The proportion of GCSE passes in England and Wales rose again this year, spurred by a significant jump in the numbers achieving at least a grade C in English. Nearly 700,000 pupils sat the exam this summer.
Reversing last year’s fall in the English pass rate, there was a rise of nearly four percentage points in those obtaining a C or above in English language this year, coupled with a slight improvement in those awarded A grades. The rise counteracted a slight fall in those awarded passes in English literature .
Across all subjects, almost seven in 10 (68.8%) entries were awarded A*-C, up 0.2 percentage points on 2014.
But there was a 0.1 percentage point drop in A* grades – the fourth year running that there has been a fall – with 6.6% of entries given the highest mark this year.
The national figures, published by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), also show that the gender gap narrowed slightly this summer, with 73.1% of girls’ entries awarded at least a C grade, compared with 64.7% of boys’.
This is a gap of 8.4 percentage points, compared with 8.8 percentage points last summer.
Last year’s GCSE results were hit by a sharp decline in English after changes to the way the subject was assessed. There was a two percentage point drop in the proportion of entries awarded C or higher – the biggest fall since GCSEs began in 1988.
Performance in maths also improved compared with 2014, with the proportion getting a C or higher going up by more than a full percentage point and those awarded an A or A* rising from 15.2% to 16.7%.
Meanwhile, the Times has reported that there is a shortfall of 5,500 maths teachers in secondary schools in England and that some schools have persuaded geography, PE and other teachers to lead classes in the subject. Last year, 2,092 maths teachers were recruited – 11% less than the target.
French, Spanish and German all reported falling entries, with the numbers of students taking German this year dropping by nearly 10%.
Pupils in Northern Ireland enjoyed particularly good results, as the pass level rose to 78.7%, while the pass rate in Wales was unchanged at 66.6% with a slight fall in the proportion attaining A and A* grades.
“At a national level there was very little change in this year’s results, but we do see educational policies continuing to have an effect on entry patterns and results at a subject level. This is particularly the case in English, mathematics and the sciences,” said Michael Turner, director general of the JCQ, which coordinates the exam board publication.
Last year’s results were more volatile because of new rules that prevent pupils from resitting the same GCSE subject, after the Department for Education ended January and March exam sittings. The DfE also changed league tables so that only a candidate’s first attempt counted, meaning younger pupils were less likely to sit some exams a year early.
The DfE highlighted the rise in pupils taking science and technology subjects, with especially big rises in computing.
Education secretary Nicky Morgan said: “Thanks to our reforms focused on extending opportunity, a generation of young people from all backgrounds are now securing the GCSEs that help give them the widest range of options later in life – whether looking for a rewarding job or a top apprenticeship.”
Schools in England are ranked by the proportion of pupils who achieve five A* to C grades, including the two core subjects English and maths.
GCSE results season is a nervous time for state school leaders, who need to see at least 40% of their pupils achieve five good passes including English and maths, or risk failing the government’s floor target.
Birmingham’s Park View school, recently the national centre of attention over allegations of extremism, saw its overall results decline but was boosted by an increase in A* and A grades, while pupils eligible for free school meals outperformed their peers.
“After a very challenging year, Park View students have done themselves extremely proud,” said Amran Majid, the school’s chair of governors.
Elsewhere, some of the more unusual results included a standout performance by Arantxa González, the daughter of a Lanzarote bus driver who achieved 10 A*s including maths, physics and chemistry, and a further three As, three Bs and a D, for a total of 17 awards.
According to Roger Deign, headteacher of Colegio Hispano Británico in Puerto Del Carmen, Arantxa hopes to go on to study at Oxford or Cambridge.
Flo Fleming, the great-granddaughter of a cousin of Alexander Fleming, the Nobel prize winner who discovered penicillin, followed in her family’s footsteps with A*s in physics and maths, and As in chemistry, biology and five other subjects, at Brighton college.
Kings College school, an independent boys school in Wimbledon, south-west London, achieved spectacular results, with 84% of its entries entries awarded A*, while 97% of all grades achieved by the class of 149 gained A* or A.
“I have always believed boys can do incredibly well with the right motivation and inspiring teachers who know what makes boys tick,” said Andrew Halls, the headteacher.
Kristof Kokosi, a 16-year-old at Ark Elvin academy in Wembley, north London, attained an A* in English literature as well as maths and geography, despite starting his GCSE course two years ago unable to speak English.
“I started by memorising 30 to 40 words each day and practised speaking, writing, because it wasn’t easy. In the second year, I stayed at school until seven o’clock sometimes,” said Kristof, who grew up in Hungary.
One of the country’s top-performing non-selective state schools, Tauheedul Islam Girls high school in Blackburn, saw 89% of students achieve five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C, including English and maths.
“We’re delighted that – once again – Tauheedul Islam Girls’ high school undoubtedly will have achieved some of the best results in the country and continues to deliver the very best education to young people in the UK,” said Hamid Patel, chief executive of Tauheedul education trust, which runs the school.
• This article was amended on 24 September 2015. An earlier version said that Flo Fleming was the great-granddaughter of Alexander Fleming. That was what Brighton college had said, but the college now says she is the great-granddaughter of Fleming’s cousin.
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