Exam results underline need to invest in education

The day when exam results are published is always one of mixed emotions, joy for those who attain the grades they need and disappointment for those who fall short.

What is important to realise is that there are plenty of options available to young people as they decide whether to pursue further study or training, or move straight into the workplace.

The results are examined closely to assess what they tell us about the state of our education system, the level of attainment among young people and trends in subject choices which can have a wider impact.

From the figures released yesterday, Northern Ireland can point to a strong performance yet again in the A-level results.

The number of A* grades showed an increase, with girls performing well, while the overall pass rate from A*-E remained stable.

Participation in stem subjects - science, technology, engineering and maths - fell but they continue to account for more than one in three entries.

Maths was the most popular subject for the third year in a row with one in ten studying it at A-level but languages are showing a fall in popularity.

It is encouraging to learn that a record number of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds have won places at university although the figure for Northern Ireland is lower than that in England and Wales.

Overall, the results provide a positive picture at a time when the education sector in the north is under immense strain in terms of budgets and workloads.

Tribute must be paid to the pupils who have put in a tremendous effort as well as their teachers, who provided the necessary support and guidance.

While many A-level students will opt for a university degree - which comes at a considerable financial cost - there are alternative routes into a range of careers, including higher level apprenticeships in engineering, IT, accountancy and construction, which allow young people to earn as they learn.

The teenagers who received their A-level results this week are the workforce of tomorrow, the people with the skills, knowledge and expertise to drive forward our economy and provide the services needed by the public.

Which is why we need to invest in our education system, providing the resources needed to ensure the highest standards so that all children are given the opportunity to reach their potential.