The proportion of GCSEs awarded top grades has risen for the second year in a row after the biggest exam shake-up for a generation.
Hundreds of thousands of youngsters received their results on Thursday after sitting the Government’s tough new GCSE courses.
More than one in five (20.8%) UK GCSE entries scored one of the three top grades this year, up from 20.5% last summer.
The proportion receiving the top grades – at least a 7 or an A grade – is the highest since 2015 and marks the second year-on-year rise in a row.
The proportion of entries getting at least a 4 or a C grade is also the highest since 2015.
A total of 67.3% of UK entries scored a C/4 or above, up from 66.9% last year, according to data published by the Joint Council for Qualifications.
The lead enjoyed by girls over boys at A/7 is unchanged from last year (6.5 percentage points), while the gap at C/4 has narrowed slightly from 9.1 points to 8.8.
The number of UK entries getting C/4 or above in English and maths has increased slightly since last year.
A total of 62% of UK entries scored C/4 or above in English, up from 61.8%, while 59.6% of entries scored C/4 in maths, up from 59.4%.
Separate figures, published by exams regulator Ofqual, showed that 837 16-year-olds in England taking at least seven new GCSEs scored a clean sweep of straight 9s – the highest grade available under the new system – in all subjects.
This is just a tiny fraction (0.1%) of the more than half a million teenagers in England who take GCSEs.
This summer’s clean sweep figure is up from 732 16-year-olds in 2018, with the increase being put down to a higher number of students taking all of their GCSEs on the reformed numbered grading system.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Huge congratulations to everyone receiving their GCSE results today.
“I’m delighted to see an increase in those studying EBacc subjects – including science, computing and foreign languages – as well as creative studies, meaning pupils are getting the rigorous yet well-rounded education they need.
“As I said last week, my Government will do all we can to increase funding for education and to give schools the powers they need to deal with bad behaviour and bullying so pupils continue to learn effectively.”
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the results show pupils are going on to further study and the world of work “with the best possible foundations, focusing on the academic cornerstones of education while also stretching themselves creatively”.
Under England’s exams overhaul, GCSEs have been toughened up, with less coursework, and exams at the end of the two-year courses rather than throughout.
Traditional A*-G grades have been scrapped and replaced with a 9-1 system, with 9 the highest result.
A 4 is broadly equivalent to a C grade, and a 7 broadly equivalent to an A.
Most students receiving GCSE results this summer will have been awarded numerical grades for all their subjects as almost all courses have moved to the new system.
A total of 25 subjects were awarded new grades for the first time this year.
GCSE courses are also taken by students in Wales and Northern Ireland, where there have been separate exam reforms.
Mr Williamson said: “Today is a proud day for students, teachers and parents up and down the country, and I wish them all the very best for their results.
“It should also be an exciting day. It’s a day that marks the culmination of years of hard work and opens doors that can create life-changing opportunities.”
Ahead of results day, school leaders raised concerns that the new GCSE courses are “demoralising” for lower-achieving students.
A poll by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) of 554 members in England found that eight in 10 believe the reformed courses are having a detrimental effect on struggling students.
Geoff Barton, ASCL general secretary, said there were concerns some pupils would be “written off”.
He told the PA news agency: “(New GCSEs) are harder in two respects; the content is definitely harder, but also the mode of assessment is harder for some students.
“We are concerned for those young people, that in a qualification that is called a general qualification, it appears to have as collateral damage a third of young people who get a 3, a 2 or a 1 in English and maths and are told they haven’t met national standards.
“At the current rate it’s going to be a long time until you don’t have a third of young people written off because they got 3s, 2s and 1s.”
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Exams are an essential part of ensuring that young people have acquired the knowledge and skills they need, but should never be at the expense of a young person’s wellbeing.”