Press release

90,000 more pupils taking core academic GCSEs than in 2010

Figures show more girls than ever before taking maths and physics at A level.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Children answering a question in class

The government’s plan for education has helped to dramatically increase the number of pupils taking core academic subjects at GCSE, figures out today (29 January 2015) show.

New school-level performance table figures show that 90,000 more pupils took the challenging EBacc compared to 2010, an increase of 71% in 4 years.

Today’s figures show that since 2010 the number of pupils entering:

  • the EBacc has risen by 71% - 89,874 more pupils now enter the EBacc compared to 2010
  • history or geography has risen by 31% - 84,550 more pupils now enter history or geography compared to 2010
  • languages has risen by 21% - 49,858 more pupils now enter language subjects compared to 2010

Pupils achieve the EBacc if they secure a C or better in English, maths, 2 sciences, history or geography, and a language - the subjects most valued by universities and employers.

This number has also significantly increased in state-funded schools, rising from 15.1% of pupils in 2010 to 24.2% in 2013 to 2014.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said:

As a result of our plan for education we are seeing thousands more pupils taking the core academic GCSEs and A levels - those that open doors to future success.

By pegging our exams to the best in the world, we are restoring rigour and giving students the skills they need to succeed in modern Britain.

It is particularly pleasing to see more young people taking the crucial STEM subjects at A level and I want to continue this trend which has seen a record number of girls taking subjects like physics.

The government has been reforming GCSEs and A levels so that pupils leave school with qualifications that are of real value and enable them to succeed in the future.

The key changes at GCSE are:

  • only counting a pupil’s first attempt at an EBacc qualification in performance tables, ending the practice of schools repeatedly entering pupils for exams so they could ‘bank’ a good grade
  • stripping poor-quality vocational qualifications that weren’t respected by employers or universities out of performance tables, preventing any qualification from counting as equivalent to more than 1 GCSE, and capping the number of non-GCSEs counting in performance measures to 2

As a result of these changes, the headline 5-A*-to-C-grade measure of school performance has fallen across all types of school. GCSE results have fallen by:

  • 5.8% for all schools - from 59.2% in 2012 to 2013 to 53.4% in 2013 to 2014
  • 4% in state schools - from 60.6% to 56.6%

Schools were told about these changes in September 2013, and guidance was given in March 2014.

This year, 330 schools are below the floor standard. This is one of a number of factors schools are judged on and it does not automatically mean the school will face intervention. These changes do not affect the individual results pupils have received.

The evidence shows that schools respond positively to the bar being raised in this way. For example, in 2012 the government raised the floor standard from 35% to 40%, which meant the number of schools below the floor rose from 107 in 2011 and to 195 in 2012. This number then began to decrease as more schools achieved the higher standards, dropping to 154 last year. We expect a similar pattern to follow these changes.

Commenting on the changes in this year’s performance tables, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said:

For too long pupils were offered courses of no value to them and schools felt pressured to enter young people for exams before they were ready.

By stripping out thousands of poor-quality qualifications and removing resits from tables, some schools have seen changes in their standings.

But, fundamentally, young people’s achievement matters more than being able to trumpet ever higher grades. Now pupils are spending more time in the classroom, not constantly sitting exams, and 90,000 more children are taking core academic subjects that will help them succeed in work and further study.

We have raised the bar, and I know schools are already rising to the challenge - ensuring our young people leave school ready to succeed not just in Britain, but on the global stage.

A level

The figures out today also show the number of A level entries in so-called facilitating subjects has risen by more than 20,000 since 2009 to 2010 to 407,674. These are the courses that Russell Group universities tell students open doors to more degrees.

The statistics also show a higher proportion of pupils are taking each of the science and maths subjects than in 2009 to 2010.

Since 2009 to 2010, the number of maths exam entries has risen by more than 9,000 to 79,036.

The figures also showed:

  • maths was the most popular A level of all, accounting for 10.6% of all entries - this is the highest percentage since records began in 1996
  • the number of girls taking physics has risen from 5,689 in 2009 to 2010 to 6,423 in 2013 to 2014
  • the number of girls taking maths has risen by 7.3% since 2009 to 2010, in biology entries have risen by 8.9%, and in chemistry they were up 16.2%
  • since 2009 to 2010 the proportion of A level entries in tough ‘facilitating’ subjects has gone from 50.3% to 54.9%

Notes to editors

  1. For A levels, see the School and college performance tables in England: 2013 to 2014
  2. For GCSEs, see the Secondary school performance tables in England: 2013 to 2014

Table 1: the 5 local authorities with the highest average point score at A level:

Local authority Number of schools Average point score (equivalent grade in bracket)
Reading 12 237.7 (B)
Sutton 17 230.2 (B-)
Buckinghamshire 46 229.5 (B-)
Trafford 14 226.3 (B-)
Torbay 11 226.2 (B-)

Table 2: the 5 local authorities with the lowest average point score at A level:

Local authority Number of schools Average point score (equivalent grade in bracket)
Richmond-upon-Thames 12 188 (D+)
Barnsley 3 194.6 (D+)
Portsmouth 6 194.6 (D+)
Southampton 7 195.8 (C-)
Knowsley 3 197.5 (C-)

Table 3: local authorities with the highest proportion of pupils achieving 5 or more A* to C grades at GCSE (including EM) (state-funded schools only):

Region/local authority Number of schools Percentage of pupils getting 5 or more A* to C (including EM)
Kensington and Chelsea 7 73.8
Trafford 21 72.2
Sutton 17 72.1
Kingston-upon-Thames 13 70.0
Buckinghamshire 47 69.5

Table 4: local authorities with the lowest proportion of pupils achieving 5 or more A* to C grades at GCSE (including EM) (state-funded schools only):

Region/local authority Number of schools Percentage of pupils getting 5 or more A* to C (including EM)
Kingston-upon-Hull, city of 20 44.7
Nottingham 22 44.6
Blackpool 13 44.0
Bradford 39 44.0
Knowsley 12 35.4

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Published 29 January 2015