Basics do well at GCSE but language entries fall

The number of students getting a good pass in their maths and English GCSEs has increased slightly this year, despite business concerns about a decline in basic skills.

Ministers and union leaders welcomed the rise in students getting a C grade or above in English, from 60.9 per cent to 61.6 per cent, and in maths, from 53.4 per cent to 54.3 per cent, as a sign of rising standards in schools.

However, there are concerns about the declining number of people taking modern languages, something education secretary Alan Johnson admitted was “disappointing”.

Today’s figures show the proportion of GCSEs resulting in a C grade or above has increased by 1.2 percentage points to 62.4 per cent since last year, while the number resulting in an A* or A grade has gone up from 18.4 per cent to 19.1 per cent.

The subjects with the highest grades were physics, additional maths, chemistry and biology, and Mr Johnson said these were a sign that government efforts to get more students studying science at university were having an effect.

He also welcomed the rise in numbers achieving a good pass at GCSE English and maths, saying these subjects were the “foundations of a good education”.

National Union of Teachers (NUT) general secretary Steve Sinnott also praised the results, which come just days after the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) warned of an absence of basic numeracy and literacy skills among school leavers.

“The fact that young people have done so well in English and mathematics rebuts ill-informed criticism from groups such as the CBI,” he said.

But Mr Sinnott warned that the overall picture of results was soured by the “depressing spectre” of a massive drop in entries for modern foreign languages – the numbers applying for German fell 14.5 per cent, French 13.2 per cent and Spanish 0.5 per cent.

“The government must conduct a serious review of its stance on modern languages in the key stage four curriculum and examine how it should be promoting these subjects rather than presiding their decline,” he said.

Ministers have been blamed for the decline in modern languages, after they removed the requirement for all GCSE students to study at least one language two years ago.

Mr Johnson admitted that the overall decline in entries “although not wholly unexpected, is disappointing”, but noted that the A* to C pass rate for languages has risen by 3.8 per cent.

He stressed that supporting language teaching in primary schools was having an effect, saying he was “confident these changes will deliver a new generation of linguists”.