Most youngsters are still leaving school without top-grade GCSE passes in maths and English, official statistics reveal.
The figures show a 2 per cent overall rise to 55.7 per cent in the number obtaining at least five A* to C grade passes, the largest increase for a decade. But only 44.1 per cent took top-grade passes in both maths and English, vital for employers considering whether pupils are ready to work for them.
And a BBC survey shows many "top" schools among the most improved in the country have actually seen their performance in maths and English deteriorate.
They established their high-flying positions by encouraging pupils to take General National Vocational Qualifications, deemed by experts to be worth four GCSE passes. The survey of 2,000 schools that have improved their GCSE performance showed one in six had recorded a dip in performance in the basics.
Ministers are preparing legislation compelling all schools to reveal the percentage of pupils achieving top-grade GCSE passes in maths and English in exam league tables. Yesterday's evidence indicates that some of the high-flying schools will plummet.
Thomas Telford, the city technology college which has topped the tables for the past five years and was the first comprehensive to achieve a 100 per cent success rate in five A* to C passes, drops to 300th with a score of 92 per cent if maths and English are included.
Ministers pointed out that even the 44.1 per cent figure for maths and English was an 8.5 per cent rise on the figure in 1997. The 2 per cent rise in the overall figure is in line with Treasury targets, the first time they have been met for years.
Ruth Kelly, the Secretary of State for Education, said: "Rising standards in our secondary schools means that compared to 1997 over 60,000 more 15-year-olds are achieving five A* to Cs. This is a tremendous achievement and one that schools, teachers and pupils deserve to be proud of."
Mark Hoban, the shadow minister for Schools, said: "The Government boasts about progress in education, but the standards in one in six schools actually got worse over the past few years. The shine is starting to rub off Labour's claims of progress. We need to allow schools to focus much more on what they can do better."
Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat education spokesman, added: "The improvements Labour have been claiming for years have been brought into question. Ministers do no favours to teachers and the pupils when they manipulate key statistics."
John Dunford, the general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, backed the Government's decision to include maths and English passes in league tables. "Secondary schools are already placing more emphasis on these subjects in preparation for 2007, when the league tables change," he added.
Leaders of the Confederation of British Industry said yesterday's figures showed "the education system is failing to deliver the right basic skills". Yesterday's figures show 3 per cent of the 55.7 per cent figure is down to GNVQ passes. The qualification is to be phased out within two years.
Of all schools, the Government's privately sponsored academies fare far the worst, with just 35.3 per cent of pupils obtaining five top-grade passes.Reuse content