Northern Ireland students have registered another strong GCSE performance, with the percentage of top grades up once again.
Results show that 8.9% of entries in the region achieved the top A* grade, compared to 8.5% in 2011. There was also a small increase in the A*-C bracket, with 75.6% of entries achieving these grades - up 0.8% on last year.
But while performance levels are on the up, the number taking GCSEs has declined for the fifth year in a row. Entries dropped from 178,017 in 2011 to 171,354 this year - a fall of 3.7%. Around 32,000 pupils sat GCSEs in Northern Ireland in 2012. The drop is explained by demographic changes that have seen the number of year 12-age pupils drop by almost 2,500 over the last five years.
Girls are still outperforming boys when it comes to results - at the A* level by 3.8%, at A*-A by 9.4% and at A*-C by 7.3%. The results were published by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ).
Anne Marie Duffy, director of qualifications at the Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment, one of the bodies represented by the JCQ, said: "This is an excellent performance. It reflects a tremendous amount of hard work and effort on the part of students and teachers across Northern Ireland. We wish all students every success in their future career pathways."
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, the largest teachers' union in Northern Ireland, praised his members for delivering results in the face of budget restraints.
Seamus Searson, NASUWT Northern Ireland organiser, said: "The Education Minister recently announced additional funding for early years, the schools estate and extended schools. While this is all extremely welcome, we also need investment in our schools workforce in order to ensure that the achievements in evidence today are built on for the future."
The overall pass rate in Northern Ireland increased slightly with 99% of grades awarded at A*-G - last year the pass rate was 98.7%.
Stormont's education minister John O'Dowd and employment and learning minister Stephen Farry congratulated the region's students
Mr O'Dowd visited Ashfield Boys' High School and St Louise's Comprehensive College in Belfast and spoke to pupils, saying: "I appreciate that not everyone will have got the grades they were hoping for and I would urge those young people not to panic. Your teachers, parents and careers advisers are all there to guide and support you and they can help you decide on what career and study options are available to you."