educational Outcomes dataset, which provides data on earnings.

Information from the UK Labour Force survey was used to predict salaries up to retirement age.

Teenagers who score one grade higher than their classmates across nine GCSE subjects are likely to earn up to £200,000 more in later life, research has found 

Researchers estimated that the average GCSE pupil would go on to earn £1.3million in their life. 

Those who achieved just a grade higher than their counterparts in one GCSE subject saw an increase in lifetime earnings by an average of £23,000.

Across nine subjects, the figure rose to £207,000.

In maths, double science, English, geography, history and English literature – for both sexes – the biggest impact involved moving from a grade D to C, or a C to B.

For boys, rising from a C to B in maths was equivalent to a boost in lifetime earnings of over £30,000. 

There was also an impact moving up from a B to A and A to A* in subjects such as double science, maths, geography and history.

But girls saw little difference in salary boost by improving their top grades. In English, moving from an A to A* actually led to a £10,000 drop in lifetime earnings.

GCSEs are now graded from nine to one. Grade nine is the highest, set above the previous A*.

Schools standards minister Nick Gibb said: ‘We are taught from a young age to do well at school to better our life chances, and today we see tangible, robust evidence to support this… this data shows how small improvements to grades can have a huge overall impact on people’s lives.’

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said usually a third of 16-year-olds do not achieve at least a grade 4 GCSE – a standard pass – in the gateway subjects of maths and English.

He said: ‘This is baked into the system. If we persist with this approach there will always be a ‘forgotten third’ who are likely to fare less well in life than other children. It is a key feature of the cycle of disadvantage which continues to blight our society.

‘GCSEs are a well-recognised qualification, but there is surely an overwhelming case to rethink… how they are graded so that the system works in a better way for all our young people.’

Teachers in England are assessing GCSE pupils this summer using coursework, mock exams, school tests and ‘mini-assessments’ provided by exam boards following the cancellation of exams due to the pandemic.

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