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Thursday, 26 August, 1999, 21:49 GMT 22:49 UK
Record year for GCSE pupils
students getting results
The hard work has paid off for thousands of students
Click here for results subject-by-subject.

Thousands of teenagers anxiously waiting for the results of their GCSE exams on Thursday have achieved a record proportion of top grades.

The proportion of papers attracting A* to C grades in England, Wales and Northern Ireland has risen from last year's 54.7% to 55.8%.

There is also a small rise in the overall pass rate. The proportion of papers receiving grades A* to G has risen from 97.7% last year to 98% this year.

However, this figure is still lower than in 1997, when 98.5% of papers were awarded passes.

And some head teachers are worried about the proportion of entries receiving no grade at all.

Exam Results '99
The Education Secretary, David Blunkett, said the provisional results showed that "good progress" was being made towards achieving the national targets for 16-year-olds.

The government has pledged that by 2002, half of 16-year-olds will achieve five or more A* to C grades at GCSE, compared with 46.3% last year, and 95% will get one or more pass at any grade.

Concern over failures

But out of more than five million individual entries, 2% - about 100,000 - did not even receive the lowest G grade. This figure has only fallen by 0.3% from last year.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the results showed the effort schools were making to get pupils past the grade C benchmark - the equivalent of an old O level pass.

But he said: "The fact there is a smaller increase in the success rate lower down the scale demonstrates that there is a polarisation between the educational haves and have-nots."

Many students are celebrating top results
The proportion of grades at A* to C in English was 57.7% (up from 56.5% in 1998), in mathematics it was 48% (up from 46.9%), and in the sciences it was 53.5% (up from 53.2%).

The exam boards dismissed any suggestion that GCSEs were too easy, despite the rise in top grades awarded.

Professor Alan Smithers, of Liverpool University, said the exams had become easier to achieve, particularly through the expansion of coursework.

But Dr Ron McLone, Convenor of the Joint Council for General Qualifications which released the results, said: "These results demonstrate that hard work, thorough preparation and good teaching are rewarded with good results.


"Students and their teachers deserve our congratulations.

"Our number one priority is to maintain standards year on year. The awarding bodies operate under a strict code of practice that ensures all candidates are treated fairly and that results are reliable, objective and consistent."

And Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said young people "should ignore the carping and inaccurate criticism that GCSEs are easier".

"They know all too well how difficult they are and how much effort they have to put in to achieve these high quality results."

Tory criticism

Conservative education spokesman James Clappison said the hard work of successful candidates deserved recognition, and added: "We need to ensure that those achievements are respected and maintained."

He attacked Labour's education policy, saying government plans for post-16 education created uncertainty over the future of sixth forms.

students on phone
Spreading the good news by telephone
Some of the most successful GCSE results came from grant-maintained schools which faced a "dual threat" at the start of the new school year, he said.

"They will have to deal with a harsh new financial settlement imposed on them by the Government. And many will have to change their admissions policies as a result of Labour diktat.

Among pupils with cause for celebration on Thursday were those who achieved straight A* grades.

They included Nadia Rowe, of King David High School in Manchester, an inner city non-selective comprehensive, who got 12 top grades in subjects including Biblical Hebrew and modern Hebrew.

Three of her fellow pupils, Devorah Marks, Shoshana Isaacson and Jamie McKenna, all gained 11 A* grades.

Also receiving outstanding grades was Ruth Tolkien, a blind student at the Royal National Institute for the Blind's school in Worcestershire, who achieved 10 A grades including A* grades in four subjects.

"Our students prove that with the right support and technology, blind and partially sighted young people can achieve high standards like their sighted peers," said the college principal, Helen Williams.

On a more sombre note, the father of a girl killed in a traffic accident since taking her exams, collected her GCSE results from a school in Northampton.

Daniel Kwakye, whose two daughters were killed when a lorry hit the family's car after it had broken down, collected the results of Juliana Opokua, who gained eight GCSEs, including two A grades.

Vocational qualifications

Figures released by the Joint Council, which include statistics for Northern Ireland where candidates received their results last week, also show the expansion of the pilot scheme of part one General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQs).

The qualifications are intended to offer an "applied" alternative to GCSEs and will generally be available from next year.

This year, they were taken by 17,459 candidates - an increase of nearly 70% from last year.

The proportion of candidates successfully completing them has risen by 1.8% at foundation level, but has decreased by 2.5% at intermediate level.

David Blunkett: "Good progress had been made"
The BBC's Sue Littlemore reports: "The general GCSE pass rate has been fluctuating"
The BBC's Sue Littlemore: "This year the general pass rate is up to 98%"
Sue Littlemore: "A record 56% of exams earned A-C grades"
See also:

23 Aug 99 | UK Education
26 Aug 99 | exams99
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