Page last updated at 15:02 GMT, Thursday, 15 October 2009 16:02 UK

Fewer than half get GCSE minimum

Brighton College pupils rejoice
Results have improved again

Just under half of teenagers who took GCSEs this summer in England got five "good passes" including maths and English, figures just released show.

A total of 49.7% achieved this minimum level expected by the government - up 2.1 percentage points on last year.

The proportion of pupils getting five good passes (grades A* to C) in any subject has risen to 69.7%

Nearly one in three A-level pupils at private schools got three A-grades and 10% of those at state schools did so.

At selective state schools (grammars), 25.9% of candidates achieved three A grades at A-level.

The statistics also include a regional picture of achievement but are not the league tables - made up of school-by-school data - which come out in January.

They show the gap in achievement between boys and girls. Among girls, 54% got five good GCSEs including maths and English, while 45.6% of boys did so.

Just under one in three (31.7%) students got between an A* and C grade in a modern foreign language, with girls being more likely to achieve this.

To our critics I say look at the statistics and improvements across the board
Vernon Coaker, Schools Minister

In science, there was an increase in the proportion of students getting two or more GCSEs at A* to C - up 3.4 percentage points to 53.7%.

There was also improvement at A-level. One in eight (12.5%) A-level students in England achieved three or more A grades. That is up from 12.1% last year.

Schools Minister Vernon Coaker said: "Today is a day to celebrate. These are the best ever GCSE results with the biggest ever year-on-year improvement. Congratulations to all the pupils and teachers for their hard work.

"Standards have never been higher - certainly compared to a decade ago.

"A huge boost of 90,000 more young people since 1997 have that ticket of five good GCSEs, including maths and English, and are able to take the baton and move successfully to further education, training or work."

In state-funded schools, 50.4% of pupils achieved at least five good passes including maths and English - up 2.1 percentage points on last year.

Harsh criticism

The government say the results put them ahead of their target for 53% of state school pupils to be at that level for GCSEs - or equivalent qualification - by 2011.

The results include, at a national level, those for independent schools - where on average pupils do better.

GCSES 2009
49.7% pupils with five grades A* to C including English and maths
54% of girls and 45.6% of boys

But these do not give the full picture at GCSE because more independent schools are now entering pupils for the International GCSEs in English and/or maths - and these are not recognised or counted by the government.

Mr Coaker said the results showed improvements in disadvantaged and low-performing areas which were targeted through special programmes.

"To our critics I say look at the statistics and improvements across the board, with great progress in areas that face some of the most challenging circumstances.

graph showing results trend

"It is time to celebrate this success while ensuring we keep investing to maintain the momentum of progress."

One of those critics is Tesco chief executive Sir Terry Leahy. Earlier this week he said standards in some schools were "woefully low" and that employers had to "pick up the pieces".

The Conservatives said the GCSE results showed 320,000 of those aged 16 did not reach the minimum level expected.

Shadow Schools Minister, Nick Gibb said: "It's very worrying that fewer than half of 16-year-olds are achieving the basic level of qualifications and that the huge gap between rich and poor still remains.

"Until we bypass the bureaucrats so we get more of the money direct to head teachers, and give them proper powers to deal with poorly behaved children, we are not going to see the kind of improvements needed."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said students and their teachers should be congratulated.

"GCSEs are a 20-year success story of which any business would be proud. This flies in the face of the continuing criticism from Sir Terry Leahy of Tesco and other industrialists over the years.

"The improving results of schools in challenging areas are a testament to the vital role played by schools in improving life chances for young people and turning around cultures of low expectations in run-down communities."

map of England

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