Belfast Telegraph

Friday 11 July 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Learning lessons from exam results

Northern Ireland's A-level students continue to out-perform the rest of the UK with higher average grades.

That is a tribute to the aptitude and enthusiasm of the pupils, the expertise of their teachers and the encouragement of their parents, since educational achievement is a collaborative effort. However, after years of continual improvement in the examination results leading to accusations that the tests have become easier, this year there appears to be a levelling off in the grades achieved. That is no cause for alarm and indeed may add to the credibility of the examination system.

But while those students who achieved their hoped-for grades can now rest easy and look forward to third-level education, we should remember those pupils whom the education system has failed. The proportion of pupils not achieving five good GCSE results, including English and Maths, is far too high at 41% and more than 2% of pupils leave school with no qualifications whatsoever. That shows a disturbing inequality in the system which new Education Minister John O'Dowd has promised to address. It is to be hoped that he keeps that promise.

Some of the underachievement factors are well known. Boys traditionally do less well than girls; Protestant pupils are more likely to underachieve than Catholic students and those pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds also perform least well. It is clear that efforts to bridge the inequality divide must concentrate on these key areas.

As well there needs to be greater investment in secondary schools to improve resources. While many schools in that sector can and do perform well, others are fighting an uphill battle to turn around the fortunes, and future lives, of their pupils. Northern Ireland needs to equip all its young people with essential life skills if it is to prosper in the future. It cannot simply bask in the reflected glory of its highest achievers and leave the rest of its young people to wither.

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