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North's GCSE pupils do not receive the praise they deserve, says academic

Cara Gorman and Eimear Mulgrew with their GCSE results on the last year of Little Flower Girls' School. Picture by Hugh Russell

THE great exam success of Northern Ireland' school pupils does not receive the praise it deserves, an education expert has claimed.

Teenagers from the north outperform their peers in Wales and England every year with a higher proportion achieving five or more `good' GCSEs.

The overall percentage of those obtaining the top A* grade in the north rose by 0.7 percentage points to 10 per cent, while those obtaining grades A* to C increased by 0.4 points to 79.5 per cent this year.

A new report by Professor Alan Smithers found that it would become more difficult in future to compare the three regions.

Prof Smithers, from the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, said GCSEs in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, although sharing the same names, were growing increasingly apart.

This was the first year of considerable upheaval in GCSEs qualifications, he said, with subjects examined differently in England, Wales and the north.

A small number of pupils (around 3 per cent) in Northern Ireland received results in numerical format this year, with 9 being the highest mark and 1 the lowest.

The new scale applied to English literature and maths qualifications offered by a number of English exam boards.

With the regions using different grading scales, Prof Smithers said, it would be difficult to see how UK-wide results could continue to be published.

His report showed the north's pupils outperforming their peers every year since 2002.

"Northern Ireland has during the whole period been well out in front, a lead which has been growing. At A*-C it was 11 pp ahead of England in 2002 and 12.5 pp ahead in 2016. At A*/A, NI had a lead of 8.8 pp over England, and 9.7 pp over Wales," he found.

"The great exam success of Northern Ireland's children does not receive the attention or praise that it deserves. This may not be unconnected with the fact that NI has a grammar school system. But it is an intriguing question why Northern Ireland should be so far ahead of England in GCSE results – and not just these but also at A-level and in the international comparisons of TIMSS and OECD.

"While there will be major changes in GCSEs in England beginning with the results in 2017, Wales' will be little altered. Northern Ireland will be using its own grade scale with C* introduced as an extra level. It is hard to see how the results can continue to be published UK-wide."

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