Northern Ireland news

More than half of A-levels awarded at top A*-A grades

Elle O'Neill, a pupil at St Dominic's, Belfast, checks her A level results with her mum Lisa. Picture by Mal McCann 
Rebecca Black, PA

More than half of the A-levels sat in Northern Ireland received the top A*-A grades,

Thousands of students received teacher-assessed grades today following the cancellation of exams for the second year in a row due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The results of Btec qualifications were also issued today while GCSE grades will be announced on Thursday.

In terms of A-levels, 15.8% of students achieved the top A* grade at A-level, a 2.3 percentage point increase from last year.

Those receiving A*-A grades also increased by 7.5 percentage points to 50.8% from around 45% in 2020.

Entries for A-levels were up by 3.8%, which was described as in line with the increase in the school-age population.

Mathematics was the most popular A-level, accounting for just under one in 10 entries.

In a statement, the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) commended the hard work of teachers, “using their professional judgment and a range of evidence to determine students’ grades”.

“This flexibility, at the core of the process, ensured that schools and colleges were able to reflect what students had been taught and account for the various levels of disruption they experienced,” JCQ said.

“As the means of determining grades in 2021 has been different to any other summer, it was anticipated that the overall distribution of grades would differ from that of a standard year.”

A total of 25,468 students from 180 centres, mostly schools and further education colleges, entered for AS and A2 qualifications set by local exams body CCEA.

Some students undertook assessments by other exam bodies based across the rest of the UK.

Education Minister Michelle McIlveen met a number of students receiving their results at Regent House School in Newtownards, Co Down.

She also acknowledged the exceptional circumstances in which they have been awarded.

“I wish to congratulate all the young people who have received their A-level results today.

“These outcomes reflect the assessments made by the people who know you best, your teachers,” she said.

“I appreciate the past few months have been particularly challenging but our young people have demonstrated a determination not to let this pandemic put their lives on hold.

“Today, they have been awarded qualifications which reflect their hard work and will enable them to move forward confidently with their future plans.”

Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the teachers’ union, the NASUWT, said students, teachers and school leaders worked extremely hard for this year’s results in “unique and hugely difficult circumstances”.

He criticised the timeliness of when plans were drawn and urged better preparedness for next year.

“Whilst schools have done a tremendous job in picking up the pieces left of minister’s last-minute decision-making, many teachers were left running on empty with teacher workload at breaking point at the end of last term. We cannot afford a repeat of this confusion and chaos for yet another year,” he said.

A-level grades were assessed by teachers and decided via a five-stage process. This did not include the statistical algorithm used last year to standardise results which sparked outrage after more than a third of A-level grades predicted by teachers were reduced.

An outcry from teachers, parents and students led to the original teacher assessed grades being issued.

CCEA said it had a high level of engagement with principals, teachers, learners, parents, unions, the UK awarding bodies and assessment academics on the process for this year.

Students were described as being assessed on what they had been taught, taking into account disruption throughout schools due to the pandemic.

School leaders received training from the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors, as well as resources to train teachers to assess grades in accordance with CCEA grade descriptors, before an internal standardisation process within schools.

Centre heads, principals in most cases, were required to confirm that the grades were a true reflection of student performance.

CCEA then took samples from each centre to assess the effectiveness of the policy to produce reasonable grades.

Grades can be appealed without charge this year in a two-stage process of a centre review to rule out administrative errors and/or a CCEA review of the professional judgment of the teachers.

CCEA will operate a results helpline from today until Friday August 20 on 028 9026 1220.

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