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A Level results: Joy for some, despondency for many on a surreal day


From left, Maria McCann, Hannah Toner and Fionnula Murtagh receive their A-level results at Our Lady and St Patrick College, Knock

From left, Maria McCann, Hannah Toner and Fionnula Murtagh receive their A-level results at Our Lady and St Patrick College, Knock


Belfast Boys Model deputy head boy Ethan Shaw (left) and vice principal Olwen Black

Belfast Boys Model deputy head boy Ethan Shaw (left) and vice principal Olwen Black


It’s celebration time for Maria Thompson with her mother Moya

It’s celebration time for Maria Thompson with her mother Moya

Tadhgan McCullough, at Blessed Trinity College

Tadhgan McCullough, at Blessed Trinity College

From left, Maria McCann, Hannah Toner and Fionnula Murtagh receive their A-level results at Our Lady and St Patrick College, Knock

A mixed picture has emerged as thousands of pupils opened their A-level results across Northern Ireland.

The results, based on predicted grades and past performance after the coronavirus pandemic caused final exams to be cancelled, saw the overall pass rate of pupils achieving an A*-E grade rise by 0.8% to 99.1%.

However, 37% of estimated grades were lowered and 5.3% were raised.

Some schools have hit out after some pupils received lower grades than they had expected.

Bangor Academy principal Matthew Pitts said 63.4% of his school's grades had been lowered while Alan Hutchinson, from Glastry College in Co Down, said 56% of their grades had been reduced.

In Derry, St Cecilia's College principal Martine Mulhern said 13% of grades at A2 level were lower than the AS grades.

Other schools have expressed general satisfaction at results issued.

Olwen Black, vice principal of Belfast Boys Model School said there had been no surprises among results at the school.

"I'm glad to say this morning that we are delighted with the results for the boys," the head teacher said.

"This cohort have done tremendously well as their predecessors had and there have been no surprises there.

"We have 74% with A-C grades, and they will take the boys where they hoped so for us this is a good morning," she added.

Ms Black described the school year as having been the most unusual amid the coronavirus pandemic and an anxious time leading up to the results after events in Scotland, adding staff were working to support the boys throughout.

Deputy head boy Ethan Shaw studied History, Politics and Journalism, and was content to receive the grades he needs to go on to study Politics at Ulster University.

"I remember watching the news and it was difficult to comprehend, trying to figure out how the grades system would be applied," he said.

"With everything, it is strange to be walking through the school doors for the first time in six months but also the last time.

"It has been a chaotic year."

Across the city at Our Lady and St Patrick's College, Knock, pupils referred to discrepancies in results issued.

Maria McCann said she was content that she had received the grades she needed in Biology, Chemistry and French to be accepted at Queen's University to study medicine.

"I know it has been a very stressful five or six months for everybody, especially in the last couple of weeks it has been quite hard on people," Ms McCann said.

"Thankfully for me it worked out in the end - but I know there have been a lot of discrepancies and hopefully that will be sorted out in the coming days," she continued. "I got the grades that I needed to get."

Fionnula Murtagh studied Biology, Chemistry and Maths and has secured a university place in Glasgow to study Veterinary Medicine.

"It's surreal to be back in school, seeing all my teachers again but it's been nice," she said.

"I've missed school, it's been really strange being away and I think it is going to be quite difficult to get back into the routine of learning."

Fury, disgust, delight, relief... mixed emotions on display from NI students

Aaron Hughes (18) from Belfast

St Columb’s High School

Predicted grades - ABB

Actual grades - BBD

(Politics, Psychology, Maths)

“I’m lucky in a way that I got an unconditional offer (for Law with Politics) at Queen’s University.

“But I worked for my grades and think it’s completely unfair, I’ve no confidence in the system in terms of how it played out.

“I think a lot of people are in the same situation, everyone in my politics class was pulled down from their predicted grade, either one grade or two.

“One girl in my maths class got a U grade. So this doesn’t seem to be working for children from working class schools and areas.”

Dylan Frazer (19) from Lisburn

Belfast Met and SERC Lisburn

Predicted grades: AAB

Actual grades: ABC (Level three Health and Social Care, Politics)

“It’s been okay. I didn’t meet my grade boundaries for my courses (international politics at Glasgow or Queen’s University).

“My C grade was supposed to be an A, so I can’t understand how I was marked two steps down.

“Obviously, it’s very frustrating. A lot of my friends are in the same boat, so we don’t know what’s happening.

“All of my friends who got unconditional offers went to grammar schools, so it’s like they’re using classism as some sort of way to dictate whether a student should get into university or not.”

Tinique Murray (19), N’nabbey

Abbey Community College

Predicted grades: B, C and Distinction

Actual grades: D, E and Distinction

(English, Science and Travel and Tourism)

“I had seen a few things online about grades being downgraded. Before I came in to get my results, a friend had texted me to say, “Just a heads-up, but your grades are probably going to be downgraded”, but I did not expect them to be that bad.

“For science I did not expect an E. I’ve never been below a C for English in my whole high school education. It was definitely a big shock.

“As soon as I saw it, my teachers said they needed to speak to me. They told me that they didn’t give me those grades. They were disgusted. that I haven’t got in.”

Ella Best (17) from Ballybogey

Dalriada School, Ballymoney.

Predicted grades: A, A, A, A

Actual grades: A, A, A, B (Biology, Chemistry, English Lit and Classical Civilisation)

“I’m going to appeal the B because my teacher put down that I should get the A so I just don’t understand why they would give me a B.

“My mock was an A too and I feel like if I had the chance to sit the exam, I’m confident that I would have got a better grade than the B. B is not a bad grade at all but I was just hoping for the A because I needed it. Everything I had done throughout the year had been an A so it was a bit disappointing and there are a lot of people who are a lot worse off than me. It’s stressful because now I have to think about getting the A* next year.”

Laura McLaughlin (22), Belfast

Belfast Metropolitan College

Predicted grade: A

Actual grade: U (Politics)

“I previously studied midwifery and was predicted an A in politics after taking a one-year course at Belfast Met, but instead I was given a U.

“Although I have an unconditional offer to study politics at Ulster University, I feel cheated by the system.

“I was in a one-year fast-track course, doing the AS and A-Level in one year. I got a U, so essentially I didn’t get a grade.

“Thankfully, my university place is unconditional, but I do feel it’s unfair as my class was once a week for three hours.”

Elise McFarland (18) from Antrim

Antrim Grammar School, Head Girl

Predicted Grades - AAA

Actual Grades - AAB (Chemistry, Biology, Maths)

“Yesterday I had two offers to study Medicine at Glasgow and Aberdeen. Today I have nothing.

“I got an A* in Maths at GCSE and an A at AS level. I’ve never had a B grade before.

“I have asked the school what my predicted grades were and I’ve been told three A grades. That’s what I needed. There is no clearing for medicine and I’m left with no other options now other than appealing through the school.

“I’m just trying to come to terms with it.”

Mum Lisa said: “We are devastated for her, and for many of her friends.”

Belfast Telegraph