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Record GCSEs mask poor results in Maths and English

London, Aug 22: The rise in A* and A grades at GCSE masks a relatively poor performance in English and particularly in maths. GCSE results, which are released tomorrow, will show a lower-than-average percentage of A and A* grade passes in the two core subjects - despite millions of pounds spent on catch-up classes by ministers for youngsters struggling to master the three Rs.

The results will show a further rise in top-grade passes with the number of A and A* passes nudging one in five for the first time ever. The percentage of A grades awarded will rise for the 20th year in succession. In fact, the figure has risen every year since the exam was first introduced in 1988.

Simlarly, the percentage of A* grades has also risen every year since it was first introduced as a grade in 1994 to counter claims that too many A grades were being awarded. However an analysis of GCSE results shows that - while the national average for A* and A grades last year was 19.1 per cent - only 15.2 per cent were awarded in English and 13.2 per cent in maths.

The analysis, by Professor Alan Smithers of the Centre for education and employment at the University of Buckingham, states: "Performance in maths is one of the lowest of the 40 subject categories. It comes 36th with only subjects like home economics, other technology and single science below it." English, too, was in 27th place in the subject league table of A* and A grade passes.

Top of the table were Classical subjects (Latin and Greek) with 57.6 per cent and other modern languages (for example, Urdu, Russian and Mandarin - with most candidates being native speakers) with 54.4 per cent.

This year's results are likely to see a slight narrowing of the gap between English and maths and the national average - as schools have to concentrate on the core subjects now that government exam league tables include a measurement of what percentage of youngsters in each school obtain five A* to C grade passes, including maths and English.

The big rise, though, is expected to be in C-grade passes with the two subjects still hovering below the national average for the percentage of A* and A grade passes.

Professor Smithers' analysis concludes: "The relatively poor performance in English and maths means that some schools perhaps previously scoring highly are going to show up badly on the new good five GCSEs criterion." Tomorrow's results are unlikely to repeat the trend shown in A-level results last week - where The Independent revealed that private schools and selective state grammar schools were largely responsible for the rise in A-grade passes over the past decades.

Many independent schools - including, notably, Winchester - now shun GCSEs, claiming that in key subjects, such as maths and science, the exam is no longer adequate preparation for more rigorous A-level courses. Instead, they opt for the international GCSE, which is based along the lines of the old O-level, with less coursework and more reliance on the sudden-death end-of-term exam.

As The Independent revealed on Monday, a further dip in the number of pupils taking modern foreign languages is expected to be revealed tomorrow.

Yesterday the Conservatives attacked the Government's decision to make languages an optional subject, claiming that schools have exploited this by steering students away from more academic subjects to boost overall results. The shadow Children's Secretary, Michael Gove, said: "The decline in core subjects marks a worrying trend and underlines the need for teaching to focus on the neglected basics."

But Jim Knight, the Schools minister, dismissed the Conservatives' claims as "cheap spin" and stressed that the Government was already introducing league table reforms. "Adding any optional GCSE in and then using this as evidence of failure simply undermines the real achievements of teachers, schools and pupils," he said.

While history is holding up, there is expected to be a further fall in the number of candidates sitting geography. The overall pass rate is expected to remain the same at about 98 per cent.

The Independent
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