Press release

Plan for education: reversing decline in academic subjects

Record numbers take challenging English Baccalaureate (EBacc) at GCSE.

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

pupils with hands raised to answer questions in classroom

Government reforms to GCSEs are helping reverse the decline in the number of pupils taking rigorous academic qualifications, with results out today (23 October 2014) showing an increase in those taking challenging EBacc subjects.

Provisional GCSE results for state-funded schools in the academic year 2013 to 2014 show 38.7% of pupils entering crucial EBacc subjects like science, history or geography while 23.9% achieved the EBacc measure - a rise of 3.2 percentage points and 1.1 percentage points respectively.

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.

After thousands of poor-quality qualifications were stripped out of this year’s performance measures, the figures also show the number of entries for non-EBacc qualifications have almost halved.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said:

I am delighted to see more and more young people taking the high-quality subjects that will properly prepare them for life in modern Britain.

With record numbers taking science at GCSE, and maths now the most popular subject at A level, our plan for education has finally reversed the decline in key academic subjects.

Overall the proportion of pupils achieving 5 A* to C grades including English and maths in state schools has fallen across all types of school. This follows crucial reforms to the exams to ensure they remain at a high standard. GCSE results have fallen by:

  • 6.6 percentage points for all schools - from 59.2% in 2012 to 2013 to 52.6% in 2013 to 2014
  • 4.7 percentage points in state schools - from 60.6% to 55.9%

Of the 4.7 percentage point reduction in state schools, the provisional data shows that 3.7 percentage points can be attributed to early entry and vocational qualification reforms which impact on the way qualifications contribute to performance table measures.

These measures do not impact on results achieved by individual pupils. Excluding these reforms, there has been just a 1 percentage point drop in the proportion of pupils achieving 5 A* to C including English and maths compared to last year, showing the government’s commitment to keeping GCSEs ambitious and rigorous.

Separate figures also released today show the proportion of A level entries in the so-called facilitating subjects - defined by the Russell Group of universities as those A levels most commonly required for entry to leading universities and therefore giving students more options - are also up.

In A levels in the 2013 to 2014 academic year:

  • the proportion taking facilitating subjects rose by 1.1 percentage points from 53.9% to 54.9%

  • maths became the most popular A level for the first time, accounting for 10.7% of entries into A levels, compared to 10.5% for English
  • the proportion of students entering A levels in biology, chemistry and physics all increased

This year’s results are the first to be affected by a number of major reforms.

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
  • restricting the list of qualifications counted in performance measures to only those of the highest quality, 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

The key change at A level is:

  • removing the opportunity for students to enter AS and A level modules in January, freeing up more time for study rather than taking exams

Figures released over the summer showed how putting an end to multiple entry at GCSE has ensured pupils took exams only when they were properly prepared - with a 40% drop in the number of entries by pupils aged 15 under.

And today’s figures show that while the proportion of pupils studying maths GCSE has increased slightly from 95.4% to 96.2%, the number of entries fell by 21%.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said:

As part of our plan for education we are making GCSEs more ambitious and putting them on a par with the best in the world to prepare pupils for life in modern Britain.

We have made important changes to a system that rewarded the wrong outcomes. We have stripped out qualifications that were of little value and are making sure pupils take exams when they are ready, not before.

Today’s results show some big variations in results in all types of schools but, crucially, changes in performance tables will have no impact on individual pupils’ results.

Young people can only succeed in life, and fulfil their potential, if they are given the tools to do so. The old exams system did not do that. Our new system will.

Notes to editors

  1. Read the GCSE results: ‘Provisional GCSE and equivalent results in England: 2013 to 2014

  2. Read the A level results: ‘A level and other level 3 results: 2013 to 2014 (provisional)

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Published 23 October 2014