The number of contested GCSE and A-level results increased in the year when grading returned to pre-pandemic levels in England, figures show.

Data by England’s exams regulator Ofqual shows 2,570 GCSE, AS and A-level grades were challenged in 2022/23, compared to 2,430 in 2021/22.

Of these grades, 710 were changed as part of an upheld appeal in 2022/23 – which is a 15.8% rise on the previous year when 610 grades were changed.

Overall, 6.3 million grades were issued for GCSEs, AS and-A levels in 2022/23.

Last summer, the proportion of GCSE and A-level entries awarded top grades fell from the previous year when efforts were made in England to return grading to pre-pandemic levels.

It came after the Covid-19 pandemic led to an increase in top grades in 2020 and 2021, with results based on teacher assessments instead of exams.

Ofqual said “changes in cohort size” may affect the overall number of appeals and grades challenged in each academic year.

It also noted a 2.4% increase in the number of certificates issued for GCSE, AS, A-level and Project qualifications in 2022/23 compared with 2021/22.

The number of appeals received by Ofqual for GCSEs, AS and A-levels in 2022/23 was 1,840. Of these, 1,010 (54.9%) were upheld.

Since summer 2022, most concerns about grades awarded are considered through reviews of marking and moderation rather than appeals, Ofqual said.

A school or college, or private candidate, could submit an appeal if it was dissatisfied with the result of a review of marking, review of moderation, a malpractice decision, or the outcome of a reasonable adjustment or special consideration request.

This differs to pandemic years when reviews of marking and moderation were not available, and the only way to challenge a grade was through an appeal.

In a letter to schools and colleges in England on Thursday, Sir Ian Bauckham, chief regulator at Ofqual, said: “We anticipate outcomes in summer 2024 will be similar to those in summer 2023 with variations in outcomes likely similar to those typically seen in previous years.

“You will also be aware that students will be provided with a formulae sheet for GCSE mathematics and an enhanced selection of equations for GCSE physics and combined science.

“The Department for Education (DfE) has confirmed that this arrangement is in place for 2024 only and will not continue beyond this.”

In November, the DfE asked Ofqual to provide GCSE pupils in England with exam aids for maths and science papers this summer.

It came after pupils in England were given formulae and equation sheets in GCSE mathematics, physics, and combined science exams last year to limit the impact of Covid-19 on learning.

In his letter ahead of exams next month, Sir Ian added: “You will already know that where students do not meet their predicted grades, this may be because they are often set to be ‘aspirational yet achievable’ in line with Ucas guidance.

“It may be helpful for you to be aware, when advising students, that in 2023 only 17% of UK 18-year-old Ucas applicants taking three or more A levels achieved or exceeded their predicted grades, yet 85% were accepted to a higher education place.”

Tom Middlehurst, qualifications specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “While there’s always going to be some variation in the number of appeals, it is worrying that there has been such a large increase, and suggests that there are problems in the design of some exam papers.

“The distinctions between grade requirements needs to be very clear and where this is not the case there are likely to be challenges because those grades matter so much to young people.

“We’re also concerned that the current practice of charging for the cost of unsuccessful appeals may act against disadvantaged students and we would like to see Ofqual produce an equalities analysis of this.”