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Early exams fuel lower GCSE grades
Fewer GCSEs were awarded at least a C grade this year, fuelled by a rise in the numbers of pupils sitting exams early and multiple times.
Just over two-thirds (68.1%) of entries scored A*-C this summer, down 1.3 percentage points from 2012 - the biggest fall in the exam's 25-year history. It is the second year running that the pass rate has fallen. The proportion of entries gaining top grades has also fallen by 0.5 percentage points - with 6.8% achieving a coveted A*.
The dip in national results comes amid a major upheaval in the exams system with more pupils entering maths GCSE early or multiple times, changes to science GCSEs and an increase in pupils taking international GCSEs (IGCSEs) in certain subjects contributing to the falls in performance.
Exam board chiefs warned that sitting exams more than once - especially in maths - was doing "real damage" to education in this country. They said there was "limited educational benefit" to pupils sitting GCSEs in the same subject many times, and suggested that "perverse incentives" were encouraging schools towards multiple and early entry to ensure that pupils secured crucial C grades or higher in maths and English.
Andrew Hall, chief executive of the AQA exam board, said there had been a "significant" increase in 15-year-olds taking exams and the performance of pupils taking GCSEs early tended to be weaker than that of 16-year-olds. The number of 15-year-olds taking at least one GCSE rose by 91,000 between 2012 and 2013, the figures show.
Under the current accountability system, schools must ensure that at least 40% of their pupils gain at least five C grades at GCSE, including English and maths, and meet national progress measures. Those that fail to do so are considered failing and could face closure or being taken over.
"I have a real worry that students are getting entered at 15. If they get their C, do they carry on and actually develop to their full potential? Or is the accountability system actually saying ,well, we'll get them to the C and then they stop and the focus and interventions go elsewhere. I think that is the perverse incentive (of the system)," Mr Hall said.
Mark Dawe, chief executive of the OCR exam board, said there is "limited educational benefit" of multiple entries. He said: "Early entry does not benefit the students. The results are far lower for 15-year-olds - these qualifications are designed for 16-year-olds,. Students should be left to learn for those two years and that is what we would encourage."
The latest statistics show a drop in the proportion of entries scoring at least a C in key subjects including English, maths and science. In English, 63.6% of entries gained a C or higher, down from 64.1% last summer. This comes amid a rise in the number of younger students taking GCSE English, the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) said. This summer there were 61,000 more entries for the subject and of these more than two-fifths (41.9%) were from pupils aged 15.
In maths, 57.6% of entries scored an A*-C grade, compared to 58.4% in 2012. JCQ said there had been "significant early and repeated entries" for maths, with more than half a million entries before the summer exams. While results for 16-year-olds - the age at which pupils usually sit GCSE exams - remained "virtually unchanged", there was a decline in performance among 15-year-olds.