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Blow for John O'Dowd as number of pupils on five good GCSEs falls

By Lindsay Fergus

The Education Minister’s goal to raise standards has been dealt a blow after it emerged that the percentage of pupils achieving five good GCSEs has fallen.

There has been a 1% fall in the percentage of Year 12 students attaining five or more GCSEs including English and maths at grades A* to C.

It comes as international experts prepare to scrutinise Northern Ireland’s education system. Figures released by the Department of Education yesterday show just 59.2% achieved the Government benchmark in the 2011/12 academic year compared to 60.1% the previous year.

It means that almost 9,000 teenagers did not receive the minimum qualifications demanded by employers, as results slipped in both grammar and non-grammar sectors.

Employer organisation The CBI warned that there needs to be improvements — particularly in English and maths results — if Northern Ireland is to compete on an international stage.

Assistant regional director Kirsty McManus said: “It is paramount for employers of all types that young people have high standards of literacy and numeracy and we would urge a renewed focus on this over the coming years to enable Northern Ireland to better compete economically in the global marketplace.”

John O’Dowd admitted the figures were disappointing, but said: “I also acknowledge that we still have far too many young people in our education system who are underachieving. I am determined to tackle this.

“Earlier this month I announced that we will be participating in a major in-depth review of our education system led by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).”

And he added that the controversial GCSE English exams may have impacted on results.

Though a probe by the regulator earlier this year found that the overall grade outcomes for GCSE English here were in line with achievements in previous years.

However, at A-Level, results are on the up with 64.7% of students achieving three A-Levels at grades A* to C. Both the grammar and non-grammar sector improved.

Last week Mr O’Dowd ordered a review of GCSEs and A-Levels.

The Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) has been commissioned to carry out the review to ensure that GCSE, AS and A-Level qualifications are capable of “testing and rewarding the learning and attainment of pupils”.

The survey can be found on and will be available to complete until January 21.


Regional breakdown of percentage of pupils achieving five GCSEs at grades A* to C including English and maths 2011/12:

BELB: Non-grammar 28%, grammar 90.4%

WELB: Non-grammar 33.2%, grammar 92.1%

NEELB: Non-grammar 35.6%, grammar 92.1%

SEELB: Non-grammar 33.5%, grammar 98%

SELB: Non-grammar 40.6%, grammar 91.9%

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