More children are taking GCSEs early

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Thousands more pupils are taking their GCSEs up to two years early, this year's results will indicate.

Thousands more pupils are taking their GCSEs up to two years early, this year's results will indicate.

Some children as young as 10 will emerge with GCSE grades in maths and information technology when 600,000 pupils receive their results on Thursday.

The Government is trying to encourage schools to fast-track youngsters into taking their exams early - to stretch the country's brightest pupils. Ministers have already set up a network of summer schools for the country's most talented pupils. Many of those who attended this summer are preparing to take GCSEs in some subjects two years early.

David Miliband, the minister for School Standards, said: "I have been told by some of our most gifted children that they have simply been bored at school - but this is not inevitable."

More than 150,000 youngsters have now been recruited to gifted and talented programmes to stretch them in around 2,000 primary and 1,000 secondary schools.

Most of those who take exams early opt for maths or IT papers - although a growing number of schools are pushing pupils through modern languages GCSEs early. This follows the initiative started by Fir Valley school in Sheffield - where teachers have latched on to the fact that most of their pupils speak English as a second language.

As a result of having to learn English, teachers believed that it would be easier for them to learn a third language - and now several youngsters at the school are taking a GCSE in French a year early.

Last year around 100,000 GCSE scripts were submitted by children aged 15 and under. The figures are predicted to rise again this Thursday.

The previous year around 30,000 youngsters took their GCSE exams early.

John Dunford, the general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, sounded a note of caution over the predicted rise. "It would be better for students to wait until they have enough maturity and knowledge to get an A grade rather than get a C grade as a result of taking the exam early," he said.

This year's results are also expected to show a rise in the number of pupils obtaining at least five A* to C grade passes - the figure is now 53 per cent.

Mr Dunford also predicted a drop in the number of children opting to take modern foreign languages - particularly French - as a result of the Government's decision to make the subject voluntary for 14 to 16-year-olds.

The decision comes into force this September but a survey carried out by the Association for Language Learning (ALL) revealed that around one in three schools had already jumped the gun - and abandoned compulsory courses.

"Schools have jumped the gun," said Mr Dunford. "It shouldn't really be felt until June 2006 when the first cohort comes through to GCSE with the new regulations in force." He predicted, however, that the numbers opting for languages would fall again this year before a bigger drop in 2006.

Bill Musk, president of the ALL, said: "In terms of the longer term national interest next week's figures are a major concern and will hopefully give food for thought to key decision-makers in both the public and private sectors."