Forty per cent more pupils now gain five A-C grades than in the late Eighties, with, as might be expected, girls at 43 per cent outperforming boys at 38 per cent.
The rise in those achieving five GCSEs at any grade has been less impressive. Only 10 per cent more pupils now gain what might be regarded as the minimum acceptable qualifications for a 16-year-old. The rise in those gaining only one pass has been even smaller, at just 1 per cent. This, unhappily, leaves around about 6 per cent of the age group, and more than 7 per cent of boys, not even achieving this basic level. Many will have lost time through exclusion, ill-health or for other reasons, and most will be disillusioned with the whole schooling process. This is the group that policy-makers need to target if overall achievement levels are to rise much further over the next decade. Making the curriculum more relevant to their needs might be a start.
John Howson is a visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University.