A-level grades in Northern Ireland up on last comparative year as exams return

·4 min read

The return of public examinations in Northern Ireland has seen an increase in A-level grades from the last comparative year.

More than 25,000 students across Northern Ireland have received their results after the first full year of public examinations since 2019.

Some 44% received a grade A*-A, compared with 29.4% in 2019, the last year that exams were sat before the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 99% of students received grades A*-E, up 0.7 percentage points from 2019.

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

In 2020 and 2021 teacher-assessed grades were issued.

This year exams were sat, however measures were put in place to smooth the transition.

These included students having the option to omit a unit of assessment in most subjects to focus their revision.

There were also assessment adaptions, reducing coursework, and contingency arrangements for those who miss an exam due to illness as well as generous grading in recognition of the level of disruption experienced.

Most (88%) 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 are also set to receive BTec results and vocational qualifications.

Stormont Education Minister Michelle McIlveen paid tribute to students, saying the significant challenges they faced over the last three years make 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 the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA), said it is a positive day for students “who, despite the exceptional challenges they faced, have continued to perform well”.

“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,” she said.

Economy Minister Gordon Lyons has urged those receiving results to make use of guidance offered by his department’s careers service.

“As students receive their results many will be delighted while others may be disappointed, however I would like to reassure both students and parents/carers that help and advice is available during this time,” he said.

“My department’s careers service has access to up-to-date information on employment trends provided by the department’s economists.

“They can offer impartial advice and guidance on a range of career choices, including further and higher education, training and employment including apprenticeships, and higher level apprenticeships.

“I’d like to take this opportunity to offer my very best wishes to those either receiving or waiting for their results and reassure you that the careers service is ready and waiting to help you access the path best suited to you and your career ambitions.”

This can be accessed at https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/services/chat-careers-adviser, or you can speak to an adviser by calling 0300 200 7820.

Webchat and phone opening hours will be extended over the results period and advisers will be available via webchat and telephone from 9.30am to 7pm on Thursday and Friday of results week.

Mairead Monds, NSPCC Northern Ireland’s Childline team manager, said results day can be a stressful time for young people, and particularly this year with the return of public exams for the first time in three years.

“Young people under the age of 19 can get free, confidential support and advice from Childline at www.childline.org.uk or by calling 0800 1111 for free,” she said.