The number of children gaining five or more GCSEs at a C grade or higher has increased, but new figures show that most students do not manage to achieve five good grades when maths and English are included.
The government introduced a new measure into its league table data this year - showing the number of pupils achieving five GCSEs at A* to C including maths and English rather than just those getting any five GCSEs at or above a C grade.
The proportion of students getting five good GCSEs was up 2.2 percentage points to 58.5 per cent while the number of children passing five GCSEs - including maths and English - rose just one per cent to 45.3 per cent of those studying the exams.
This means the majority of those sitting GCSEs do not manage five A*-C passes when English and maths are included.
"These figures reveal the alarming gap between the government's old measure and this new more rigorous target," said shadow education secretary David Willetts.
"We need to ensure that every pupil leaves school with a decent education in the basics - not just in maths and English, but in the sciences, history, and modern languages. This is what every pupil is entitled to and deserves. Currently, too few pupils are being given this opportunity."
However, schools minister Jim Knight pointed out that schools are achieving the highest ever GCSE results for English and maths.
"These results clearly show that our record investment continues to drive up standards faster than ever - the last two years have shown the two biggest year-on-year increases in GCSE results since 1997," he said.
"We are determined that every young person should be equipped for life with the basics - and introducing these subjects into achievement and attainment tables reflects the importance we place on it.
"Our transparent approach will help parents to compare and contrast schools on the most important measures."
However, the Liberal Democrats questioned the purpose of league tables and benchmarks.
Sarah Teather, Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman, commented: "The answer to this problem is not to add more categories but to scrap them all together.
"Pupils are being entered for exams where the motive has more to do with a school's league table position than the students' best interests."
And this was a view echoed by teachers.
Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "The changes in percentage scores highlight the absurdity in school league tables themselves.
"Youngsters are not automatic failures if they do not achieve grade Cs . They may have achieved wonders to get to a grade D yet that achievement is written off.
"I call on the government, yet again, to ensure that the whole damaging system of performance league tables and targets is reviewed."