Wales GCSE: Pupils hope to narrow gap with rest of UK
Thousands of teenagers will find out their GCSE results later, with Wales looking to close the gap in performance with the rest of the UK.
Education Minister Leighton Andrews wants results to improve after pupils got 2.7% fewer A* to C grades than in England and Northern Ireland last year.
Six years ago, Wales out-performed England on the same measure, but the gap in performance has since widened.
Last week, top A-Level grades fell and now stand 2% behind England.
But the minister said after the A-levels were announced that overall results, taking into account the Welsh Baccalaureate, were excellent.
The results are part of a trend identified by the minister in a keynote speech in February.
"We have to face the fact that we are not delivering in performance terms in public examinations overall compared to other parts of the UK," he said.
"Not enough top grades at GCSE or A-Level."
Last year 15-year-olds in Wales also came bottom of the UK countries in international tests in reading, maths and science.
It led the minister to accuse teachers of "complacency in the classroom". Too many schools were "coasting" he said.
GCSE results are an important indicator of school performance as almost all pupils sit at least English, maths and science exams prior to the end of compulsory education aged 16.
In Wales pupils also take Welsh as a first or second language.
The results therefore reveal much about the relative standing of the school system in Wales, compared to England and Northern Ireland as it measures the outcomes of all pupils.
The headline measure of GCSE results - the percentage of pupils gaining five A* to C grades including the core subjects of English or Welsh and maths - will not be published until later this year.
A recent Welsh Government analysis of performance in Wales compared to England, released to BBC Wales under the Freedom of Information Act, pointed to a worrying trend.
Bucking the trend
It found that although results in Wales have generally improved in recent years the rate of improvement was much greater in England, with the gap between the two countries growing every year.
It also reported that results in Wales were not only worse than the English average, but also worse than every single region within England, including the North East and Yorkshire and Humberside, which are considered most similar to Wales in socio-economic terms.
Nevertheless, some schools are bucking the trend.
One south Wales school has overseen a 42% improvement in pupils getting five A* to C grades over four years.
Its results this year are its best with 59% of pupils achieving five A* to C grades including English or Welsh and maths, significantly higher than even last year's average in England.
The Welsh government is encouraging all schools to rigorously analyse performance data in a bid to improve standards.
From this autumn, schools will be graded and will fail inspections unless governors can demonstrate they are using relevant data.
Schools are placed into "family groups" to aid this process, allowing them to compare their performance against around ten similar schools from across the country.
While schools within these groups should be performing at roughly the same level, BBC Wales revealed in May there was sometimes a 30-40% variation at GCSE between the best and worst schools in the family.