The proportions of “good” and top GCSE grades fell for a second consecutive year this morning, as new figures revealed big increases in early and multiple entries for the exams.
The percentage of entries achieving A*-C grades dropped from 69.4 per cent to 68.1 per cent, the lowest level since 2009. Achievements at A* were also down from 7.3 per cent of entries to 6.8 and at A/A* from 22.4 to 21.3 per cent.
The English Baccalaureate (EBac) performance measure appears to have had a significant impact with big increases in entries for foreign languages, geography and history. Chemistry, biology and physics entries are also up, although as expected new tougher exams mean grades in the three sciences are down.
Exam boards said that the general fall in grades could be partly explained by changing entry patterns. This summer saw a 39 per cent rise in entries from students who were 15 or younger.
In maths multiple entries were particularly high. The number of entries in the subject this academic year amounted to nearly twice the total number of 16 year-old pupils.
More than one in ten candidates - 89,353 - taking maths this summer had already been entered for the GCSE on two previous occasions. Two students had been entered a total of eight times.
The Department for Education has accused schools of “gaming the system” and described multiple entries as an “abuse” that its forthcoming GCSE reforms will help to prevent.
“Schools should not be entering children for exams early, and then for re-sits, or other exams in the same subject,” a spokesperson said. “It is not good for pupils and should not happen.”
But Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “This is not about gaming, it’s about ensuring that we do the best for students in our care. The accountability system drives practice but there is no doubt that GCSEs, particularly in core subjects, are key to many careers and of vast importance to students.”
Last year’s drop in top GCSE grades ended 23 years of continuous improvement since GCSEs were first sat in 1988.
Top A level grades have also fallen for the past two years after decades of rising results, as Ofqual intensified its “comparable outcomes” clampdown on grade inflation.
The approach led in part to last summer’s controversy over GCSE English/English language grades which culminated in an unsuccessful High Court challenge after tens of thousands got lower than expected results.
Many schools have responded by migrating to IGCSE where English languages entries this shot up from 18,000 to 78,000. Maths IGCSE entries also climbed from 34,000 to 45,000.
Today exam boards believe that combined GCSE and IGCSE statistics are a more accurate measure of student performance.
This year IGCSE pushed the combined proportion of entries achieving an A* grade up to 8.2 per cent, while the proportion achieving A*-C stood at 68.7 per cent.
Girls widened their lead over boys both at A* and A*-C in GCSE. Northern Ireland retained its top spot among the three individual nations, bucking the trend at GCSE A*-C, with an increase from 75.6 to 76.5 per cent. Wales finished bottom.