Schools are reacting to the pressure they face to improve GCSE results in English and maths by entering pupils early for these subjects, it has been claimed.
This phenomenon may help explain why the number of entries for English in the November session of exams taken in Year 11 rose 55 per cent last year, by nearly 20,000 candidates, to 53,679. For maths, the growth in November entries was 19 per cent, to 44,128.
Exam boards said last week that the increases partly helped to explain an overall fall in the numbers entered for this summer's GCSEs by 3 per cent. This is larger than the overall drop in the numbers of 16-year-olds, which was one per cent.
English and maths have been central to schools' league table positions since last year, when a new measure of the percentage of five or more A*-C grade GCSEs including English and maths was introduced.
A teacher at a London school, who asked not to be named, said teachers were entering their pupils for the exams early so they could get a C grade or better in the bag before concentrating on other subjects for the summer exams.
Ian McNeilly, spokesman for the National Association for the Teaching of English, said: "It's as clear as the nose on my face that teachers are under pressure to deliver in English and maths, and getting pupils to take the exams early will effectively give them more than one go at securing that golden C or above.
"Some students are likely to miss out on six months of teaching in English, or in maths, simply to get the exams out of the way so they can concentrate on something else."
Leaders of England's three exam boards added that exam entries may have dropped because pupils were concentrating on doing well in a smaller number of courses, rather than racking up grades in many subjects.