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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 January 2005, 16:58 GMT
Top GCSE pass rates levelling off
Graph showing the trend in GCSE and other results
This year the headline figures included a wider range of exams
The higher-grade GCSE success rate in England appears to have reached a plateau, official figures suggest.

Last year the proportion of pupils who achieved at least five GCSEs at grades A* to C - as opposed to other qualifications - was 50.2%.

This was up from the previous year's 49.9% but the same as in 2002.

There was a continued rise in the proportion taking and passing other exams, a definition widened this year to take in many more vocational areas.

So the final combined figure the government published earlier this month - for the better grades in GCSEs and "equivalent" qualifications - rose to 53.7% from 52.9%.

GCSEs 'to remain in place'

In Wales, this broader measure was 51.4%.

But the GCSE-only figure has continued rising there - up last year to 50.8% from 50% in 2003.

GCSEs remain the central plank of testing at the end of compulsory education.

The Tomlinson review of 14-19 learning in England has recommended subsuming them - and A-levels - into a four-tier diploma system that would also incorporate vocational qualifications.

A formal government response is expected shortly.

But one of the first reactions to the Tomlinson proposals was from the prime minister, who said GCSEs and A-levels would stay.

In an interview on Sunday, the Education Secretary, Ruth Kelly, said she also wanted them to survive.

"To have credibility and robustness going forward we have got to build on GCSEs and A-levels, which after all are recognised as very important and good exams out there by the general public and by employers," she told Breakfast with Frost.

"So yes, as we go forward - and as we widen opportunities and bring in a range of vocational options for students as well as academic options - we really do need to make sure that we have GCSEs and A-levels remaining in place and build upon that."

'Names will go'

But the general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, John Dunford, said: "I do not regard Ruth Kelly's remarks on keeping the names 'A-level' and 'GCSE' as the final words on this subject.

"It is entirely within the spirit of the Tomlinson report that A-levels and GCSEs should form the building blocks of the new diploma. Indeed, it is essential that they should do so."

He said the names eventually were bound to disappear.

"Retaining the standards of A-level and GCSE will be vital during the changeover period to the new diploma, so that public confidence is maintained and teachers continue to teach to the same standard."

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