Less able pupils 'hindered by focus on top achievers'  

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The Independent Online

A rise in top grades in the GCSE exam results issued on Thursday will be at the expense of improvements in the overall pass rate, education experts predicted yesterday.

A rise in top grades in the GCSE exam results issued on Thursday will be at the expense of improvements in the overall pass rate, education experts predicted yesterday.

Schools were concentrating on pupils achieving at least five top-grade A* to C-grade passes because that was the measure used to rank the schools in government performance league tables, they said. Progress in wiping out failure was likely to be slower, with the overall pass rate remaining about the same.

Their forecast came as Tony Higgins, the chief executive of Ucas, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, claimed that GCSEs were "as easy as falling off a log" for bright pupils.

The results of this year's exams, taken by about 600,000 children, are expected to show a rise in top-grade A* to C grades for the 18th year in succession.

Professor Alan Smithers, an adviser to the Commons Select Committee on Education and Skills and an expert on exam trends, said this was because "schools will be doing what they can to maximise their position in the league tables".

Educationists believe the rises in the top-grade pass rate of between 0.5 and 1.1 percentage points in recent years will continue for a while, although that rate of improvement might be hard to sustain.

Within a few years, the first pupils with improved results in national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds brought about by the Government's drive to raise standards will be taking their GCSEs. Those children will be the first to have been taught under the Government's literacy hour and daily maths lesson in primary schools.

Education experts believe that will continue to drive up the top-grade pass rate – possibly to 60 per cent over the next few years. Last year slightly more than 57 per cent of papers were given A* to C grades.

Schools are thought to have less incentive to concentrate on the overall pass rate – even though ministerial sources insist league tables now show "value added", giving each school a measure to indicate how much it has improved the performance of all its pupils since their arrival.

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