Celebration for A-level students – especially if they live in the South

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The Independent Online

A glaring North-South divide in the performance of teenagers was exposed by this year's record-breaking A-level results.

The percentage of A-grade passes falls almost in direct relation to how far north the candidates sat the exam, the statistics show. In total, nearly 50 per cent more candidates achieved A-grade passes in the South-east than in the North-east. The number of A-grade passes has also increased three times as fast in London and the South-east than in the North-east.

Headteachers' leaders blamed the divide on lower parental expectations in the North. A breakdown of the figures shows A-grade passes have risen by 6.1 and 6 percentage points in London and the South-east in the past six years, but only by 2.1 per cent in the North-east. In the South-east 29.1 per cent of scripts achieved A-grade passes, compared with 19.8 per cent in the North-east.

The three areas with the worst A-grade pass results are the North-east, the North-west and Yorkshire and Humberside. Those with the best are the South-east, London and the South-west. This is the first time exam boards have provided a regional breakdown of the results.

They come despite overall pass rates rising for the 26th year in succession – with the percentage of A-grade passes going up from 25.3 per cent to 25.9 per cent. The overall pass rate climbed from 96.9 per cent to 97.2 per cent.

Boys also narrowed the gap on girls from 2.6 per cent to 2.3 per cent for A-grade passes, and 1.3 per cent to 1.2 per cent in the overall pass rate.

The trend revealed last year, that rises are largely down to improvements in performance at independent schools and selective state grammar schools – was also confirmed yesterday.

The figures showed a 9.1 percentage point rise in A grades in independent schools between 2002 and 2008 and an 8.3 percentage point rise in state grammar schools – compared with 2.7 in comprehensive schools and 2.9 in secondary moderns.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "There are many more independent and selective schools in the South than the North."

Mr Dunford, who was a headteacher in Durham before taking up his present post, added: "I certainly had experience of the lower aspirations of parents in much of the North-east – and there is nothing like parental aspiration for helping to improve A-level performance."

He went on to praise ministers for their efforts to improve performance in London by appointing high-flying graduates to the most challenging schools. This is now being extended to Manchester and the Black Country.

Michael Gove, the Conservatives' schools spokesman, added: "It is very worrying that there is such a large gap between different areas of the country. The Government is letting down children in the more disadvantaged areas."

Mike Cresswell, director general of the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance – Britain's biggest exam board – countered claims that A-levels had been "dumbed down", arguing that if they had been there would be improvements all round.

He pointed out that the pass rate in this year's AS-level exams (worth half an A-level) was 88 per cent – almost exactly the same as the A-level pass rate before the AS-level was introduced.

What appears to be happening is that youngsters are dropping their weakest subject after AS-levels and selecting instead the subjects in which they had the greatest chance of success at A-level.

This year's results come just a month before the introduction of an A* grade for the first time – to help university admissions staff select the brightest candidates from those obtaining three A-grade passes. The system was trialled at one college this year, in Farnborough,Hampshire, where 28 of its 50 most gifted pupils obtained the A* grade.

Tobi, Tayo, Tolu and Tosin Oke: Sibling rivalry spurs quadruplets to success

An extraordinary set of quadruplets are celebrating getting into their chosen universities after achieving top A-level results.

Tolu, Tayo, Tobi and Tosin Oke, 18, all achieved A, B and C grades at St Francis Xavier Sixth Form College in Clapham, south-west London.

Tayo, marginally the oldest of the four, will go to Manchester University to study business after getting AAC in business, sociology and biology. Her brother Tobi will study English at Goldsmiths after scoring BBC. Tosin will study business at Queen Mary University with ABC, while Tolu, the younger sister of the group, achieved A grades in history and sociology and a B in English to win a place at Peterhouse College, Cambridge.

She said: "We've realised that aiming for the highest is going to help us. At first we were probably pushed, but now we see it as the best way to help ourselves."

She added that an element of sibling rivalry had spurred them on. In many cases they were in the same class, where they would be determined not to be outdone. "Having a sibling doing the same course as you can have its ups and downs. You can help each other but if you don't know something in class and they do, they think they've got one up on you."