Key points to note are:

  • Entries in business and economics continue to rise in line with national trends. (table1)
  • Males make up substantially higher proportions of entries than females in both business and economics and these proportions have not changed significantly from 2017. (table1)
  • There has been unprecedented grade inflation in both business and economics, which is even greater than the national trend. (table 2)
  • Results in business for both males and females are now above average for the first time and those in economics have moved even further above the average for all subjects. (tables 2 and 3)
  • Females continue to perform better than males in both business and economics and the gap in performance between females and males increased between 2019 and 2020, particularly in business. (table 3)

Table 1: GCSE entries







Commentary  Entries in business and economics in 2020 show an almost identical pattern to those of the previous two years. Entries in both subjects have increased in line with the national trend. Business entries make up 1.7% and economics entries make up 0.1% of total GCSEs sat; proportions that have remained unchanged since 2017.  Fears that the emphasis on Ebac subjects and other performance measures might hit entries in business and economics have again failed to materialise. Entries from males and females in business and economics have both increased in line with national trends. Males now make up 59% of business entries and 68% of those in economics, almost identical to the 2019 proportions and not a great deal different from the 2017 statistics.

Table 2: GCSE results (Cumulative percentages)









Table 3: Results by gender (cumulative percentages; 2019 figures in brackets)








Statistics refer to all UK candidates (Source: Joint Council for Qualifications, provisional results September 2020)

Commentary The decision this year to use mainly centre-based assessments to determine grades resulted in unprecedented grade inflation across all subjects. However, the improvement in business and economics at A/7 and C/4 grades and above outstripped national increases by considerable margins.  Business results moved above the national figures for the first time and those in economics are now way above them, with almost 47% of entries graded A/7 and over 90% graded C/4 and above (table 2).

Females continue to achieve substantially better results than males in business and are above the national average for females. Results for males also moved above the national average for the first time.  The gap in performance between females and males increased between 2019 and 2020, particularly at the A/7 grade.  The gap in performance is similar to the average for all subjects.  In economics, females again achieved better results than males  but the gap is not as great as it is in business. Both females and males achieved substantially higher results in economics than the average for all subjects. (table 3)

Conclusions and areas for further investigation

Entries in business and economics continue to hold up well despite not being included in the Ebacc  or in some headline performance measures. However, the proportion of entries made up by females continues to be substantially below that of males in both subjects and there has not been any significant shift in this position in the past few years.  It is not immediately apparent why this is the case but it is a situation that is reflected at A level and continues through to degree courses. Why females find some other GCSE options preferable to business and economics and why males find these subjects more attractive are questions worthy of further exploration. Those females who do take business and economics do well and achieve above the average for all subjects, yet this does not appear to be encouraging a higher proportion of them to follow in their path.

It has been an extraordinary year in terms of results with students achieving their highest ever grades, despite receiving substantially less direct teaching than ever before. The results in business and economics have been even more remarkable than the national figures. Business results have always been below the average for all subjects but have now moved above them for the first time. Why might mainly centre-based assessment have benefitted business and economics more than other subjects?  Also, females appear to have have benefitted even more than males from centre-based assessment. Why might this be the case? Anecdotally it is suggested that females tend to work harder throughout the entire course and rely less than males on making a ‘last ditch’ effort just prior to the exams. EBEA members will no doubt have their own explanations of these trends if they are reflected in their own schools and colleges.

What are the implications of this unprecedented rise in examination results for future GCSE assessments?  Will grades for 2021 reflect those of 2020 or return to being similar to those of 2019?   Year 10 students have had their education disrupted by the pandemic and may continue to do so in Year 11. Ofqual has already set a later start for examinations in 2021 to allow some time for additional teaching. They have also said that students will not be penalised as a result of any further disruptions. Does this imply that more account will be taken of centre-based assessments even if and when examinations return? Unquestionably, some students have suffered more than others from the closure of schools and on-going changes to teaching arrangements. Some schools were much better geared up for on-line teaching and for remotely monitoring students’ progress. Socially advantaged students tend to have much better facilities for on-line learning and studying at home than those who come from more disadvantaged backgrounds.

Has the pandemic fundamentally shifted the way students will be taught in the future, even when its effects are no longer being felt? It is suggested that it has caused at least some schools and colleges to completely re-think the way their courses are delivered and how resources are used. It may well have caused teachers to think more deeply than ever before about what really needs to be taught in classrooms and what can be just as well (or perhaps better) delivered through other means. ‘Flip learning’ approaches, which appeared to be all the rage a few years ago, may well be given a new emphasis. Business and economics teachers are generally confident users of information technology and may well be in a much stronger position than many of their colleagues to play a leading role in these possible developments.

David Butler

Advocacy lead EBEA