Letter: GCSEs' success

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The Independent Culture
Sir: It is not the case that "the percentage of [GCSE] candidates awarded a grade C has risen more sharply than the proportion awarded As and Bs" (leading article, 26 August). In fact, the proportions were as follows: A* +0.3 per cent, A +0.2 per cent, B +0.4 per cent, C +0.2 per cent.

Your claim that "the gap between high and low-scoring pupils is rising" is something on which we have no evidence. The proportion of students leaving school without a single exam pass has fallen by 1.1 per cent to 6.6 per cent.

Teachers now have greater flexibility in the curriculum with 14- to 16- year-olds to enable those who can to spend some time at college or gaining work experience.

We are also encouraging schools to enter bright students a year or more early for one or two GCSEs where pupils are ready. This is not, as Bethan Marshall claims ("I want my children to be educated, not just examined", 26 August) because we see exams as the only way to stretch bright pupils, but as a complementary measure alongside new summer schools and extra classes for gifted children.

The evidence is that the accessibility and motivational impact of GCSEs has contributed a great deal to the significant rise in staying-on rates and achievement of young people since 1988. Greater vocational opportunities will reinforce this trend.


Secretary of State

Department for Education and Employment

London SW1