The proportion of passes at grades A to C - the equivalent of an old O-level pass - which has risen each year since the exam was introduced five years ago, went up by 2.3 per cent. For the first time, more than half the entries were awarded the top three grades. In 1987 the proportion achieving grades A to C was 39.8 per cent.
Examination boards said the improvement was due to teachers' increasing familiarity with the exams and better preparation of their pupils. Eric Forth, the schools minister, congratulated children and teachers. 'We can now look forward to seeing more students than ever continuing in education beyond the age of 16.'
There was disagreement about the effect of the introduction of a 5 per cent penalty for spelling. The Northern Examining Association said the effect had been minimal but the University of London Examinations and Assessment Board thought a slight drop in marks in its history, geography and religious education exams might be due to poor spelling.
John Day, joint secretary of the Southern Examining Group, said: 'I believed the results would be lower because of the spelling penalty, but I have seen several chief examiners' reports which suggest that they see an improvement in candidates' grammar, presentation and spelling.'
The number of grade As increased by 0.9 per cent to one in eight. The improvement in the percentage of those gaining grade A was greater in mathematics and science than it was in English.
Maths entries dropped by 2.6 per cent but those in science increased slightly over last year's figure. More students are taking combined science and fewer are studying three separate sciences.
John Edmundson, secretary of the Joint Council for the GCSE, which released the figures, said: 'GCSE was designed to raise standards by ensuring that candidates improved their performance against well-established criteria. That is being delivered.'
Tony Smith, chief executive of the University of London Examinations and Assessment Board, said: 'GCSE is still a new exam. Teachers and students are becoming increasingly familiar with the syllabuses and students are doing better and better.'
The exam will change in 1994 when pupils will be tested on new syllabuses in English, maths and science and when the proportion of course work will be reduced.
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the rise in standards was due to 'the gifted and dedicated teaching in our schools', but it also underlined the success of the examination itself.
'It remains totally inexplicable, therefore, that the Government is determined to continue its doctrinaire policy of reducing the coursework component of GCSE, when all over the country the evidence points to coursework as a key motivating factor in improved performance,' he said.
Solid silver medals are to be awarded for the first time this year to pupils gaining top marks in nine GCSE subjects examined by the Southern Examining Group.Reuse content