Northern Ireland news

A-level students celebrate results after ‘rollercoaster' experience

Lucy McIlhatton, Darcie McCabe, Edel Marken and Maud Barr from St Dominics in west Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell
Rebecca Black, PA

There were celebrations at schools across the north as students opened their A-level results after what one described as a “rollercoaster” year.

This year’s candidates were the first to sit public exams since the coronavirus pandemic, with those taking A-levels not having sat GCSEs and instead received teacher-assessed grades.

While many spoke of having a challenging year, most were delighted with their results, having achieved higher grades than they expected.

Education Minister Michelle McIlveen visited Strathearn, a grammar school for girls in east Belfast, to congratulate students.

She spoke of an exceptional two years for them, adding that the impact cannot be under-estimated.

“This is the first public examinations that we have had since 2019. The girls here today are ecstatic with the results that they have had,” she said.

“Overall it’s been a really good year, particularly whenever we do a comparison with 2019, the last public exams. The results are up on that year, and we’re in a good place today.

“It has been quite challenging but they have overcome that and really shown their resilience.”

Ms McIlveen, a former teacher, described the day as a reminder of the responsibility she had felt towards her students, adding that this year she felt responsibility for many thousands as education minister.

“The responsibility felt much greater given the decisions that were made early on and the risks that we took at that point, but we’ve been proven right about maintaining schools being open and the mitigations that we put in place to assist them through a very challenging time,” she said.

Outgoing Strathearn head girl Andra Vladu described a “rollercoaster ride”.

She said many were nervous about sitting their first public exams, but added that it was nice to be able to prove their hard work.

“I’m really happy with how my results have turned out, I studied biology, chemistry and geography for A-level and French at AS,” she said.

“I have been offered a place at Imperial College London to study biological sciences with French so I’m very excited.”

Rachel Lipson said she received an A* and two As, and is now set to study medicine at Queen’s University, Belfast.

“It was strange sitting exams but we did a lot of mocks. It was hard to remember the first paper was not a mock but by the second paper it was fine,” she said.

Kristanna Clegg is going on to study neuroscience at Queen Mary University of London.

“It was an experience sitting exams, but I actually quite enjoyed them,” she said.

School principal Nicola Connery said that, while the process was different, many of the girls seemed more satisfied with it this year.

“It’s been quite different and quite strange for them, although it has still been positive, but the girls seem a lot more satisfied this morning that it has been through an external approach and that it has been properly validated,” she said.

“They’re very content and we’re delighted with the results they have received today.

“I’m absolutely delighted, the girls have done exceptionally well. I feel that everyone in Strathearn can leave with an option today to do whatever they want to move forward with.”

At Lagan College, an integrated school in the south of the city, Amber Donaldson was celebrating her results after a difficult year battling illness.

“I got an A, a B and a C, and I had a tough year with sickness so that’s a massive achievement for me. I was expecting three Ds after my exams, I didn’t feel like I did well, so I’m really proud of myself,” she said.

“I’ve got in to do RE secondary school teaching at Stranmillis, and I’m delighted with that so I’m really happy today.”

Tara Moyes was also delighted, after getting two As and a B.

“I’m going to Liverpool to study journalism,” she said.

“Sitting exams was really stressful, I felt like I was in the dark and, leading up to the results, I wasn’t sure how it went, but very happy now.”

Drew Totten said the exams had been challenging, but, after getting his results, he is looking forward to student life, after getting the grades to study software engineering at the Queen’s University.

At Campbell College, a boys’ school in east Belfast, some 125 Year 14 pupils received their A-level and BTEC results.

Headmaster Robert Robinson said the boys delivered the strongest results in external examinations for the school in more than a decade.

“This Year 14 cohort have had the toughest of journeys and, whilst we welcome back the rigour of examinations, we should not forget that most of these A-Level students have not sat external exams since their AQE/PPTC transfer tests,” he said.

“We have to emphasise that their resilience has been a credit to them, and we are delighted with their achievements.

“Regardless of what grades they have been awarded or what university they progress to, they enter the world stronger, more robust, ready to face the challenges that lie ahead.

“We wish them well and thank them for their positivity and encouragement to us in the face of adversity during these past two years.”