In the United Kingdom, this year's General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exam results are in — and overall test scores are at their lowest level since 2008. Many consider resits associated with the test a waste of time that have brought down national averages.
The results from Northern Ireland are some of the only to show improvement, as they have increased their top marks by half a percent. Results from Wales remained the same for the third year in a row and results from England dropped considerably. This may in part be due to those in England having to retake the English and Maths sections, writes Sean Coughlan of BBC.
"Having a broad-based academic curriculum is vitally important and it is right that this should be available to all pupils but traditional academic subjects are not necessarily always the right choice for everybody at GCSE," Says Malcolm Trobe, Interim General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.
Another possible explanation for the drop in results is the push for students to study core academic subjects. In England, this is called the EBacc, or the English Baccalaureate, and policies regarding its implementation have been met with criticism. Some think it is too stifling for students and may force them into subjects they aren't comfortable with.
Josie Gurney-Read writes for The Telegraph that this is the last year this version of the Maths and English GCSEs will be given. Beginning next year, students will receive grades on new exams with a different grading system.
Peter Weir, Stormont Education Minister, said "I am pleased to see that entries for Stem subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) have grown by 2.4 per cent in Northern Ireland. This growth is stronger than the equivalent UK figure of 0.1 per cent and means Stem subjects here account for close to one-third of all GCSE entries."
Welsh test results also compare favorably to England's, but those numbers must be taken with a grain of salt. As Bethan Lewis notes for BBC news, comparing Welsh and English tests is less helpful due to differences between the two countries' exams.
Northern Ireland's high test scores coupled with its use of grammar schools has made some consider a greater role for those institutions in England. Justine Greening, the newly-minted Education Secretary, has put an increase in grammar schools on England's agenda.
The exam results reveal more specifics as well, show Stephanie Linning and Eleanor Harding of The Daily Mail. The Joint Council for Qualifications published numbers revealing that in most subjects, women outperform men.
While Northern Ireland did better than England or Wales, notes the Irish Times, the consistency of the Welsh performance hasn't been missed. This is the third year in a row that Wales has performed this well in the GCSE's.
Nick Gibb, England's School Standards Minister, says in defense of the retakes "And for those 17-year-olds who have struggled to achieve good grades in maths, we are seeing 4,000 more successful re-takes of those exams; delivering better prospects for every one of those young people."
Looking at the individual subjects shows interesting trends in performance. English and science were both down overall, but the individual subjects that make up science were more stable. Math is hard to judge, as a large number of students took their exams last November.
Politicians and policymakers are scrambling to analyze the results as they work toward identifying solutions:
Nick Gibb also said, "We want to make our country a place where there is no limit on anyone's ambition or what they can achieve – that's why we are working to ensure there are even more high-quality schools in every part of the country."