Understanding 2020/2021 GCSE grades and considerations for employers when hiring Apprentices

We have had a few calls from employers who are keen to take on apprentices with the increased government funding available but are unsure of the qualification criteria.

Indeed, in speaking to parents of school leavers over the last few weeks, we have found that parents felt that predicted grades of 4, 5's, 6 and 7 were not good enough to become an apprentice.  This is not the case! And we can see how it can be confusing.

It's been a couple of years since the new grades for GCSE changed from A-G to 9-1. Then through the pandemic, students were unable to take their GCSEs in 2020 and results were based on predicted grades. In 2021, pupils are graded on mini-tests, mock exams alongside coursework that teachers, but many factors will have affected pupils' results.

This year, 2021, pupils have had to learn online for the whole of Year 11 and 13. Graduates have worked in their dorms. Some pupils did not have access to laptops for a while.

Last year (2020) reported that *39% of grades were downgraded by as much as two full marks due to the algorithm applied. These downgrades appeared to have affected pupils from disadvantaged schools and colleges to a much higher level. Results were then quickly changed to teacher assessments based on coursework, which produced a higher pass result.

This year, the news is much more positive, with 77.1% of pupils receiving passes in UK. But of course, this means that just under 24% did not achieve a pass.

With the positive and negative news in the press. Some papers quoting inflated results, others the quoting how the system let pupils down.  It is entirely reasonable for an employer not just to take results into account when hiring, but look at school reports, a candidate's personality, work experience, references and other qualities

Employers need to consider the difficulties faced by pupils over the last few years, and even more so as a result of the pandemic.

Youth Employment UK clarifies that the grades awarded have equal status to grades in previous years and should be treated in the same way. Ofqual has provided clear guidance to all schools and colleges on assigning GCSE grades fairly and using the same grading methods.

Also, it is worth remembering that apprentices can be any age, so grades provided by candidates from previous years as A-G are still recognised.

If you are in the process or thinking about taking on an apprentice, you are on the right path to adding value to your business. You are doing something great, so if you see a candidate with some great skills but may not have the grades you're looking for, Apprenticeships were developed for this purpose. These talented young people want to work, so even if they may not have achieved a grade 4 or C in Maths and English, we can teach them functional skills equivalent as part of their Apprenticeship course at no extra cost.

Here is a quick table to help you with the new grade system


Old grades

New Grades










5 Strong Pass


4 Pass









A-Level and University Degrees continue to have the same grading system.

Remember, until the 31st of September, you can earn £3000 for taking on an apprentice and £4000 if the Apprentice is aged 16-18 or has a Local Authority Education and/or Health Plan.  For more details give us a call on 020 8989 9832 or contact us here

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13 Aug 2021