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Setbacks for Welsh and Northern Irish

GCSE candidates in Wales have little to celebrate this year, with pass rates falling, and the gap between boys' and girls' achievements remaining high.

According to the Joint Council for General Qualifications, 97.6 per cent of Welsh entries scored grade G or above, down from 97.9 per cent last year.

These figures are the same as those for English candidates. Just under 60 per cent of entries were graded C or better - no change on last year.

But there was a slight increase in the percentage of top grades: 17.1 per cent of Welsh candidates gained an A or A*, compared with 16.5 per cent in England. Girls in Wales continue to outperform boys at all levels, with the gap still bigger than in England. The difference between the proportion of male and female passes remains the same, at 0.5 percentage points. There is also no change in the proportion of boys and girls getting a C or above: 55 per cent of boys, compared with 64.2 per cent of girls. But the percentage of boys receiving an A or A* has risen from 13.4 to 13.9 per cent, while the figure for girls has fallen from 20.4 to 20 per cent.

Northern Ireland also had slightly fewer GCSE passes than last year, with 97.6 per cent of entries achieving grade G or above, compared with 97.7 per cent in 2002. But Northern Irish pupils continue to achieve more good GCSE passes than their English counterparts. Sixty-nine per cent of entries were graded C or above, compared with 68.4 per cent last year. More than 22 per cent gained an A or A*.

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