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Almost no failures at A-level

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A-level results soared to another new high yesterday, with more than 97 per cent of candidates passing and some 26 per cent of entries awarded an A.

There was more good news: maths entries increased to their highest figure since 2001, while candidate numbers for biology, chemistry and physics also rose.

The improvement in the overall pass rate to 97.2 per cent, in line with a prediction in last week's TES, was the 26th in a row, and seemed likely to provoke the traditional dumbing down debate.

The proportion of A grades rose from 25.3 to 25.9 per cent, meaning it has doubled in the past 16 years. Yesterday's increase was the 11th successive rise in the proportion of top grades.

Boys closed the gap slightly on girls in performance, with 24.6 per cent of boys gaining A grades, against 26.9 per cent of girls, while the overall pass rate for boys was 96.6 per cent and 97.8 per cent for girls.

Northern Ireland comfortably outperformed England and Wales, as is traditional, with more than a third of Ulster entries gaining As.

AS results showed only a modest rise on last year, with 18.7 per cent of papers awarded an A, compared to 18.5 per cent in 2007. The pass rate rose from 87.8 to 88.2 per cent.

The growth in the number of maths entries, also predicted by this newspaper, was up 7 per cent this year to a figure of 65,239. This means that candidate numbers in maths have recovered to their highest level since the Curriculum 2000 reforms, which made the exam harder and prompted a 19 per cent fall in those choosing it.

Subject experts have said that the improvements may signal that intensive efforts to persuade teenagers of the long-term benefits of studying the subject are paying off.

Further maths was the second fastest growing subject, behind critical thinking, with a 16 per cent rise in take-up to 9,483. Numbers have nearly doubled in five years.

The Joint Council for Qualifications, which published the figures, emphasised that all 827,737 grades were published on time this year.

Full analysis next week.

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