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A-level results: Northern Ireland pupils top of class in UK once again as pass rate rises

By Rebecca Black

Published 14/08/2015

From left: Victoria College students Chloe Haylett, Ellen Beattie, Kathryn Shane, Jane Maguire, Kirsty Carruthers and Rachel Milligan got a combined nine A*s and 12 As in their results
From left: Victoria College students Chloe Haylett, Ellen Beattie, Kathryn Shane, Jane Maguire, Kirsty Carruthers and Rachel Milligan got a combined nine A*s and 12 As in their results

An increasing number of teenagers are staying on at school for their A-levels and performing even better than ever.

More than 25,000 students across Northern Ireland received their A-level and AS-level results yesterday, and again outperformed their counterparts in England and Wales.

Callum Canavan (18) from Londonderry, who was awarded five A*s and is now set to study natural sciences at Cambridge.

Students who gained four A*s grades included Emma Gilmartin (18), who attended Victoria College in south Belfast and is planning to study medicine at Queen's University.

There was also Erin Barry, who attended Coleraine High School and is going to study in Stanford in California, and Aaron Henry who studied at Cambridge House Grammar School in Ballymena and is going to study medicine at Oxford.

There was a slight dip in the number of students achieving A to A* grades this year compared to 2014 - from 29.9% to 29.3% - but the overall pass rate rose by 0.1%, with 98.2% of students achieving grades A* to E.

Maths emerged as the most popular subject for the first time, overtaking biology. And the number of girls taking it rose dramatically thanks to a renewed focus on workplace skills.

The upsurge, which was also seen in science, technology and engineering, came in response to calls from industry for more skilled employees.

Meanwhile, boys narrowed the gap with girls in terms of attainment. Last year, 6.8% of boys got A* grades, but this year that rose to 7.4%, compared to 7.8% of girls.

Overall, A-level entries rose by 2.5% from 31,600 in 2014 to 32,390 this year, indicating that more people have chosen to stay on at school.

UCAS, the body which places students into UK universities, said that more had been involved this year than last year.

More than 409,000 students found out yesterday they had been accepted to UK universities and colleges - up 3% against A-level results day in 2014. In Northern Ireland, the percentage figure (1%) was lower than the national average. Education Minister John O'Dowd congratulated students on their results.

Speaking during a visit to St Patrick's High School in Keady, Mr O'Dowd said he was delighted to offer his best wishes to the young people, their parents and teachers.

He added: "This year we have seen an increase in A-level entries, which is encouraging, and I am delighted that maths has topped the poll as the most popular subject.

"For other young people, today's results will not be what they had hoped. I would encourage them not to be disheartened.

"The pathways through study and training to employment are not the same for everyone, and help and advice is available.

"Teachers, careers advisers and parents can offer good advice and support on the options available to you."

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, the largest teachers' union in Northern Ireland, added: "Teachers in Northern Ireland have achieved these excellent results despite the constant threat of job loss, the burden of excessive workload, schools reorganisation and year-on-year budget cuts. Teachers and pupils should be congratulated for the success they have achieved."

Exam results... what now?

Frances O’Hara, head of the Department for Employment and Learning’s Careers Service, answers some frequently asked questions.

Q. What can Careers Service offer me?

A. Professionally qualified careers advisers provide impartial guidance to young people and adults. They are based in Jobcentres, Jobs and Benefit offices and Careers Offices throughout Northern Ireland. The Careers Service also has six customised centres in Belfast, Dungannon, Bangor, Ballymena, Downpatrick and Londonderry.

Q. I did not achieve the required results for my chosen universities.  What are my options?

A. There are a number of possibilities and will depend on your own circumstances. Contact a careers adviser or careers teacher as soon as possible to help decide what is best for you. Options could include an alternative degree or qualifications, an apprenticeship, employment or self-employment, a gap year or maybe resits.

Q. Where will future jobs be?

A. A number of sectors have been identified by the Minister for Employment and Learning. They are business services (including ICT); financial services; advanced engineering; advanced manufacturing and materials; food and drink/agri foods; hotels and catering (in support of tourism); retail; health and life sciences, and creative industries and digital media.

Q. What about Further Education college?

A. These offer you the opportunity to study a wide range of full-time courses to suit your career path. They include A-levels; GCSE; vocational qualifications; apprenticeships; foundation degrees; higher level apprenticeships etc. You can find out more at

More information and details of how to contact your local careers adviser are available at or phone 0300 200 7820. 

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