Northern Ireland

NI students celebrate GCSE results despite uncertainty around grade levels

Pupils from Sullivan Upper School in Belfast were receiving their results (Liam McBurney/PA)
Pupils from Sullivan Upper School in Belfast were receiving their results (Liam McBurney/PA) Pupils from Sullivan Upper School in Belfast were receiving their results (Liam McBurney/PA)

Students across Northern Ireland are celebrating positive GCSE results, with the percentage of top grades remaining above the pre-Covid average but falling compared to last year.

Exam bodies are continuing to move back towards more normal awarding arrangements which were disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic and public health measures.

Of the 30,800 GCSE students in Northern Ireland who received results on Thursday, 86.8% received grade C/4 and above, while 34.5% received grade A/7 and above.

GCSE results
GCSE results Eve Moore and Chloe Lyons, pupils at Sullivan Upper School, Belfast, both achieved 10 A* grades (Liam McBurney/PA)

Students and faculty at Sullivan Upper School in Holywood, St Dominic’s Grammar School in west Belfast and Hazelwood Integrated College in Newtownabbey told the PA news agency how they fared on results day.

Eve Moore and Chloe Lyons from Sullivan both achieved 10 A* grades.

Eve said it was “a bit scary” sitting GCSEs after the significant disruption she and classmates in her cohort had faced during Covid lockdowns.

In 2020 and 2021 there were no exams and teacher-assessed grades were issued instead.

PA infographic showing GCSE entries awarded 7/A by nation & region
PA infographic showing GCSE entries awarded 7/A by nation & region (PA Graphics)

This year, students in Northern Ireland were provided with advance information on some topics in the majority of exams.

Examiners were also told to be mindful of disruption caused by the pandemic when considering overall student performance.

Luke Ryan and Oliver Keown from Sullivan both received 11 A* grades.

“I thought it wasn’t too bad, as long as you put the work in. I definitely thought it didn’t feel any harder than any of the other exams we’ve done and if you just put in the work, you’d be grand,” Luke said.

GCSE results
GCSE results Oliver Keown and Luke Ryan, from Sullivan Upper School, both received 11 A* grades (Liam McBurney/PA)

Oliver said: “The advanced information, I felt like it helped me a lot because of Covid, it helped make up for the time we lost.”

Craig Mairs, principal at Sullivan Upper school, a position he took up in September 2022, was overseeing his first GCSE results day as headteacher at the school.

“It’s absolutely fantastic, we are absolutely thrilled for our students,” he said.

“It’s been a lot of press and there will be a lot of press today about dropping grades nationally, but we’re really thrilled that our students have maintained really good standards.

GCSE results
GCSE results Craig Mairs, principal of Sullivan Upper School, said he was ‘thrilled’ for his students (Liam McBurney/PA)

“So we’ve got 99% of our students have achieved seven grades A* to C, and in terms of those really top grades we’re absolutely thrilled, 80% of our grades are at those top grades of A*/A.”

Mr Mairs said that disruption from Covid and uncertainty surrounding the grade levels this year had “magnified” the usual nerves students felt on exam day.

“Generally, our young people have to put up with a lot and for quite a long period of time. It’s really nice today that they can reap the fruits of their labours,” he said.

Students at St Dominic’s Grammar School spoke of their pride at their results.

GCSE results
GCSE results Students in Northern Ireland were provided with advance information on some topics in the majority of exams (Liam McBurney/PA)

St Dominic’s student Olivia Corr, who achieved eight A*s and two As, said she was “really shocked” when she opened her results.

On the additional pressure stemming from the discussion of a decrease in top grades this year, Olivia said: “I was a bit stressed but I’m glad that all the support from St Dominic’s and from my family really helped with that, so I’m glad I did well in the end.”

Also receiving multiple A* and A grades were Caitlin Muldoon and Erin Rice.

Both girls said they were shocked and happy with their results on Thursday morning, with Erin adding: “I was saying my Hail Marys last night.”

GCSE results
GCSE results Olivia Corr, a pupil at St Dominic’s Grammar School, Belfast, said she was ‘really shocked’ when she opened her results (Liam McBurney/PA)

Erin said hearing of potential grade drops had added pressure to results day.

“Definitely like the drop in 300,000 top grades was kind of a bit stressful, you didn’t want to be one of those 300,000 people that would be disappointed this morning. Especially if all your friends did well,” she said.

The principal at St Dominic’s, Orla O’Neill, said the mood of the school on Thursday was “absolutely brilliant – it’s such a buzz here this morning”.

Ms O’Neill said their students had not been impacted by the decrease in A*/A grades awarded to students in Northern Ireland.

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GCSE results Erin Rice and Caitlin Muldoon, pupils at St Dominic’s Grammar School, received multiple A* and A grades (Liam McBurney/PA)

“Really, really delighted with the girls and how well everyone has done,” she said.

“We were worried when we had heard in the media about the results coming down and CCEA (Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment) had informed us that they would see a dip, and a move towards pre-Covid results, but we’re delighted to say here in St Dominic’s that we haven’t seen that dip, and in fact, our number of A*/As across the board have increased.

“So we’re absolutely delighted and so proud of each and every one of our students.”

Students at Hazelwood integrated college were also sharing their successes on Thursday morning.

Evan Johnson got the grade he was aiming for and like many other Year 12 students now plans to continue on to A-levels.

GCSE results
GCSE results Orla O’Neill, principal of St Dominic’s Grammar School, said she was ‘proud of each and every one’ of her students (Liam McBurney/PA)

“I was nervous on my way here, because GCSE results, but then once I got it and seen that I passed everything I was really happy,” he said.

Aine Leslie, the vice-principal at Hazelwood, said their students were “elated” and that their school had also managed to avoid a dip in grades this year.

“Many of them were worried with the media hype that the results would be down this year but at Hazelwood, in actual fact, our results are higher than what we would have expected, particularly in our maths and English,” she said.

“So both staff and students are just over the moon with how high our results are.”

The vast majority of GCSEs in Northern Ireland are taken by pupils through the region’s exam board, the CCEA.