Teenagers scored record GCSE results today with one in five exams awarded top grades.
But there was another slump in the numbers of pupils taking French and German, while exam entries in history also fell this year.
Overall, 63.3% of exams were awarded A to C grades, up from 62.4% last year.
Nearly a fifth - 19.5% - were given the top grades of A or A*, a rise from 19.1% in 2006.
But the overall pass rate for the proportions scoring at least a grade G fell slightly by 0.1% point to 98% this year.
Results in both English and Maths improved slightly, with more pupils scoring at least a grade C in these two key subjects than last year.
And there were also increases in the numbers studying science subjects.
But the biggest casualties were foreign languages.
Exam entries in German were down 10.2% from last year to just 81,000, while French fell 8.2%.
The slump follows the Government's controversial decision to make studying a modern foreign language optional for pupils after the age of 14 and continues the downward trend of recent years.
History also showed a decline in exam entries, down 1.6%, but subjects including media studies, business, and statistics increased sharply.
Officials hailed the improvement in English and maths results as evidence of rising standards in literacy and numeracy among 16-year-olds.
Jim Sinclair, director of the Joint Council for Qualifications, which released the national results, said: "The improvement in the GCSE results this year is testament both to effective teaching and the dedication and hard work of students.
"There are positive signs overall, with increased entries in mathematics and science, and the performance in all subject areas improving."
Across the UK, about 750,000 candidates were opening their results, and will use their grades to decide whether they stay on at school to do A-levels or another course, or quit education to find work.
Carole Whitty, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "This year's GCSE results are a genuine cause for celebration.
"We congratulate all students and their teachers on their hard work as we deliver another set of strong results.
"Teaching has improved year on year and students offered far more opportunities both for self and guided study.
"It is this deep commitment by schools which continues to make the difference and lift aspirations.
"Again, the statistical evidence suggests that this is a demonstrable improvement in standards.
"Changes to the Science examination are beginning to show a trend towards separate sciences where entries and achievement is up.
"It is clear that as a nation we still have to be persuaded of the importance of learning another language. However, it is a fact that the earlier you start with another language the easier it gets.
"The strategy of teaching languages in the primary schools should eventually make a difference to the GCSE profile of results."
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