GCSE results: Disappointing drop in key subject achievements

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Today is GCSE results day and for the second year running we have seen a drop in the numbers of pupils achieving A* to C grades in English, maths and the sciences. Last year saw the first drop since GCSEs began and today we have seen a more significant fall.

% Students achieving A* to C grades:

Biology 89.8% (92.6% in 2012)Chemistry 98.7% (98.6% in 2012)Physics 90.8% (93.2% in 2012)English 63.6% (64.1% in 2012)Maths 57.6% (58.4% in 2012)

Whilst there has been a lot of speculation that numbers would fall today's results will still be a disappointment to manufacturers. Some relief will come from the fact that more young people are taking GCSE English, maths and the sciences but this trend must be matched with attainment levels also.

No. students taking GCSE exams

Biology 1744278 (166168 in 2012)Chemistry 166091 (159126 in 2012)Physics 160735 (157377 in 2012)English 731153 (669534 in 2012)Maths 760170 (675789 in 2012)

Manufacturing employers are ready and waiting to recruit young people – take for example a recent EEF survey that found three-quarters generally recruit Apprentices at aged 16 to 18.

But in return, they must be assured that students are equipped with the right skills and qualifications. That same survey revealed that three-quarters of manufacturers prioritise attainment in English, maths and the sciences when recruiting Apprentices.

What makes today's results even more important is that attainment in these key subjects is crucial for young people, whether they choose a vocational pathway, such as an Apprenticeship, or remain in further or higher education. Manufacturers continue to use the ‘five good GCSEs' benchmark when recruiting, just as many sixth forms and colleges do also.

In our Route to Growth report, we set a benchmark for 65% of school leavers to achieve five A* to C GCSE grades including English and maths by 2015. Whilst these figures are not officially out, today's results give a clear indication we are still some way off from meeting this benchmark.

Last year, figures released in October showed that the numbers of achieving these five good GCSEs had fallen, although revised figures in January showed a marginal increase, but still very much off our ambition, with the figure standing at around 58%.

Government must immediately re-focus its efforts towards driving up the quality of teaching. Efforts to encourage top class graduates to teach key subjects have been welcome, but as we have said before Government should go further and cap the repayment of fees for those graduates that study key subjects at university and then go onto teach them.

Moving away from English, maths and sciences and looking into other subjects of interest we can also see a fall in the numbers of pupils sitting GCSE Design and Technology as well as a fall in the numbers achieving A* to C (61.8% - down from 62.7% in 2012).

Engineering on the other hand has seen an increase in the numbers of young males and females studying it at GCSE level. A further victory is that 212 girls studied engineering, up from 130 on the previous year. Unfortunately there was a fall in pass rates again for engineering, with 41.1% achieving A* to C, down from 46.8% on the previous year.

Whilst we can see the positives in the numbers of young people studying English, maths and the sciences (and Engineering), we must see this matched by attainment, as it is the attainment of such qualifications that manufacturers are looking for.

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Head of Education & Skills Policy

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