The number of GCSEs awarded in England, Wales and Northern Ireland has fallen by almost a fifth, figures from the exams watchdog Ofqual show.
A report published by the regulator today says the number of GCSE certificates dropped by 17 per cent in 2013-14 compared with the previous year, from 6.4 million to 5.3 million.
It said the drop had been caused by the replacement of modular exams with final tests taken at the end of the GCSE course, and a change to school performance tables that penalises schools for entering pupils early for GCSEs, allowing them to resit the tests later to improve their grade.
Alongside the drop in GCSE entries there was a huge rise of more than 150 per cent in the number of pupils taking IGCSE English, from 51,100 in 2012-13 to 129,900 in 2013-14.
TES reported in 2013 that teachers said the IGCSE qualification was “way easier” than GCSEs, although exam boards insisted the standards in both qualifications were the same. The qualification counts towards school performance tables, but will no longer do so from 2017.
More GCSEs were awarded in maths than in any other subject, with 703,900 certificates given out for the subject in 2013-14, compared with 507,200 for English and 472,500 for English literature. This was followed by religious studies, which saw 392,400 GCSE certificates awarded, more than science, for which the figure was 368,200.
At A-level, maths remained the most popular subject, with 85,900 certificates awarded. It was followed by English with 84,400, then biology, psychology and chemistry with 62,000, 52,900 and 52,000 certificates issues respectively.
The Ofqual report says all of the main schools exam boards had seen drops in the number of GCSE certificates they issued, but that Pearson, which runs the Edexcel board, had seen the largest drop at 19 per cent. OCR had seen a fall of 16 per cent, compared with 10 per cent at AQA and 2 per cent at WJEC.