A-level passes up but A grades fall
The proportion of A-levels awarded top grades has fallen for the second year amid a rise in students taking science and maths, official figures show.
In total, 26.3% of entries scored an A or A*, down from 26.6% last year - a drop of 0.3%. It is believed to be the second biggest fall in the history of A-levels, and comes the year after the A*-A pass rate fell for the first time in more than 20 years.
The number of entries awarded an A* - the highest grade - also dipped to 7.6%, compared with 7.9% last year, while the overall A*-E pass rate rose slightly by 0.1% to 98.1%.
As the pass rate dipped, a breakdown by subject revealed a continued move towards science and maths A-levels, which are often seen as tougher, and more traditional subjects.
Biology, chemistry and physics accounted for 17.8% of entries, up from 17% last year and 15% in 2009, according to figures published by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ).
One in eight (12%) entries was in maths or further maths, up from 11.5% last year and 9.8% five years ago.
There were almost 24,000 more entries for the sciences this year compared with 2009, JCQ said, and nearly 19,000 more for maths courses. Chemistry entries alone were up 5.2% this year, further maths was up 4.5% and physics entries rose by 3.1%, the statistics show.
Universities and Science Minister David Willetts congratulated the hundreds of thousands of students who received their A-level results during a visit to the headquarters of admissions service Ucas in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.
"Here at Ucas in Cheltenham I am seeing hundreds of thousands of young people who've achieved great A-level grades," Mr Willetts said. "I congratulate them on that and they are now on their way to university. In fact, for this stage of the process it looks as if more young people have got their definite place at university than ever before at this stage."
Education Minister Elizabeth Truss said it was "extremely encouraging" that there had been a rise in the number of students taking subjects such as science and maths.