Education Secretary Michael Gove has denied putting any pressure on exam boards to alter grade boundaries after GCSE pass results fell for the first time in the exams' 24-year history.
Today's figures showed that 69.4% of all GCSE exams were given at least a C grade - down 0.4% from last year.
The drop came amid strong criticisms from classrooms across the country that changes to grade boundaries had deliberately hindered this year's students, with results in English causing particular distress among teachers.
ITV News' Political Correspondent Alex Forrest reports:
Arthur Bazey, the deputy head of Woodside High School in North London, told ITV News the results did not reflect the effort of his students:
There's been around a 15% drop in the English language result, which has been very significant, because year-on-year we've always had a 10% incremental rise in the language result, so it's very disappointing.
Amanda Thain, a headteacher from Levenshulme High School in Manchester, launched a bolder attack on the government following markedly lower grades for English language papers.
She said students had been "disadvantaged and penalised" and accused the government of altering the way external papers were marked.
Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg added his voice to those calling for a clarification on who ordered the change in boundaries:
We need to understand why results have fallen in these subjects. Is it because of pressure from Ofqual to shift grade boundaries?
But Mr Gove emphatically denied accusations he used this year's papers as a political football as he looks to both change the GCSE exam system and establish more academies. He told ITV News:
There has been no pressure from ministers on the regulator or on exam boards to alter or change grade boundaries.
The decision is made by the exam boards themselves - they do it in consultation with the regulator.
Glenys Stacey, the chief executive of England's exam regulator Ofqual, told ITV News there was no interference from government despite ministers' public criticisms of the current system.
Politicians can say what they like about grade standards and about grade inflation. We at Ofqual have got a job to do whatever flavour of government.
That's what we are doing. We are setting standards and making sure that standards are maintained and they stay steady.
Here is a breakdown of some of today's results:
- 69.4% achieved at least a grade C
- 7.3% achieved an A* grade - down 0.5%
- 22.4% achieved an A grade - down 0.8%
The overall drop means that fewer students passed the core subjects of English, Maths and Science.
- 63.9% of entries got at least a C - down from 65.4% last year
- 15% got an A*-A, down from 16.8% last year
- 58.4% got at least a C grade or above - down from 58.8 last year
- 15.4% got an A*- A , down from 16.5% last year
- 60.7% got grade A*- C, down from 62.9% last year
- 9.8% got an A*-A, down from 11.6% last year
Regional breakdown of results in England
- South East: accounted for 17% of entries and 20% achieved A* grades
- London: accounted for 15% of entries and 18% achieved A* grades
- East and North West: accounted for 13% of entries and 12% achieved A* grades
- South West: accounted for 10% of entries and achieved 11% of A* grades
- West Midlands: accounted for 11% of entries and achieved 9% of A* grades
- Yorkshire and Humber: accounted for 10% of entries and achieved 8% of A* grades
- The East Midlands: accounted for 9% of entries and achieved 7% of A* grades
- The North East: accounted for 5% of entries, and achieved 4% of A* grades
More students study GSCE science
The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) said there was a "dramatic increase" in entries for science GCSE - up 36.5% and said that the fall in results in the subject was partly due to a more "demanding standard" this year, as well as a "significant increase" in the number of 15-year-olds taking the exams.
More students study modern languages
The results showed a rise in the number of students taking modern languages, particularly Spanish. This year seen a record 10% rise in the number of students taking Spanish for GCSE. Overall 13.7% of pupils studying modern languages for GCSE, the most popular being:
Girls outperform boys again
Girls have performed better in their GCSE results than outperformed boys in results, again, and the progress made last year (when boys briefly made moves to close the gap) has not been repeated.
- 25.6% of girls got A* and A grades - compared to 18.9% of boys
- 73.35% of girls got C-A grades - compared to 65.4% of boys