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First ever fall in top GCSE grades
The proportion of GCSEs awarded at least a C grade has fallen for the first time in the exam's history, official figures reveal.
Around 600,000 teenagers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are receiving their GCSE results, with the results also showing drops in the percentage of English, maths and science GCSE entries achieving passes at A*-C.
The national figures reveal that 69.4% of all GCSE exams were given at least a C grade - down 0.4 percentage points on last summer. It is the first time the A*-C pass rate has fallen in the 24-year history of GCSEs. The exams were first taught in 1986, with the first exams taken in 1988.
There was also a fall in the proportion of GCSEs awarded the top grades, the data shows. Some 7.3% of entries were given an A*, down 0.5 percentage points on 2011, while 22.4% were handed at least an A grade, down 0.8 percentage points.
The statistics show a decrease in the proportion of GCSEs awarded at least a C grade in the core subjects of English, maths and science.
The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which publishes the national results, said the drop in A*-C English results is partly down to more candidates sitting the exam earlier, during the winter exam season. The number of entries for English GCSE, including English literature, has increased by 3.1%, JCQ said.
It added that there was a "dramatic" increase in entries for science GCSE - up 36.5% - and said that the fall in results at A*-C in this subject is partly due to a "more demanding standard" introduced this year, and a "significant" increase in entries by 15-year-olds.
The gap between girls and boys stalled at the very top grades, with 18.9% of boys' entries achieving an A* and A, compared to 25.6% of girls' entries - a percentage gap of 6.7%, the same as there was in 2011. At grades A* to C, girls are pulling away, with 65.4% of boys' entries attaining that level, compared to 73.3% of girls' entries.
Exam board chiefs said this was a year of "major change" in English, maths and science. As well as changes to GCSE science, new English courses have also been brought in. Andrew Hall, chief executive of exam board AQA, said: "This year has got more change in it than I think I've seen in my time at any awarding body."
Mark Dawe, chief executive of the OCR exam board, said: "What's very clear is changes in the science specifications have had an impact on grades, and it was known from the beginning, the Government wanted a harder science paper, when Ofqual was accrediting it, it was a harder science paper, and when the results are coming through, this is harder."