FIGURES released by exam boards have revealed that for the second year in a row the overall UK pass rate fell marginally, after a steady incline over the last two decades.
The fall in grades is thought to reflect the number of pupils taking their exams early as well as a series of changes to "toughen-up" GCSEs.
But schools in Exeter and the surrounding areas do not appear to have been fazed by those changes and, in fact, many have thrived on the challenges presented.
St Peter's Church of England Aided School, West Exe Technology College and St James School are Exeter's top performing schools.
And Isca College of Media Arts in Exeter, Sidmouth College and Queen Elizabeth Community College in Crediton are celebrating their best ever results.
At St Peter's 82.2 per cent of pupils achieved five A* to C grades and 67.6 per cent achieved five A* to Cs with English and maths.
Josh Awcock, 16, from Heavitree, achieved four As, four Bs, two Cs and a D. He is looking forward to studying PE, biology, geography and maths A-levels at Exeter College.
"I'm pleased overall, I wasn't expecting all the As, I was predicted Bs in maths and geography and got As so I'm pleased with that.
"I did work really hard, I wanted to get to study my chosen subjects at college."
Mark Lee, 16, from Heavitree, achieved four As, three Bs and three Cs. He is studying film studies, maths, PE and world development A Levels at Exeter College. "I'm glad I got the grades I needed to go to college – I was up revising most nights, I'm happy it's paid off in the end."
Flora Laney-Hubbard, 16, from Lympstone, achieved six A*s, four As and two Bs and has chosen to study the International Baccalaureate at Exeter College.
"I am pleased, she said. "Results day is quite overwhelming!
"Even if you don't want to put the work in and revise, you should because you'll be able to do something worthwhile later."
West Exe Technology College is boasting its best-ever GCSE results with 92 per cent of students achieving five A* to C grades, a two per cent increase on last year, with 65 per cent gaining five or more A* to C grades including English and maths, a nine per cent jump from last year.
Headteacher Vicki Carah said: "We are absolutely thrilled. Students worked extremely hard and these outcomes are so well deserved.
"This was a really great year group who should be incredibly proud of themselves.
"The results are also a reflection of very hard work by teachers. Staff didn't give up on a single child and it is so pleasing to see all our students achieve.
"From our top achiever with 12 A and A* grades to those who found learning really hard – everyone has done well.
"These results have opened doors to young people to do the things they have dreamt of – and that's what we're all about!"
Chair of governors, Peter Scott, added: "These results are great news and reflect the tremendous effort that has been put in by students, backed by a great team of teachers who were determined to maximise student potential, giving them the results they deserve. This increase in achievement is exactly what West Exe deserves as it moves forward."
Elle Morris, 16, from St Thomas, achieved six A*s, five As, a distinction* in a drama BTEC. She is looking forward to studying biology, chemistry, maths, psychology and history A Levels at Exeter College where she has also been awarded a place with the Reach Academy for gifted and talented pupils.
"I'm really happy," she said. "I didn't expect to get so many A*s. I really wanted to get into the Reach Academy – it gives you so many more opportunities.
"If you put the effort in now, it will make a big difference for your future," she added.
Bethany Clark, 16, from Alphington achieved an A*, eight As, a B and a C as well as a distinction* in a dance BTEC. She is looking forward to studying maths, biology, chemistry, environmental studies and world development A Levels at Exeter College.
"I'm quite surprised because I thought I did badly," she said. "The exams were hard so I wasn't feeling confident."
Poppy Levers, 16, from St Thomas, achieved six Bs, four Cs and a distinction in drama. She is looking forward to studying biology, chemistry, maths and English literature A Levels at Exeter College. "I made the grades for my courses so I'm really pleased," she said. "Study hard and think positively," she added.
St Luke's Science and Sports College is celebrating after 83 per cent of pupils achieved five A* to Cs grades and 58 per cent achieved five A* to C grades including maths and English.
Dave Holt, deputy principal, said: "We're delighted that the students have continued to achieve outstanding results, performing 12 per cent above national targets, and an improvement of one per cent on last year.
"This measure of success has been at the heart of our celebrations today with the students and staff.
"Mark Pinchin, school principal, joins me in thanking our wonderful staff and students for their hard work and achievements and we wish the students every success for the future."
Harry Green, 16, from Heavitree, achieved an A*, five As and four Bs. He is looking forward to studying chemistry, biology, history and economics A Levels at Exeter College and has also been awarded a coveted place on the rugby academy.
"I'm so happy all the pressure's gone," he said. "Luckily I secured the grades I needed for college through the coursework.
"If you put the work in early, this relieves the pressure later on.
"As long as you've tried your best, you can't do anymore."
Toby Hannam, 16, from Middlemoor, achieved five Cs, four Bs and an A and is going to Clyst Vale Community College to study A Levels in politics, PE, geography and English language. "I'm happy with my results, particularly because I was expecting to fail French but I got a C. Overall I did better than I expected."
Ashton Partridge, 16, from Pinhoe, achieved three A*s, four As, three Bs and a C and is looking forward to studying A-Levels at Exeter College in English literature, history, sociology and psychology. "I'm pleased, I didn't think I was going to do this well," she said. "I thought the exams went really badly! It's such a short time of your life, it's important to work hard because it is worth it in the end."
Megan Rowett, 16, from Digby achieved two A*s, two As, five Bs and a C and is going to Exeter College to study history, environmental science and photography A Levels and a BTEC in stage management. "I'm really happy, I thought all my exams didn't go well, every time I came out I wasn't happy," she said. "And I got an A* in the subject I thought went the worst!"
Jordan Hoskins, 16, from St James achieved a B, four Cs and two Ds and is going to Exeter College to study a BTEC in engineering with the hope of obtaining a place with the Flybe Academy next year. "I'm feeling really good about my results," he said. "I did work hard. I'm really pleased about my B in maths."
St James School is also marking an exceptional year of results with an impressive 93 per cent of pupils achieving five A* – C grades, up 11 per cent on last year.
And this year 55 per cent achieved five A* – C grades including English and maths, a three per cent drop on last year's result, which, however, saw an impressive 12 per cent rise on 2011.
A particular achievement is the notable improvement pupils are making as they progress through the school, progressing from low attainment levels to high.
Individual successes include Samantha Cruzada (five As and five A*s), Steph Day (six As and one A*), Louise Hambrook (three A*s and five As), Heideh Langheroudi (three A*s and six As), Holly Stone (six A*s and four As), Alya Abu Zayed (two A*s and two As), Jess Brown (three A*s and seven As), Annabel Devenney (one A* and three As), Huda Kaddouri Roddy (six As), and Tina Liu (five As).
Headteacher Moira Marder, said: "Overall students have made more progress from Key Stage Two to Key Stage Four than ever before.
"Whatever a student's starting point at St James they really do make outstanding progress – 72 per cent made three levels of progress in maths, and in English the figure was 71 per cent.
"These indicators are evidence that at St James, higher and middle ability students make more progress in English and maths than the national average – a reflection of the high expectations we set.
"Most importantly though, this year's results reflect how incredibly hard staff and students have worked and the amount of effort, commitment and determination they've shown. I'm incredibly proud of them all."
Isca College of Media Arts is celebrating its best-ever results with 74 per cent of pupils achieving five or more A* – C grades, up four per cent on last year, and 57 per cent achieving five or more grades at A* to C including English and maths, an 11 per cent rise on last year.
A particular success is the number of pupils who had below average levels of progress at their primary schools but have since excelled.
This year, 12 pupils have made it on to Exeter College's prestigious Reach Academy – more than any other school in Exeter.
There are a number of high-achievers including Molly Cunningham who achieved eight A*s and two As despite having to undergo daily treatment for a health condition, Callum Sowden who collected six A*s and five As, Catherine Pym who scooped five A*s and five As and Jim Clemoes with 12 GCSEs at A*, A and B grades.
In addition to achieving an array of C grades, during his time at the school, keen footballer Joey Sellick helped the school to two successive Exeter and East Devon Cup victories. He dedicated the second of these to his former academic mentor and PE teacher, Matt Hammond, who died suddenly in July last year. Headteacher Mandi Street, said Joey's results are a "fitting tribute" to Matt.
She added: "The number of students joining the Reach Academy evidences how well our brighter students here are stretched and achieve.
"Furthermore, it shows the positive impact of investing in wider experiences for young people.
"I am so pleased that in my final year at the college I have been able to support and work alongside such an inspiring group of students."
Staff and pupils at Exmouth Community College are celebrating with 69 per cent of students obtaining five grades at A* to C, up from 57 per cent.
And 51 per cent achieved five A* to C grades with English and maths. This figure is slightly down on the 55 per cent mark last year.
Notable departmental achievements include maths, with 81 per cent achieving a C or above and in triple science 95 per cent achieved at least a C. In drama, 89 per cent achieved a C or above, in computing 81 per cent, and in systems and control, 94 per cent.
And notable achievements include Premier Cup winner Holly Quilter who gained an incredible 13 straight A*s, one of the highest performing students in the country.
Ana-Kristina Holmes achieved an outstanding 11 A*s and two As. Eve Bland, Hayley Redman and Dylan Fowler gained nine A*s with further A grades. Catlin Proctor and Chrissi Ayre both achieved seven A*s and three As.
Jessica Nichols gained six A*s and four As. George Downs, Jack Oke, Ellie Clook, Rory Smith, Hannah Pawson and Megan Pollard all achieved five A*s and several A grades.
Andy Bown, Head of Year 11, said: "The year group have matured and progressed over the last two years and this has been reflected in the sound work ethic that they have adopted.
"The pleasing results will mean that so many of our students will have the opportunity to pursue their chosen route to the next stage of their education. It has been a pleasure working with the year group."
David Turner, deputy principal, said: "I would like to congratulate all our students and staff and thank them for the tremendous effort they have put in over the last two years.
"This has been a fantastic year group.
"We continue to strive for excellence in a very changeable educational climate so that every student has the opportunity to fulfil their future ambitions."
College principal Tony Alexander added: "Today is always one of the best in the school year, where I see all the hard work, commitment and effort of students and my staff pay off in such a handsome manner. I am thrilled at the number of students gaining A* and A grades in all their subjects and delighted that so many will continue to build on these excellent results in our thriving Post 16."
Lauren Kenny, 16, achieved an A*, three As, five Bs and a C and is looking forward to going to Exeter College and studying history, biology, theatre studies and English literature A Levels. "I'm really happy and really relieved," she said. "I was really nervous as some exams went okay but others were really hard.
"Even though it feels like a lot of effort at the time, it's worth it."
Ana Holmes, 16, achieved 10 A*s and three As and is going on to study A Levels in maths, biology, chemistry and history at the school. "It's great, I was worried I failed everything, I didn't think the exams went well and it's a long time to wait for the results.
"I worked hard – I wanted to do well and improve my future."
Laura Rowland, 16, achieved an A* and nine As and is staying at the school to study A Levels in maths, chemistry, biology and geography. Her advice to others is to "revise hard, because it's worth it in the end". "I'm really happy," she said.
"I didn't think the exams went as well as they did. I was on a D for English last year so I had to work hard to bring it up to an A."
George Downs, 16, achieved six A*s and seven As and is staying at the school to study chemistry, maths, Spanish and history. "I'm really pleased," he said. "I wasn't expecting as many A*s. I received lots of support from the teachers."
At Sidmouth College, 75 per cent of students achieved five or more GCSEs at A* to C, with 65 per cent including English and maths, a rise of four per cent on last year.
A high proportion of pupils are now looking forward to returning to Sidmouth College to continue their studies in the Sixth Form.
School principal Kenny Duncan, said: "The college examination performances continue on an upward trend despite a decline nationally in A* to C grades.
"Our students have done remarkably well this year in both A Level and GCSE examinations and the college has done all it can to secure the best possible results for our young people."
Christine Hughes, head of year 11, added: "I am immensely proud of the students – there are some outstanding individual performances within these results and this is to the credit of the students involved and the college staff.
"The vast majority of students have achieved the grades and points they require to go on to the next stage in their education and employment."
The King's School in Ottery St Mary is also celebrating impressive results with 90 per cent of pupils gaining five GCSEs or more at grades A* to C.
The teenagers excelled across the board with 34 per cent of all grades at A* or A and 33 per cent of pupils achieving five or more A* or A grades.
More than 60 per cent of the pupils achieved nine or more A* to Cs. The school is also boasting a 100 per cent pass rate for its vocational courses.
And almost half the year group met the national gifted and talented threshold of three or more A*/A grades.
Headteacher Faith Jarrett, said: "These overall outstanding results are the culmination of a great deal of hard work by the students supported by their teachers and families.
"This level of success certainly gives the students an excellent platform to now move into further education or employment."
Clyst Vale Community College in Clyst Honiton is celebrating after 73.5 per cent of its 170 pupils achieved five or more A* to Cs, the school's second best ever result, with 61 per cent achieving five or more A* to C grades including English and maths, up six per cent on last year.
Fourteen students achieved at least seven As and well over a third of students achieved at least five grades at B or above.
Clyst Vale's highest achieving students include Marcus Dunn (7A*, 2A, 1.5B), Laura Burchell (5A*, 3.5A, 2B), Kay Pile (5.5A*, 2A,2B), Holly Whitehead (4A*, 1.5A, 4B), Jess Richards (2A*, 8.5A,1B), Freya Purchase (2A*,6A,1.5B), Ellie Crook (4A*, 4.5A, 3B), Bryony Buckingham (1A*, 6.5A, 3B), and Blythe Rowley (2A*, 5A, 2.5B).
Principal Dr Kevin Bawn, said: "We have bucked another national trend and seen an increase in A* or A grades, while three quarters of all grades were C or better, and no student has left without a GCSE grade.
"We're not complacent though, there's more to be done, but these results are clearly a big step in the right direction.
"We're proud of all our students of whatever ability who have tried hard, done their best, and got the grades they deserved.
"This was a smashing year group who have a positive attitude and great qualities to go along with their results, and we wish them every success."
Staff at Honiton Community College are also thrilled with their year 11 school leavers who headteacher Glenn Smith said have performed "admirably".
Average point scores per entry and other headline figures were similar to last year's record breaking performance.
Some of the school's top achievers include, Katy Durrant (2 A*, 4 A, 3 B, 1 C), Megan Hawkins (2 A*, 6 A, 2 B), Brittany Lakin (3 A*, 3 A, 3 B, 1 C), George Hack (1 A*, 4 A, 3 B, 2 C), Ella Symonds (1 A*, 7 A, 2 B) and Robert Bourne (7 A, 2 B)
The college is particularly proud that this year, for the first year in over a decade, the majority of students studied for a GCSE in a modern foreign language.
Mr Smith, said: "Though students and staff have worked harder than ever before during the 2012/13 academic year, and generally speaking students have made expected progress, I would like to echo leading educationalists who recently called for some stability within the exams system as it is becoming increasingly more difficult to compare the performance of students year on year.
"It is no longer possible to assume that children taking examinations years apart would get the same grade for the same standard of work and those who have achieved similar standards of work may be graded differently."
As ever, Colyton Grammar School is boasting a stunning array of results and is one of the top performing schools in the country with 100 per cent achieving five or more A* to C grades with English and maths.
More than half the year group achieved five or more top A* grades with 49.4 per cent of the grades obtained at A*, up 4.1 per cent on last year.
In addition, 83.4 per cent of all GCSEs awarded to the year ten students taking GCSEs a year early were graded A* or A, up 2.7 per cent on last year.
Among the school's many successes, 11 students achieved straight A*s in 12 subjects.
They were – Josie Argyle from Exmouth, Theo Brown from Ottery St Mary, Chrissie Browne from Newton St Cyres, Elle Clemens from Exeter, Hannah Dell from Sidmouth, Amy Elford from Axminster, Zoe Kuyken from Exeter, Kye Silver from Honiton, Charlie Spicer from Whimple, Matthew Von Lany from Broadclyst as well as Emma Williams from Seaton.
Headteacher Paul Evans said: "It is becoming increasingly difficult to predict the outcome of our public examinations due to the political pressures to tighten standards nationally.
"In a year when we are told it is more difficult to achieve top grades, we increased the A* and A grades.
"It is a great relief to see that through hard work and determination, our students have maintained high standards and delivered the results that will set them up well for sixth form study and beyond.
"No one should underestimate the effort required to achieve high numbers of top grades across a range of subjects and the students should be very proud of what they've managed to achieve."
At Queen Elizabeth Community College in Crediton, 267 pupils received their GCSE results which are the school's best ever.
Currently 71 per cent of students achieved five A* to C grades and 63 per cent achieved five or more A* to Cs including English and maths.
In addition, more than 130 pupils who completed vocational courses such as BTECs in outdoor education, ICT, music and performing arts, did very well.
Notable achievers include, Lucy Crang with 10 A*s and three As, Raddon Stephenson with six A*s and six As, Amaris Alcock with eight A*s and three As, Maya Hichens with five A*s and four As, Sarah Tucker with eight A*s and three As, Emma Turner with six A*s and three As and Sam Williams with seven A*s and five As.
Headteacher Richard Newton Chance, said: "Everyone deserves congratulations who put their all into these exams and achieved so well, even if they didn't all get A*!
"We are proud of all our students and wish them the best for the future, either in our Sixth Form or elsewhere."
Tiverton High School has continued its run of exam success with 95 per cent achieving five or more A* to C grades and 54 per cent of pupils achieving five or more A* to Cs including English and maths.
Deputy headteacher Cindy Torn said: "Each year there are eye-catching results and this year is no exception.
"Ryan Clarke achieved 5A*, 4 A grades and an A grade at AS critical thinking; Chloe Baker 4A* and 5A grades achieving the highest grade for her Creative and Media diploma; Sophie Stagg achieved 5A* and 4A grades amongst a raft of other GCSE passes and an AS grade in critical thinking and Dan Reed achieved 2A*, 8A grades and 2 B grades. This is just rewards for their efforts.
"However every student's results matter equally and we congratulate everyone on their hard work.
"We continue to show our strengths in triple science where 75 per cent of students achieved an A* to C grade in chemistry, and biology and 80 per cent in physics.
"Also in both French and religious and philosophical studies 76 per cent of students achieved A* to C grades and in statistics 88 per cent achieved A* to C grades.
"Both English and mathematics bucked the national trend and continued to perform very strongly with maths achieving 69 per cent A* to C grades."
The Maynard School in Exeter is once again boasting an outstanding set of results with 41 per cent of grades at A*, 72 per cent at A* or A and 93 per cent at A*, A or B.
Students performed exceptionally well in maths with 64 per cent achieving an A* or A, and in the sciences with 69 per cent gaining an A* or A in biology, chemistry and physics.
Particular success stories include, Eloise Kidner, from Manaton and Kavisha Mandalia, from Exeter who both gained 11 A*s. Anastasia Bruce-Jones, from Crediton, Rosie Lyon-Smith, from Chagford and Eleanor Niblett from Exeter all gained 10 A*s.
The following students all achieved seven or more A*s: Alicia Boam, from Sandford, Dolores Carbonari, from Exeter, Rachel Eggleton, from Brampford Speke, Georgina Hopgood, from Exeter, Natasha Lewis, from Exeter, Cecilia Lock, from Exeter, Flora McKinney, from Budleigh Salterton, Ella Mooney, from Whimple, Alana Terry, from Crediton, Eleanor Thomas, from Westhill and Olivia Waelde, from Silverton
Headteacher Bee Hughes, said: "Once again students have performed remarkably well with exceptional achievements at A* and A grade, despite the turbulence surrounding the recent regulatory changes to the exam system.
"All students should be very proud of their achievements and all deserve our hearty congratulations."
Exeter School is celebrating an all-time high with some record-breaking results – 99.5 per cent of grades are A* to C, with 46.9 per cent of all grades at A*, beating last year's record of 46.5 per cent, and 80.3 per cent of grades are A* or A grades, compared to last year's 75.5 per cent.
There were many high achievers across the range of 19 subjects with almost two thirds – 63 pupils – achieving eight or more A* or A grades and 35 pupils scoring 10 A* or A grades. The highest individual achievers were Ashe de Sousa, Marcus Hoddinott, James Krafft, Marius Pézard-Snell as well as Rosie Vercoe, who each secured 10 A*s.
James Krafft has been awarded an Arkwright Engineering Scholarship, a prestigious national award given to promising young engineers completing their GCSEs.
Charlotte Stacey and Seb Wright both scored nine A*s and two As.
The school is particularly proud of Seb who took some of his exams at the Royal Devon & Exeter's Bramble Ward after being taken ill with a heart infection.
The majority of pupils, including these top scorers, are continuing their studies at Exeter School.
Headmaster Bob Griffin, said: "These outcomes are really very pleasing and augur well for our new Lower Sixth Form cohort's progress. I congratulate the pupils and their teachers for working together so successfully to achieve so much."