There has been a drop in the proportion of GCSE exam entries awarded top grades, for the second year in a row.

More than 600,000 teenagers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are receiving results, with head teachers saying changes have caused “a lot of turbulence” in grades.

The proportion of exam entries graded between an A* and a C fell 1.3 percentage points to 68.1%.

And the proportion getting an A* or an A fell from 22.4% to 21.3%.

The overall pass rate fell marginally, for the first time ever.

At the same time, the results – released at 09:30 BST by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) – show dramatic increases in numbers of pupils taking foreign languages and humanities at GCSE level.

‘Greater challenge’

The trend is likely to be linked to the introduction in the autumn of 2010 of a new league table measure, known as the English Baccalaureate, which now rates schools on how many pupils get GCSEs in such subjects, as well as sciences and English and maths.

Entries for geography jumped up 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.


  • New GCSEs in science are deliberately harder
  • Marking of English tightened
  • Maths marking/grading toughened
  • More candidates being entered for exams aged 15
  • More taking IGCSE English
  • Marks allocated for spelling and grammar

Grades awarded for English and maths and science all fell overall.

In English, the proportion of entries awarded between an A* to C fell by 0.5 percentage points, to 63.6%. And in maths, the fall was of 0.8 percentage points.

The JCQ says both falls are linked to more younger pupils being entered for these exams, because its analysis shows that 16-year-olds have performed better than 15-year-olds.

This is a “damaging trend”, not in the best interests of pupils and driven by the accountability system, where schools are measured on how many pupils get at least a C grade in English and maths, it says.

There was a big fall in pupils getting top grades in the sciences, following the introduction of new syllabuses and exams.

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.

‘Significant turbulence’

Michael Turner, director of the JCQ, 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 [international GCSEs].

“All of these have had an impact on results,” he added.

Ofqual has suggested able students are more likely to take IGCSEs as some believe them to be tougher, and that this may skew the GCSE results downwards. However, others have suggested IGCSEs are easier and may favour less able students.

Head teachers have warned that this year’s results would show “significant turbulence” in grades.

Brian Lightman, head of the Association of School and College Leaders, says there is “a lot of good news” in the results, including the rise in the take-up of languages and the fact that results for 16-year-olds in science had remained stable even though the exam has become more difficult.

Marking and grading has been tightened for English following an outcry and a legal challenge by schools over last year’s results in English.

Teaching unions also warned grades would be hard to compare with other years.

But England’s exams watchdog Ofqual says it is simply maintaining standards and that students would get the “right results”.

For the first time this year, pupils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will get extra marks for good grammar and spelling in key subjects.

A total of 5% of the marks in English literature, geography, religious education and history will be allocated for this. Students were always given a quota of marks for this in English language papers


Leave a Reply