THOUSANDS of A-Level students throughout Kirklees ended their anxious wait today with great news.
Mirroring national trends, record results were announced by high schools and colleges around Huddersfield.
Thirty-four youngsters at Greenhead College secured places at Oxford and Cambridge universities.
Principal Martin Rostron was delighted with the success of all 779 A-level students.
Eighteen achieved five A grades, while 74 scooped four As.
But the row over whether the exam was too easy re-ignited after headteachers warned that the record-breaking pass rate nationally was fuelled by sixth formers opting for so-called "soft" subjects such as psychology and media studies.
However, it was common for those who scored four or five straight As to have done so by combining maths and sciences - seen as some of the hardest subjects to tackle.
The national pass rate rose for the 21st year in a row.
Mr Rostron said the subjects taken by his students ranged right across the spectrum.
Out of 196 who took maths, 121 got As.
Mr Rostron rejected the idea that some A-levels were harder than others, saying it was tougher to get top marks in some of the so-called "soft" ones.
"I don't believe in soft and hard subjects. It's a superficial judgement," Mr Rostron said.
Greenhead's outstanding student, Aymen Mahmoud, scored five As and one B (in IT) and still found time to become a chess grand master.
Aymen's other subjects included English and history, two of the "essay subjects" often reckoned to be more demanding than others.
Another Greenhead student, Richard Pollock, got As in biology, chemistry, maths, computing and general studies.
He has won a place at Trinity College, Cambridge, to study natural sciences.
His friend Paul Thompson also scored five A grades and will study history and politics and St Peter's College, Oxford.
Jeanne Coburn, principal at Huddersfield Technical College, said the pass rate had risen by 5% to an impressive 91%.
"We are delighted with the results that once again show a rise in our pass rate, which is now in the 90s for the first time.
"The students and staff who have worked so hard to achieve these good results must be congratulated."
Philip Forrest, principal at Huddersfield New College, said his students achieved a record pass rate of 95%.
"It is a real pleasure to see so many students gain the recognition they deserve for their hard work and ability. In all, 123 students gained at least one A grade pass in their examinations.
"However, it was particularly pleasing to see so many students gaining the grades they needed to study at university, who when they joined the college three years ago had been disappointed with the GCSE grades they had gained at school and had to do re-sits before successfully taking on A-levels."
Clr John Smithson, chairman on Kirklees Council's education committee, was delighted by the region's overall performance.
"This is a really superb performance by everybody," he said.
Record-breaking pass rates were being driven by sixth formers abandoning hard courses such as maths and modern languages for "soft" subjects including psychology and media studies, headteachers warned.
But the Government's exam watchdog rejected the charge, saying there was no such thing as an "easy" A-Level.
The furore threatened to overshadow what was shaping up to be a triumphant day for many young people.
The Secondary Heads' Association said there was a need to ensure all subjects were equally difficult, as it was statistically proven that some were more demanding than others.
SHA general secretary John Dunford warned the nation's future prosperity could be at stake if something was not done to ensure more people took subjects including maths, physics and modern languages.
He was speaking as figures from the main exam boards in England, Wales and Northern Ireland showed that for the first time fewer than one entry in 20 was judged a failure.
This year's exams were taken under the shadow of events in autumn 2002, when confusion about standards of work expected at AS and A2 lead to marking problems that eventually saw almost 2,000 students' results upgraded.
School standards minister David Miliband said: "Today is the day we should be celebrating not falling for the British disease of knocking success. Let's give students a break from this annual carping."
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