One in five pupils will receive A* or A-grade passes when GCSE results for 600,000 16-year-olds are announced next Thursday, a record number of top grades.
But results for English and maths are set to be below average, with at least half the cohort failing to get A* to C-grades in both subjects, despite an intensive effort to raise standards.
The percentage of pupils achieving an A* or A grade pass is expected to touch 20 per cent from last year's all-time high of 19.5 per cent. Any rise in the A* grades is expected to be limited to around 0.1 percentage point, lifting it to 6.5 per cent.
There will also be an overall rise in the number of candidates getting A* to C-grade passes from last year's high of 63.3 per cent, to 64.5 per cent. But this is not enough to hit the government target of a two-point rise. The overall pass rate is expected to stay almost the same as 2007, 98 per cent.
Last year 55.3 per cent gained top-grade passes in maths and 62.2 per cent in English. Maths was sixth from bottom out of 40 subjects in terms of the percentage of candidates getting top-grade passes – and English was 10th from bottom. This year is expected to see a rise to 56 per cent in maths and 63 per cent in English.
Academics say the reason for the low pass rate in English and maths is that every pupil has to sit the exams whatever their ability.
Girls are likely to do better than boys in most subjects. Last year, girls outperformed boys in all but four subjects – physics, IT, maths and further maths.