Top GCSE grades fall

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There has been a drop in the proportion of GCSE exam entries awarded top grades, for the second year in a row - the biggest fall for 25 years, as the Government clamps down on results 'inflation'.

Of the 650,000 teenagers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland who received their GCSE results, two-thirds of exam entries were graded between an A* and a C - down 1.3 per cent from 2012. And the proportion getting an A* or an A fell from 22.4% to 21.3%. The overall pass rate also fell marginally, for the first time in the exam's 25-year history.

The results - released by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) - show dramatic increases in numbers of pupils sitting the exams early, particularly in maths and English, which might have affected grades.

Thousands of teenagers were also entered for maths GCSEs three or more times this year as schools attempted to raise results in the key subject in the face of tougher exams. 400 sat the exam for the seventh occasion last year, up from 100 in 2011 and none the year before. More than 4,000 were entered for a fifth time in 2012, a five-fold increase.

In English, the proportion of entries awarded A*s to Cs fell by 0.5 percentage points, to 63.6%. In maths, the fall was 0.8 percentage points.

This year 53.1% of science entries were awarded between an A* and a C, down from 60.7% last year. That was the biggest fall in top results across all the subjects.

The results also show an increase in those taking foreign languages and humanities at GCSE level.

Entries for geography jumped by 19.2% this year, while those for history rose 16.7%.

Entries for traditional modern foreign languages - French, German and Spanish - are up by 16.9% compared with last year, reversing a long-term downward trend. French entries are up 15.5 per cent, German up 9.4 per cent and Spanish up 25.8 per cent.

This could be down to the introduction of the Government's English Baccalaureate, which is awarded to pupils who score at least a C at GCSE in English, maths, science, history or geography, and a foreign language.

Education Minister Elizabeth Truss said: "It is very pleasing to see the increase in these important subjects - the ones that will keep pupils' options open in the future. I am particularly delighted to see a languages revival - with an increase in the number of entries to French, German and Spanish GCSEs after years of decline.

"The EBacc is the platform for young people to go on to A-levels and high-quality vocational study. It will help them compete with their peers in the world's best education jurisdictions."

More pupils were entered for the three separate sciences - biology, chemistry and physics - but there was also a drop across the board in entries scoring decent grades. In biology, 89.8% of entries got at least a C, down from 92.6 per cent last year, in chemistry 90 per cent of entries scored A*-C, down from 93 per cent, and in physics 90.8 per cent reached this standard, down from 93.2 per cent.

The decline in results for the separate sciences is partly down to bright students switching to IGCSE courses and an increase in the number of 15-year-olds, who tend to perform less well, taking the exams early, JCQ said.

It added that a general trend of more students opting for the three sciences, some of whom will have lower abilities in the subject, may also have had an effect.

Girls continued to out-perform boys, scoring higher results at A* and A*-C across all subjects.

JCQ director Michael Turner said: "There are many underlying factors affecting this year's GCSEs, including a sizeable increase in entry by 15-year-olds, new science specifications designed with greater challenge, early and multiple entry in mathematics and an increase in the number of students taking IGCSEs. All of these have had an impact on entries and results.

"This year's upturn in languages will be welcomed across the education sector and beyond. Not since 2008 have there been this many entries in languages. However, it remains to be seen if this is the start of a trend and if more students decide to continue to study a language at A-level."

Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers said: "Schools and pupils are being put under ridiculous pressures to meet the latest demands from Ofsted and Government. As exam and test results are increasingly the only measure by which schools are judged it is no surprise some schools are entering pupils for different exams or entering them earlier."

Brian Lightman, head of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "There's lots of good news, particularly that schools, students and teachers have worked really hard in a constantly changing and turbulent environment.

"There has been a lot of turbulence, a lot of unpredictability.

"A number of trends are to be welcomed, for example the increase in languages. There's no doubt the E-Bacc has had an impact on these subjects."

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