GCSE passes in English, maths and information technology are likely to fall when functional tests are introduced, the head of the largest board offering the exam has warned.
Mike Cresswell, director general of AQA, said that on present trends, the proportion of pupils getting a C grade or above will decline in 2012.
This is because of the new functional skills tests being introduced that year, which all pupils need to pass before they can get those grades. The change is likely to have a major effect on the proportion of pupils gaining five or more GCSEs including English and maths.
Dr Cresswell suggests that the Government will find it easier to hit its target of no school having fewer than 30 per cent of pupils achieving that benchmark in 2011 than in 2012. This is handy for ministers, who brought the target forward from 2012 to 2011 in March.
Dr Cresswell said that modelling work the board had carried out, based on the numbers of pupils passing functional skills type work in current GCSEs, suggested that the percentage of pupils achieving higher passes would fall as a result of the change.
He said: "It's clear that there's a significant impact on the number of people getting a grade C."
This was based on what the board knew about levels of achievement in functional skills. It was possible that pupils' competence could improve before 2012, because of a focus on them.
Dr Cresswell added: "Looking at the information we have now will lead you to believe that there will be quite a lot of students who would otherwise get grade C who will not do so when this has to include functional skills."
Dr Cresswell advocates simply reporting functional skills pass rates alongside those of English, maths and ICT GCSEs. Thus, a pupil could still gain a GCSE in these subjects without passing a functional skills test. But they would be able to take these tests and gain certificates to show to an employer. This is what is happening in Wales. Dr Cresswell said this meant standards of GCSEs were potentially different on either side of the border.
AQA's website includes examples of possible functional skills test questions. In the section on English, these include multiple choice comprehension exercises testing pupils' understanding of: a letter written to a young person who has applied for a building job; an article on global warming; and a newspaper interview with a painter and decorator.
In maths, questions include converting fractions to decimals, reading from a graph and problems on space and volume.