The number of A-level students achieving at least an A or A* grade has seen the biggest dip in two decades, official figures revealed today.
An estimated 335,000 A-level students have received their results, with 26.6% being awarded A or A*, down from 27% in 2011.
The record drop of 0.4% is believed to be the biggest in 20 years, with the last dip being recorded in 1991 when A and A* grades decreased from 12% to 11.9%.
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The figures released from the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) also revealed that boys overtook girls at A* grade for the first time. Some 8% of boys managed to obtain the top mark, compared with 7.9% of girls. Overall, the A* to E pass rate saw an increase for the 30th year, with 98% of exams achieving at least one E, in comparison with 97.8% last year.
However, the popularity of maths and science is on the rise, with an increase in the number of students opting to study the subjects at A-level.
Maths and further maths increased 3.3% and 7.6% respectively. In addition, biology, chemistry and physics rose 1.7%, 2.4% and 5% respectively. On the whole, since 2007 maths and further maths has risen 45.6%, biology 15.6%, chemistry 22.2% and physics 25.6%.
"It’s particularly pleasing that the growth in numbers studying science and maths is continuing, as these subjects are critical to the future success of our economy," said Neil Bentley, CBI deputy director-general. "Given our need to expand exports to boost growth, the further drop in language entries is a concern.”
The dip in A-level top grades comes as UCAS announced that the number of students being accepted onto university courses has fallen by almost 7% compared with last year. So far, 357,915 students have had their applications accepted, which is down from 384,649 at the same point in 2011. More than 10,000 students have already applied for clearing.
In a statement, Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of university admissions service UCAS, said: "More than 300,000 applicants whose places are dependent on their grades are waiting to hear if they have been accepted today.
"Despite the fall in applications this year, entry to higher education remains competitive and we expect to see an active clearing period."
Universities minister David Willetts told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “What we are seeing at the moment is there has actually been a slight decline in the number of 18-year-olds – there is a slight shrinkage in the size of that cohort – so we are maintaining university places broadly flat.
“There are going to be about 350,000 places in English universities this year, which is comparable to the last few years."