A-level pass rates have fallen for the first time in more than 30 years - but record numbers have got into university.
Results for A and AS levels 2014 were released this morning (August 14), and show that the overall pass rate has fallen for the first time in 32 years.
In total, just over one in four - 26, up 0.6 percentage points on 2013.
The overall A*-E pass rate fell by 0.1 - the first time it has fallen in 32 years.
Boys have outdone girls at A* grade for the third year running, with 8.5 of the girls'.
The latest results come amid major changes to the system, with January exams scrapped, leaving fewer opportunities for students to re-sit papers. All exams are now taken in the summer.
Schools have been warned that they could see changes to their results this year due to the overhaul.
Exam chiefs today suggested that those schools which have traditionally used January exams for re-sits could see 'greater volatility' than those who enter pupils for papers at the end of courses.
The latest results, which show how pupils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have performed, show that an increasing number of students are choosing science, with the number electing to study biology, chemistry and physics rising by 2 and further maths by 1.5, but even greater decreases can be seen in subjects such as political studies, which is down by 10.6.
Results for other 'facilitating subjects' - traditional subjects often favoured by top universities - remain relatively unchanged, with the majority seeing increases in A* grades but small declines at A.
Commenting on the results, education secretary Nicky Morgan, said: "I'm delighted to see more students, especially young women, studying maths and sciences and teachers having more time to push pupils to achieve the very top grades. This will help them secure the top jobs, regardless of their background, and secure a brighter future."
The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) said that there could be 'several factors' contributing to this pattern in results, such as teachers working in different ways following the removal of January exams, a shift towards 'facilitating subjects' affecting the proportion getting A grades and the A* becoming more important for universities and students.Commenting on the results, Michael Turner, director general of the JCQ, said: "Although the system has undergone change, this year's national results are very stable.
As ever, students and teachers across the country have worked hard to achieve them and should be congratulated for their efforts and the fruits of their labours.
"It is possible that due to the removal of the January series, some schools and colleges may experience volatility in their results, depending on how they have adapted to the changes. But it is important to remember that standards have been maintained and, despite the changes, are comparable with previous years.
"The increase in the number of students taking Spanish and some other EBacc subjects at AS will be welcomed by many and it will be interesting to see if these rises follow through to next year's A-levels."
Greg Clark, Minister for Universities and Science, welcomed the A levels results saying it was a 'good day for the country':"I think it is great news. The fact we have got record numbers of people going to university is a great day for the students, who worked very hard to get in, and a good day for the country as we want to see people realising their potential.
It's a real red letter day for everyone. It's a record number of people placed on results day and as the weeks ahead progress it is looking likely the 500,000 barrier will be broken.
"That is tremendous news. One of the things the Government did this year was to increase the student number cap by 30,000, with a view to removing it next year.
"That's because we want to remove the cap on aspiration and we want every young person, who can benefit from higher education, to be able to do so. That's good for them and that's good for the country."
Yesterday (August 13), a report was published by the Independent Commission on Fees, set up by The Sutton Trust to monitor the impact of increased tuition fees, suggesting that teenagers from wealthy backgrounds are still about 10 times more likely to get into top universities than those from poorer homes.
Speaking of the findings, Mr Clark said: "One of the really gratifying outcomes we have seen is a particular increase in applicants from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.
"So, for example, there are 8% more pupils receiving free school meals applying this year than last year. There has been a marked increase in the applications from places of educational disadvantage.
"So the message is really getting across to young people that anyone who has the aspiration and ability to go to university can. You won't pay up front. You will be well supported in terms of loans and grants, if you are from a disadvantaged background. and you will only pay back if you get a good job and in proportion to that.
"That message has come out loud and clear. I think it is clear both in the increase in student numbers - we have record numbers - but particularly this point about the remarkable increase in the numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds."
But Mr Clark insisted the long-term Government financing of higher education was 'sustainable' despite the squeeze on public spending.
"One of the big decisions the Chancellor made last year was to finance the increase in student numbers," he said. "First by 30,000 this year and then remove the cap. That was a deliberate decision to remove the cap on aspiration and to make sure the country can benefit as it needs to from people getting the education their ability allows."
Mark Dawe, chief executive of examining board OCR, said he believed the rise in the number of students achieving A* grades was down to three things.
The first was the scrapping of the January exams, he said, which left students with more time to focus on their final exams.
"Maybe those students that were comfortably getting an A, with the extra time a few more will have stretched to get that A*," he added.
The second factor is that students are becoming increasingly more 'savvy' in choosing their subjects.
"Students are savvy young people now. They are actually looking and saying 'Which A-levels are going to help me get into universities?'
"It's just that real focus. I think that's a trend we've seen over time - that savviness increasing year on year."
He added that the final reason was due to few universities asking for the A* grade when it was first introduced in 2010, but increasing numbers doing so in subsequent years.
"Again we think there's been this increasing trend of students reaching to get the A* because they now need it," Mr Dawe added.
Lesley Davies, vice president of quality, standards and research at Pearson UK, said students were choosing more traditional subjects as they were becoming increasingly focused on what was needed for their career, rather than what they might find easy.
"They're looking at their future careers, they know where these jobs are going to be so it's worth their while really putting the effort in and taking those subjects they might find more challenging to make sure they're competitive," she said.
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