Top grades have seen their biggest drop since records began, as the proportion of As and A*s falls to lowest in over a decade.
The number of A* and A grades dropped by 0.9 percentage points, which is the largest fall since the Joint Council for Qualification’s (JCQ) data began in 2000.
This year 25.5 per cent of A-level grades were A* or A which is the lowest since 2007, figures show.
Over 300,000 A-level students from across most of the country received their results today, with the majority of subjects re-designed to exclude coursework and modules.
The reforms, initiated by Michael Gove when he was education secretary, followed years of rampant grade inflation, with swelling numbers of students achieving top grades.
Universities complained that thousands of students with A or A* grades would make it impossible for them to distinguish who the very best candidates were.
The reforms also sought to address concerns that many schools leavers were insufficiently prepared for higher education.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson congratulated students on their results, as he pledged to boost education funding as well as give schools “the powers they need to deal with bad behaviour and bullying”.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that the dip in top grades is in part down to the type of subjects students chose to take.
Ministers have announced a string of measures to boost the number of students taking science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects, including a cash incentive of up to £2,400 for every extra student that takes Maths in the sixth form.
“There has been a heavy emphasis on Stem subjects and more young people have been encouraged to do them,” Mr Barton said.
“Young people may have chosen to do, let’s say maths, who in the past would not have done. That will have changed the nature of that cohort.”
The overall number of entries for science subjects rose by 12,000 this year, and now make up a fifth (20.9 per cent) of all A-levels.
Meanwhile, A-levels in communication studies, general studies and critical thinking have seen drastic declines, with entries to these three subjects falling 99.9 per cent between 2010 and 2019.
Mr Barton explained that another reason for the decline in top grades is that more 18-year-olds are taking A-levels than in the past.
“This means that you probably have broader range of young people so the top end isn’t represented in the way it could be if you had a more narrowly academic cohort,” he said.
Girls have taken the lead for top grades, with 25.5 per cent of entries handed at least an A, compared with 25.4 per cent of boys.
But on A* grades alone, boys performed better, with 8.2 per cent of entries getting the highest result, compared with 7.5 per cent of girls' entries.
Entries for English Language plummeted by 21.8 per cent to 14,114, amid calls for ministers to launch an inquiry into the decline.
Ahead of results day, grade boundaries for two of England's biggest exam boards, Edexcel and OCR, were leaked online.
The documents showed that students needed to score just over half marks in A-level maths to win an A grade this summer.
Grade boundaries for Edexcel's maths A-level show students who gained 165 out of a possible maximum of 300 marks (55 per cent) will be awarded an A.
Separate documents show that those who took OCR's A-level maths will get an A if they achieved 54 per cent across all papers.
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Girls sitting science subjects overtake boys for the first time
More girls than boys are taking science A-levels for the first time, national figures show.
This year female students taking biology, chemistry and physics have outstripped their male peers, with girls now making up 50.3 per cent of science entries.
There were 84,111 female entries for science subjects compared with 83,133 male entries, compared with 2019.
It comes amid a major drive to encourage girls to take science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects.
Chemistry has seen the biggest rise for girls since 2011, with the number of female students taking the subject increasing by 28.4 per cent in the past eight years from 22,753 to 31,757. This year girls made up 62.9 per cent of entries for the subject, making it the third consecutive year that girls have overtaken boys.
Biology has always been more popular for girls than boys, but female entries have risen by 19.4 per cent since 2011 with 62.9 per cent of entries for Biology now from girls.
Physics has seen a 22.2 per cent increase in uptake from girls since 2011, from 6,849 to 8,799. It is now the only science that remains male dominated, with just over a fifth (22.6pc) of the subject’s entries from girls this year.
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In total, 33,630 students from outside the EU have found places, Ucas said, driven by a 32 per cent rise from China.
Students that missed their university offers can apply for a course through Ucas Clearing.
A record 7,960 students have found places through clearing so far this year.
Of these, 3,690 went directly into clearing to secure a spot rather than applying through the main application scheme.
Clearing is an increasingly popular route for students to find a degree course, with leading universities among those offering last-minute places through the system.
The best- and worst-performing subjects
For the fifth year in a row, further maths is the subject with the highest proportion of top grades, with 53.5 per cent achieving an A or A*.
However, this is a drop of more than four per cent from last year and also there were 1,630 fewer entries for the subject this year compared to last.
The make up of the top 10 subjects for A/A* grades remained the same as last year, but this year the top grade percentage for German was 0.2 per cent higher than maths.
German was also the only subject in the top 10 which saw an increase in the percentage of top grades from last year, rising 2.1 points. Further maths and Irish saw the biggest drop compared with last year.
English language, for the third year in a row, remained the subject with the lowest number of top grades, with just 11.3 per cent getting an A or A*.
Spanish overtakes French as the most popular language
Spanish has overtaken French as the most popular A-level language for the first time, with 8,625 students taking Spanish this year, compared to 8,355 taking French.
Meanwhile, entries for Russian and Chinese have both tumbled by around a third since last year. In 2018 Chinese overtook German to become the third most popular language at A-level, with a record 3,334 students taking Chinese, an increase of 8.6 per cent on the previous year.
But this year entries for Chinese dropped by 31.9 per cent, from 3,334 to 2,272, while Russian has dropped 35 per cent from 1,160 to 754.
Spanish entries increased by 4.5 per cent in the last year, but all other major languages decreased. French entries declined by 4.1 per cent since 2018, while German declined by 0.8 per cent.
Vicky Gough, the British Council’s schools advisor, said that the “marked decline” in languages uptake over the past 20 years shows that “we need to help more young people understand the value of learning a foreign language”.
Since 2001, French has declined by 53.4 per cent (from 17,939 to 8,355) and German has decreased by 64.1 per cent over the same period from 5,166 to 3,033. Meanwhile Spanish has increased by 56 per cent in the past 18 years, from 5530 to 8,625.
"Who would have thought that 20 or 30 years ago that this was going to happen?" said Ignacio Peyro, director of Instituto Cervantes, the official Spanish language and cultural centre.
"For us, of course it's very positive that Spanish is growing and I think that it is in a global country like the UK, there's a growing perception that the Spanish-speaking world is becoming more important in terms of demography, economy, trade, culture and so on.”
Mr Peyro said it was "good to study any foreign language, better than none", adding: "I hope that all foreign languages will soon be on the rise again in Britain.