GCSE success levels may have hit peak

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The Independent Online
FRAN ABRAMS

Education Correspondent

Speculation was mounting last night that GCSE success might have peaked after a drop in the pass rates for English and mathematics.

The overall pass rate for the exam continued to rise, but at a much slower rate than before. The proportion of entries gaining grades A*-C rose by just 0.1 per cent to 52.7 per cent after an increase of 10 per cent since 1988.

This year's pass rate is actually lower than the 53.1 per cent figure announced last August but that was revised downwards by 0.5 per cent because results from some low-achieving modular courses were added later. The slow-down means the Government is almost certain to miss its target of 85 per cent of young people achieving the equivalent of five or more A*- C grades at GCSE by the 2000. The A* grade was added last year to reward high-flyers and was achieved by 3.2 per cent of pupils this year.

The number of GCSE subject entries rose by 10 per cent this year to 5,600,000, partly because the number of 16-year-olds is rising. But there were decreases in the numbers taking individual science subjects as well as a 20 per cent drop in in economics, business studies and social science. The combined science entry went up by 15 per cent, reflecting a trend away from separate physics, biology and chemistry.

Performance in maths has now dropped for two years running, with English dropping for the first time since the exam was introduced in 1988. The proportion gaining A*-C in maths fell from 46.6 per cent in 1993 to 45.9 per cent last year and 44.8 per cent this year. In English, 58.2 per cent gained the top grades last year and 56.9 per cent did so last year.

Right-wingers welcomed the news last night, saying it was evidence that standards were being tightened up in the wake of protests that they were becoming too lax. They also suggested that a cut in the maximum amount of coursework to 20 per cent in most subjects but to 40 per cent from 100 per cent in English might have led to the drop in the pass rate.

Sir Rhodes Boyson, a former education minister, believes the exam boards have reacted to criticism from politicians like himself. "I think they are taking fright. I think they got to a point where people were saying Rhodes Boyson was right, and that upset them," he said.

Labour's education spokes man, David Blunkett, said education reforms and funding cuts had affected results. "This year's young people have been the victims of government turmoil and confusion. Where we should have seen a dramatic increase towards meeting the targets we have the aftermath of demoralisation and disruption," he said.

Professor Roger Murphy, of Nottingham University, said more middle-class children had been taking exams in recent years because the fall in birth- rate in the 1960s and 1970s affected non-professional people most. Now the number of 16- year-olds was rising again and the proportion of high- achieving middle class children falling. he said.

Dennis Hatfield, general secretary of the Joint Council for GCSE, said: "GCSE had a tremendous bolstering effect on pupils and teachers. But there comes a time when people are achieving as much as they ever can achieve."

Lord Henley, the schools minister, said pupils and teachers should be congratulated on the results. "Although there was a small drop in the proportion of higher grades achieved in maths and English this year, these are still excellent results," he said.

Education, Section Two

GCSE Examinations 1995

Provisional results in selected subjects (last year's figures)

Subject No of Percentage of Candidates Obtaining Grade

Candidates

A* A B C D E F G

Art & Design 212478 4.1 12.1 16.8 24.2 19.0 13.3 7.3 2.7

(212082) (3.0) (12.4) (16.8) (23.9) (19.2) (13.6) (7.6) (2.9)

Technology CDT 347904 1.3 6.4 15.5 20.9 19.9 17.1 11.7 5.6

(143016) (1.7) (7.1) (14.3) (19.1) (19.5) (17.3) (12.3) (6.2)

Biology 53984 7.3 20.6 28.1 21.2 11.5 6.6 2.9 0.5

(75235) (4.7) (15.9) (21.0) (23.6) (15.4) (9.8) (5.3) (2.6)

Chemistry 43846 11.0 21.4 28.4 23.2 8.8 4.1 1.7 0.2

(52167) (7.5) (20.5) (24.5) (22.3) (12.7) (7.2) (3.4) (1.2)

Physics 43784 12.9 21.1 30.7 20.4 7.8 3.9 1.6 0.2

(53746) (8.9) (18.9) (21.5) (24.6) (12.7) (7.5) (3.5) (1.4)

Science 976642 3.4 6.6 17.2 20.2 21.8 17.0 9.3 2.9

(85O206) (2.7) (6.8) (18.3) (18.2) (23.0) (16.5) (9.5) (3.4)

English 646460 1.8 9.0 19.4 26.7 22.0 11.9 6.5 2.2

(596206) (1.8) (8.7) (20.1) (27.6) (20.7) (11.3) (7.5) (1.2)

Geography 295229 3.8 11.1 17.3 19.7 17.5 14.3 9.6 4.8

(264224) (3.4) (10.9) (17.5) (20.0) (17.8) (14.1) (9.6) (4.8)

History 239524 3.4 11.5 19.7 20.2 15.4 12.5 9.0 5.6

(227395) (2.8) (11.6) (19.8) (21.1) (15.4) (12.3) (9.1) (5.4)

French 340155 4.3 14.4 14.2 17.4 18.0 13.5 11.7 5.7

(320026) (4.2) (14.9) (14.0) (16.6) (18.3) (14.2) (12.0) (5.1)

German 126848 5.4 16.0 14.9 18.4 17.5 12.0 9.6 5.4

(116438) (5.1) (18.3) (16.6) (18.0) (16.3) (11.1) (8.9) (4.8)

Mathematics 667908 1.8 6.5 13.3 23.1 17.2 16.2 12.8 6.6

(643999) (1.8) (6.6) (15.7) (21.9) (17.3) (15.6) (12.6) (6.4)

Music 37606 5.9 18.2 23.6 20.8 12.5 9.0 6.0 3.1

(36471) (5.8) (17.3) (23.2) (20.1) (13.8) (9.6) (6.3) (3.0)

Physical Education 68114 4.0 8.7 14.4 18.0 24.5 17.3 8.9 3.1

(56725) (3.6) (8.2) (13.0) (18.2) (24.1) (17.2) (9.6) (4.1)

Religious Studies 106223 3.6 12.3 19.6 21.4 14.8 12.4 8.7 5.1

(102031) (2.9) (12.0) (19.9) (22.1) (14.3) (12.0) (8.9) (5.5)

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