Although the overall GCSE pass rate fell a little this year, the proportion of exam entries awarded A* was up 0.1 to 5.1%.
Celebrations at Emmanuel College led by Ashleigh Collins with 11 A*s
Some students accounted for a remarkable number of them.
One common factor is that selective schools predictably do well - but not for the obvious reason, an expert suggests.
Venetia Jennings from Sevenoaks, a student at Tonbridge Grammar School for Girls in Kent, garnered 13 top grades.
Fellow Tonbridge students Emma Jones and Anna Rose-Morris both have 12 A*s while Pippa Miller got 14 GCSEs at either A* or A.
The head teacher, Wendy Carey, said: "Our flexible curriculum also allows girls to devote time to their other talents.
"Many of this year's most impressive academic results were achieved by girls who are also, for example, talented and very active sportswomen competing at county and local level."
But curriculum pressure was a concern in Birmingham.
Two thirds of the entries from students in the five grammar schools belonging to the King Edward VI Foundation were awarded A*s or As.
The secretary to the governors, Steven Grainger, said the results were a testament to the hard work put in by "able students, ably taught".
But Dr Grainger warned that students were missing out on extra-curricular activities because they had to take so many exams.
"There is growing concern that the relentless testing of today's young learners is at the expense of the broader curriculum - arts, sport and citizenship," he said.
At Wallington County Grammar School in Wallington, Surrey, James Bruschini and Shivam Patel both got 12 A* grades.
Their head teacher, Martin Haworth, said: "Pupils have worked hard and deserve this success."
But the purely selective schools did not have it all their own way.
At Emmanuel College in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, 27 students - 13 boys and 14 girls - achieved a total of 300 A* and A grades between them. Three got all A*s.
The principal, Nigel McQuoid, said: "Whilst our intake is all-ability, it is clearly possible for comprehensive schools to stretch our most able students every bit as far as selective and fee-paying schools can.
"However, whilst every comprehensive has its fair share of very bright children, to have 27 in one year who are capable of exceeding 10 A* and A grades each is a stunning record for us and these children deserve our heartiest congratulations.
"The final boost is for the boys who have pipped the girls this year and have shown that, in the right atmosphere, there is nothing to stop boys excelling at school."
In Northern Ireland, with its selective secondary system, the proportion of students getting A* to C grades was 12 points higher than in England.
But selection in a school's intake may not be the decisive factor, according to Professor Alan Smithers of the University of Liverpool.
He pointed out that Wales does better than England, yet is wholly comprehensive.
"It may have something to do with smaller countries and the extent to which education is valued in the culture," he said.
"I think young people in Northern Ireland and in Wales actually work harder and are more committed to education because that's the expectation on them.
"In England it's almost part of maleness to not enjoy schooling - or, even if you do, you have to pretend not to."
So selective schools did well not because they were selective but because they typically had a strong tradition and ethos that valued educational achievement.