Worrying slip in standards and popularity of science subjects on GCSE results day

It's GCSE results day today, and an initial look at the statistics suggests there could be more disappointment this year, as the proportion of GCSE exam entries awarded top grades in the UK falls for the second year running - including a dramatic drop in science grades (release).

The proportion of exam entries graded between an A* and a C fell 1.3 percentage points from last year to 68.1 per cent. Meanwhile, the proportion awarded an A* or A fell 1.1 percentage points to 21.3 per cent.

Broken down by subject, the proportion of English exam entries receiving A* to C fell by 0.5 percentage points to 63.6 per cent, while those in Maths fell 0.8 percentage points.

But most worrying perhaps was the drop in science entries awarded these grades – down 7.6 per cent to 53.1 per cent. And the number of people sitting science exams in the first place fell by 18.3 per cent - the biggest fall of any of the main subjects.

Regionally, Londoners saw the smallest decline in standards, with the number of students achieving top marks falling by 0.9 per cent. By comparison, the biggest fall for A*/A grades was in Yorkshire, falling by 1.9 per cent, and for A* to C grades in the eastern region, falling by 2.2 per cent.

Some commentators have suggested this fall could be linked to a large increase in the number of students taking the exams a year early.

Michael Turner, director of the Joint Council for Qualifications – which released the results – 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.

IGCSEs (international GCSEs) have divided opinion, with some saying they are tougher and others easier than the regular GCSE.

Today's results follow a fall in the number of A level exam entries awarded top marks last week.

Meanwhile, the number of exam entries in modern foreign languages, geography and history rose (by a respective 16.9, 19.2 and 16.7 per cent).

The most male dominated subjects this year were construction, other technology and manufacturing, while the most female dominated subjects were health and social care, home economics and performing arts - suggesting children are still being pushed towards stereotypical subjects.

And for the first time, students received extra marks for good grammar and spelling in a number of key subjects, with a five per cent of marks in English literature, geography, religious education and history. English language papers have always allocated marks for this.

Mike Harris, head of education and skills policy at the Institute of Directors, said:

The fall in the proportion of students getting top grades at GCSE will dominate the headlines, but we need to keep focused on the bigger picture. Students who have worked very hard but missed out on the grades they wanted will be disappointed. But several factors, including the rise in early entry, pupils taking IGCSEs and the increased difficulty of science papers, mean that we should look beyond simple year-on-year comparisons of pass rates.

The rise in the number of pupils taking key subjects such as maths and the sciences will be welcomed by employers. The increase in traditional language entries arrests years of decline.

Ofqual is working hard to maintain standards, and the Government is clearly committed to raising education performance across the board. This is vital work. The competiveness challenge that the UK faces is global and unrelenting. Increasing education standards, particularly in literacy and numeracy, is extremely important to businesses. We welcome the reforms that have taken shape so far, but there remains a long way to go.