Saturday, October 21, 2006

Huge British High School failure

Only a quarter of pupils obtained good GCSEs in the core subjects that many employers now regard as essential, according to figures released yesterday. The proportion of pupils achieving five GCSEs at grades A* to C this summer jumped by 1.8 percentage points to 58.1 per cent, the second biggest rise since 1997, the Department for Education said. But the figures also show that, after 11 years of compulsory schooling, just 45.1 per cent of pupils obtained five good GCSEs when English and mathematics were included, a rise of less than one percentage point on last year's figures. Only 41 per cent of pupils achieved grades A* to C in English, maths and science and just 26 per cent got good grades in English, maths, science and a language - a fall of four percentage points from 2002.

Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, conceded that more needs to be done to boost attainment. "One child not reaching their full potential in one school is one too many," he said. Mr Knight also expressed "deep frustration" that the gap in performance between boys and girls had hardly narrowed. Although exam results for both sexes had continued to improve, "boys are now where girls were in 1999", he said.

The results, published yesterday by the Office for National Statistics, show that 53 per cent of pupils failed to get good grades in maths and English at GCSE. This rises to nearly 57 per cent among boys. However, Mr Knight added that the number of schools failing to equip at least a quarter of their pupils with five good passes in any subject had been cut to about one tenth of the rate of 1997. He also said that entries for a single science were now rising, with rises of 7 per cent each in chemistry and physics.

Nick Gibb, the Conservative schools spokesman, welcomed the increase in the headline figure for five or more good GCSEs, but expressed concern that the rise was being fuelled by schools entering more pupils for easier, or "softer", subjects such as sociology. "Because they want to reach the target of getting pupils through five or more GCSEs, some schools appear to be manipulating the results by focusing less on the essential subjects such as English and maths and putting more emphasis on softer subjects, where they think they can get higher grades," he said. "Most concerning of all is the drop in the proportion achieving good GCSEs in English, maths, science and a modern foreign language for the fifth year running, a proportion which has now reached a record low of just 26 per cent."

Anthony Thompson, head of skills at the employers' organisation CBI, said that employers remained frustrated by the lack of progress at GCSE level. "The recent action to try and increase take-up of foreign languages is a positive step, but the Government must ensure the science curriculum encourages further study," he said


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