Northern Ireland news

Significant increase in number of students in NI achieving top A-level grades

Students at St Dominic's Grammar School in Belfast yesterday. Picture by Hugh Russell
Suzanne McGonagle

THERE has been a significant increase in the number of students achieving top A-level grades in the first set of exam papers sat in two years.

Some 44 per cent of students achieved a grade A or above, compared to 29.4 per cent in 2019, when the last full exam year took place before the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 25,000 students across the north yesterday received A-level and AS-level grades after many had sat public examinations for the first time.

While the proportion of top grades is much higher this year than in 2019, there was a fall in the number of top grades compared to last year.

A record 51 per cent of A-level entries were awarded A* or A grades last year, a rise from around 45 per cent in 2020. These grades were calculated by schools following the cancellation of exams due to the pandemic.

Other figures released yesterday reveal more than 99 per cent of pupils achieved grades A* to E - up 0.7 percentage points from 2019.

For A-level, 14.5 per cent of students achieved the top A* grade - a 6.5 percentage point increase from 2019.

Grades A* to A for both boys and girls increased this year compared to 2019 - by 13.8 percentage points for males and 15.1 percentage points for females.

The gap between genders, at the highest grades, is similar to previous years.

Mathematics remained the most popular subject at A-level, accounting for just under 1 in 10 entries, followed by Biology and Health and Social Care, which was the most popular subject among girls.

Chemistry made it into the top for five this year for female students.

Over one third of A-level entries in Northern Ireland were in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), with the overall STEM entries increasing by one percentage point.

There was a slight decrease in the number of entries for language courses, however, Irish remained at a similar level to previous years.

Most (88 per cent) of the A-levels sat in Northern Ireland were from local exams board CCEA, while others sat exams set by other boards across the UK.

Scores of students also received BTec results and vocational qualifications.

The number of AS level entries remained stable in Northern Ireland, following a fall in 2019 and 2020. The decline had been due to the decoupling of AS from A-level qualifications in English Awarding Organisations.

Provisional AS outcomes show 98.2 per cent of candidates achieved A-E grade, an increase of 2.5 percentage points from 2019.

Education Minister Michelle McIlveen said the significant challenges faced by students over the last three years made their achievements all the more remarkable.

"They have worked incredibly hard in their studies and this has been reflected in the grades they have deservedly achieved," she said.

"Despite three years of disrupted learning, our young people have shown immense determination, resilience and tenacity in their studies.

"I also wish to pay tribute to teachers across Northern Ireland who have, within the most challenging circumstances, continued to be at the heart of students' education throughout this crucial year.

"Without their enthusiasm, dedication and commitment, today's successes would not have been possible."

She added: "Working closely with CCEA, my department put in place bespoke assessment arrangements taking account of disruption while maintaining the credibility of the qualifications.

"I thank all those who have been involved in delivering this approach, including our schools and everyone involved in the examination and marking process. It has been a real partnership effort, which has resulted in a successful exam series.

"This year's return to examinations marks a positive step towards more normal teaching and assessment arrangements."

Leah Scott, acting interim chief executive of CCEA, said: "These results reflect two years of hard work from our young people, schools, colleges, and the wider school community.

"I pay tribute to their dedication and resilience as we returned to the first full summer examinations since 2019."

Northern Ireland news