Just over a third of state-educated students did not score at least a grade 4 in both English and maths GCSEs this year, official figures show.
Provisional national figures, published by the Department for Education, show that 35.6 per cent of students did not achieve a “standard” pass in both subjects. Students who achieve a grade 3 first time around in either subject are required to resit the qualification in post-16 study, according to the condition of funding rule, while those with a grade 2 or lower can take functional skills instead.
GCSE students left 'demoralised'
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the figures showed that more than 190,000 young people "fell short of achieving at least a grade four 'standard pass' in GCSE English and maths at the end of 12 years of schooling".
"Every year this 'forgotten third' is a feature of our exam system, not by accident but because it is baked in by the mechanism used to distribute grades," he added.
"We cannot continue to accept that one-third of pupils must 'fail' in order that two-thirds succeed.
"The government has raised the bar another notch by describing a grade 5 as a 'strong pass'. Well over half of young people – 57 per cent this year – do not attain this benchmark in GCSE English and maths despite all the effort they have put into their studies.
"It is a measure designed to raise standards but in fact risks leaving students feeling demoralised even though they have done really well. And it does not make sense in any case because the distribution of grades is roughly similar from one year to the next wherever the bar is set."
Mr Barton added that an ASCL commission has proposed a passport covering English and maths that would be taken by young people between the ages of 15 and 19. "We believe this would provide a viable alternative to the annual ritual of consigning large numbers of young people to a sense of failure," he added.