Northern Ireland’s students are top of the class in the regional A-Level performances.
The percentage of top grades — A* and A — in Northern Ireland was 30.7%. That was 1.2% down on last year, but still 4.4 percentage points ahead of England and Wales.
The overall pass rate here recorded a slight increase on last year, with 98.2% of A-Level pupils achieving A*-E pass grades.
Those getting A*-C grades remain unchanged at 83.5%.
Girls continue to out-perform boys. But the gap is narrowing, especially at the highest level, where 7.2% of girls achieved A*, slightly down on last year but marginally ahead of the 7.1% of boys.
The gender gap at the overall pass rate has also closed, with 97.8% of boys receiving A* to E, while the proportion of girls remained unchanged at 98.5%.
Nearly 33,000 pupils sat A-levels this summer, a slight fall from last year. But compared to five years ago, the figures indicate that more and more young people are opting to stay on at school, which is thought to have brought the pass rate down.
At the start of the downturn, in 2007/8, 47.3% of pupils chose to sit their A-Levels rather than entering the job market or regional colleges at 16. That has jumped by 11.3%, to 58.6%, in 2012/13 — as pupils pursue further education.
However, 11.7% of pupils are also opting not to sit their A-Levels, despite completing AS modules, moving instead into the job market, apprenticeships or further education.
As more pupils stay on at school, they are also choosing to qualify in subjects which are most likely to translate into employment in today’s job market.
The sciences, maths and technology (known as STEM subjects), computing and ICT are all attracting a steady increase in numbers. Spanish has grown in popularity as pupils taking French and German tail off. A total of 550 pupils took A-Level French this summer, followed by 513 entries in A-Level Spanish, while Irish saw an increase in entries to 309.
Business studies registered the largest jump among the subjects — with 13.8% more people sitting the subject — followed by geography, Spanish, religious studies, chemistry and political studies. Subjects declining in popularity this year included art and design, drama, physical education and media studies.
Just over 46% of people who sat maths at A-Level achieved top grades of A* or A — with a 63% top success rate in further mathematics. German, Irish and modern languages also saw some of the best performances.
Anne Marie Duffy, director of qualifications at the Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment, Northern Ireland’s exam body, said: “The results show a very strong pattern of preference for traditional subjects and an increased entry in STEM subjects... because pupils see those as an entry into either further education or indeed further employment.”
Education Minister John O’Dowd praised pupils, teachers and parents for the high success rate in this year’s A-Levels.