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GCSE pupils hit top marks... but might not get into college

The unprecedented competition for university places this year could leave GCSE students without college places, it has been claimed.

The University and College Union (UCU) said a lack of university places and “the Government’s refusal to expand the number of higher education options in colleges” could see students with GCSEs squeezed out of a college place.

The worrying claim comes just a day after Northern Ireland’s GCSE candidates once again outperformed their counterparts in other parts of the UK.

This year’s results were issued yesterday and they show that the percentage of entries here gaining grades A* to C had increased by 1.2% to 76.3% — significantly higher than the UK average of 69.1%, and 8.9% were awarded the premier A* mark.

The most popular GCSEs were mathematics, English and double award science, but there was a drop in the number of students studying languages.

The number achieving grades A* to C increased by 1.2%. Girls' performance rose by 1.5% and boys' by 0.8%. Almost 11% of girls achieved a grade A* compared with almost 7% of boys.

Education Minister Caitriona Ruane praised the students for their excellent results.

The proportion of pupils leaving school without five good GSCEs, including English and maths, has dropped from more than 12,000 (47.4%) in 2005-06 to 9,500 (41.6%) in 2008-09.

UCU said colleges need to be more selective to meet performance targets, which could force GCSE students out of college and into a competitive job market or onto the dole.

The union’s senior further education policy officer Dan Taubman said: “This year our institutions are likely to be more selective because of the sheer number of people seeking a place in education.”

Colleges Northern Ireland chief executive John D'Arcy said: “I expect that many people who missed out on their university of choice will now be looking at what's on offer at their local college but this will not necessarily impact on young people getting their GSCE results.”

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