Wales GCSEs: Top grade gap narrows with rest of UK
The gap in GCSE performance between Wales and England and Northern Ireland has been cut in the top grades but widened in three out of four headline measures.
This year, 6.6% of entries received an A*, up 0.5% on last year, while 66.5% earned an A* to C, up 0.1%.
The education minister praised "strong performances" in science and maths.
Welsh exam board WJEC said the overall results were a "modest improvement" on last year.
But it said "despite these improvements, there remained a gap between the grades achieved in Wales and those achieved across the UK as a whole".
In England and Northern Ireland, 7.8% received an A*, up 0.3%, while 69.8% earned an A* to C grade, up 0.8%.
The difference in performance between Wales and England and Northern Ireland is most pronounced in the percentage of A* or A grades, with 3.7% fewer entries reaching that benchmark here.
Overall the A* to G pass rate remained the same at 98.7%, and increased by 0.1% to 98.8% in England and Northern Ireland.
Students in Scotland found out the results of their Highers and Advanced Highers earlier this month.
The narrowing of the gap at A* ends a four-year trend, although the difference in performance is still greater than at any point in recent history with the exception of last year.
The growing gulf in the headline A* to C measure is, however, likely to be considered a cause for concern. The gap now stands wider than ever at 3.3%, whereas just six years ago Wales outperformed England and Northern Ireland.
"The pass rate for GCSE remains extremely high at 98.7% and it's encouraging to see more entries in Wales achieving the higher grades again this year," said Education Minister Leighton Andrews.
"I was also particularly pleased to note the strong performances across the sciences and in maths given the importance of these subjects to meeting the future needs of industry in Wales and beyond and their high value to learners."
Mr Andrews also praised almost 6,000 students who received their Welsh Baccalaureate qualification results.
Pupils around Wales have been receiving their GCSE results.
"What a magical moment, I can't believe it. I've passed mathematics after two attempts. It's a fantastic outcome," said Bradley, from Cynffig Comprehensive in Bridgend.
He received seven GCSE passes and will go on to study various courses at sixth form.
And at St David's High School in Saltney, Flintshire, friends Chris and George said they were in a "state of shock", surpassing their expectations with 17 passes between them, including six A* grades and five As.
Angela Burns AM, Conservative education spokesperson in the assembly, said the thousands of young people receiving their GCSE results deserved congratulations for their efforts.
She added: "While a rise in the top grades is welcome, concerns remain about the sustained and widening gap between educational performance in Wales and the rest of the UK.
"It is concerning to see a drop in the number of entries for some of the subjects which universities and employers rate most highly such as history, geography and modern foreign languages."
Plaid Cymru education spokesperson Simon Thomas AM said the pressure that students were under waiting for results had been incredible.
"It is an encouraging raft of results overall and the students, their teachers and parents should feel very proud indeed," he added.
Owen Hathway, policy officer with NUT Cymru, said there were areas that could be improved on but "perhaps the results also show the system is not quite as broken as it might appear to be from statements in the past".
Chris Keates, general secretary of teachers trade union Nasuwt, said: "These results are a testament to the hard work of young people and the dedication and commitment of their teachers and the wider school workforce.
"These achievements are all the more remarkable considering the fact that schools are delivering in the context of a massive funding gap of over £600 per pupil, when compared to England."
Dr Philip Dixon, director of the association of teachers and lecturers added: "It is pleasing to note that the number of students achieving A* to C continues to grow, but the real good news story is the significant increase in the number achieving A* and A grades.
"This augers well for the future."