The proportion of GCSEs awarded at least a C grade has risen again this year, but top grades have fallen for the fourth year in a row, official figures show.

In total, almost seven in 10 (69%) entries were awarded A*-C, up 0.2 percentage points on 2014.

But there was a 0.1 percentage point drop in A* grades - the fourth year running that there has been a fall - with 6.6% of entries given the highest mark this year.

Hundreds of thousands of teenagers across England, Wales and Northern Ireland are today receiving their long-awaited GCSE results.

The national figures, published by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) also show that the gender gap has narrowed slightly this summer, with 73.1% of girls' entries awarded at least a C grade, compared to 64.7% of boys'.

This is a gap of 8.4 percentage points, compared to 8.8 percentage points last summer.

However, the A*-C pass rate for girls has not changed since last year, while the percentage of boys gaining at least a C has risen by 0.4 % from last year's 64.3%.

The statistics also show that the numbers of students taking languages at GCSE has plummeted again, with even Spanish, which has bucked the trend in recent years, seeing a fall in numbers.

Overall, entries for French were down 6.2%, German entries were down 9.8% and Spanish down 2.4%.

Grades for languages have improved though, the JCQ said, suggesting that this could be down to brighter candidates continuing to study the subject.

JCQ director general Michael Turner said: "At a national level there is very little change in this year's results but we do see educational policies continuing to have an effect on entry patterns and results at a subject level. This is particularly the case in English, mathematics and the sciences."

A total of 5,429,478 GCSE results have been issued today.

Maths was the most popular subject again this year, with 761,230 entries. up 3.4% on last year. Almost two thirds of entries (63.3%) were handed at least a C grade, up from 62.4% last year.

There was also a 1.3 percentage point hike in the proportion of entries gaining an A* or A, with 16.5% awarded a top mark.

English also saw an improvement in results, with 65.4% of entries gaining at least a C grade, following a drop last summer when 61.7% achieved this standard or higher.

Girls continued to outperform boys in English with 72.8% achieving at least a C grade, compared to 57.7 of their male counterparts.

But the 15.1% difference is down 0.8 percentage points on last year, showing that boys are narrowing the gap.

A breakdown published by JCQ shows major changes in entry patterns for core subjects such as English and maths.

There has been a rise in the number of 17-year-olds taking these two GCSEs, a change which comes after a government decision to require teenagers who do not gain at least a C grade at age 16 to continue studying these subjects.

At the same time, there has been a fall in the numbers of students sitting these subjects early, at age 15 or younger.

This is likely to be down to exam reforms in England which mean that that only a candidate's first attempt at a qualification will count in school league tables, it was suggested.

The results have been welcomed by the Government, which highlighted the increase in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) being taken, with entries rising by more than 78,000.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said: "Today marks the culmination of years of hard work for pupils, teachers and parents and I want to congratulate them on their achievements.

"Thanks to our reforms focused on extending opportunity, a generation of young people from all backgrounds are now securing the GCSEs that help give them the widest range of options later in life - whether looking for a rewarding job or a top apprenticeship.

"This not only benefits the students involved, it means our work force for the future is properly trained to compete in a global economy."