NERVOUS Gwent GCSE pupils were today discovering how they fared in their exams - as results showed the pass rate among students in Wales fell slightly this year.

The total number of candidates achieving grades A* to G dropped 0.3% from 97.9% in 2002.

And in maths the percentage of passes grade A* to G in Wales dropped from 94.8% last year to 94.3%.

However, the percentage of Welsh candidates achieving grades A*-C has remained stable, equalling last year's 59.7%.

And raising expectations of another bumper crop of A*s, the proportion of entries scoring the top grade in Wales was up 0.1 % to 17.1.

Welsh students, both boys and girls, have performed better than their English counterparts, more of them gaining A*s to C grades, A* or A grades.

The percentage of Welsh candidates achieving the top grade (A*) is 5.6%, representing a 0.2% increase on the corresponding figure for 2002. At Blackwood Comprehensive this morning, pupil Catherine Duddridge said she was "shocked" to get five As and five A*s.

She said: "I just can't believe it, my mum's crying at my side, I'm just very excited."

And Kieran Rowe, also of Blackwood Comprehensive, got three As and seven A*s.

Kieran said: "I'm going to do A-levels at Coleg Gwent, probably maths and the sciences. I'm very proud."

In Newport, Richard Slaughter, of Hartridge High School, was celebrating three A*s, six As, two Bs and a C.

The Welsh Joint Education Committee accounts for 76% of entries for GCSE full courses in Wales.

Director of examinations Derec Stockley said: "The overall performance in this year's GCSEs has remained strong and stable. This is a tribute to the hard work of both teachers and students."

National Assembly Educ-ation Minister Jane David-son praised pupils and teachers for their hard work and dedication. "These results show that we are maintaining high standards achieved in Wales. They compare favourably with the national picture, with Wales maintaining the lead in the number of passes achieved at grade A* to C," she said.

And Hayden Llewelyn, registrar of the General Teaching Council for Wales, congratulated teachers across Wales for their work in helping this year's GCSE students maintain the overall number of A*-C grades and improve the number of A* and A grades achieved.