GCSE exam pass-rate increases for the 23rd year

Bookmark and Share

Despite the soaring number of A and A*s achieved by pupils in this year’s GCSEs, teenagers now face being squeezed out of college courses by an increasing number of university rejects.

GCSE results show the proportion of pupils achieving the top two grades has exceeded 22 per cent following year-on-year increases since the exam was introduced in 1988.

And 70 per cent of teenagers gained at least a C grade - up two percentage points from last year.

This year's GCSE exam pass-rate increased for the 23rd year in a row, however the number of entries has fallen again to 5.37million compared with 5.47million in 2009.

After a drop in the number on English entries being awarded a C last year to 62.7 per cent, the pass-rate has risen this summer to almost two-thirds.

Overall, girls continue to out-perform boys, with more than 70 per cent gaining at least a C grade compared with 65.4 per cent.

And for the second year in a row boys have out-performed girls in maths - after the coursework assessment was dropped - with 58.6 per cent scoring at least a C compared with 58.3 per cent.

However, modern languages were the major casualties again this year, continuing the decline seen since the previous government decided the subject would no longer be compulsory after the age of 14.

The number of students studying French is down by 5.9 per cent, while entries for German have dropped by 4.5 per cent.

Bucking the trend is Spanish, which saw a 0.9 per cent rise.

The numbers of pupils taking GCSEs in the three separate sciences - biology, chemistry and physics - has also risen, although the proportion being awarded top grades has fallen.

However, experts have raised new fears that children are under too much pressure, with more universities now selecting candidates on their GCSE results as competition for higher education places becomes tougher.

As a result, more pupils are taking GCSEs earlier than ever before.

More than one in 10 pupils sits maths at age 15 or younger - up 37% on last year - and just under a tenth sit English early, up by 50% on 2009. This follows the previous Labour government scrapping national tests at age 14 or Key Stage 3.

This has raised the perennial question of whether exams are getting easier overall. But unions argue that pupils can get one or two exams out of the way early on, enabling them to focus on a wider range of GCSE subjects overall.

John Dunford, head of the Association of School and College Leaders said taking GCSEs early was a sign that SATs may have effectively slowed students' development down:

"They were an artificial stopping place that's now been removed," he said.

But Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, suggested highly tailored teaching and 'built-in inflation' were responsible for the consistent rises in results.

"The questions themselves are becoming much more predictable; they are highly structured and teachers are increasingly familiar with them," he said.

"Exams just seem to have the same built-in inflation that our currency has."

More pupils are expected to fall into the 'NEET' - not in education, employment or training - category as college places are snapped up by A-Level students who are set to miss out on a university place.

Many will return to sixth form to resit exams, take more A-Levels or to turn to qualifications like BTEC and HNDs.

Colleges, however, will be keen to take on these higher-achieving older students to boost performance indicators, the lecturers' union warned, reducing the number of places available to 16-year-olds.

More than a quarter of students who applied for university still have no place, new figures revealed.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union said: "These are the best ever results but the worst ever outcomes now exist for young people.

"These fantastic results stand in stark contrast to some of the worst ever employment and training prospects for young people and the reality of rising youth unemployment as a result of the coalition Government's austerity programme."

School Leadership Today