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Boys closing gap on girls as NI stays top of class in UK

GCSE grade gap narrowing as more students opt for vital Stem subjects

Pupils at Belfast Boys Model yesterday. From left, Marty Johnston, Jordan Davis, William Rose, James Coughlin and Curtis Patrick
Pupils at Belfast Boys Model yesterday. From left, Marty Johnston, Jordan Davis, William Rose, James Coughlin and Curtis Patrick
High flyer: Coleraine High School pupil Kit Hutchinson received 11 A*s in her GCSE results

By Joanne Sweeney

Boys are slowly starting to bridge the GCSE grade gap between them and girls, this year's Northern Ireland results show.

Both sexes got better grades and took more GCSEs in the Stem subjects - science, technology and mathematics - an improvement mirrored in last week's A-level results.

Overall, the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) announced that there had been an 0.7% increase in pupils from Northern Ireland achieving A*-C grades, with 78.7% of students scoring results within this range.

The results mean Northern Ireland students remain top of the class, outstripping their UK counterparts marks by some way, particularly in the top A* grade.

While 9% of students here achieved that grade, only 6.7% of all students across the UK were able to hit that level.

Some students here even managed to get A* grades across the board in 11 subjects.

They included Matthew Crowther and James Nelson, of Campbell College, Belfast, Emily Cairns and Nathan Lindsay, of The Wallace High School, Lisburn, and Bethany Petrie, of Ballyclare High School.

And Ballyclare High student Olivia continued her family's recent academic success by gaining 10 A*s and an A after her brother Aaron, who also attends the school, achieved five A*s in his A-levels last week.

Provisional figures for Northern Ireland indicate that boys are starting to get more of the top grades, although girls still performed better overall. A marginally higher number of boys got A* and A grades, and while 82.2% of girls achieved A*-C grades this year, there was an improvement of 1% in boys achieving those grades.

Principals in co-educational schools confirmed that the gap between girls and boys' marks was not as pronounced as in the past.

Alan Logan of Belfast Boys' Model School said that he believed his institution's after-school revision classes had a big impact on the 150 of his students who sat the exams.

Michelle Rainey, head teacher of Ballyclare High School, added: "This year is unprecedented, with a majority of boys in the year group. Boy-friendly initiatives have paid dividends as the gender gap has continued to close, although girls still hold the majority of the top spots."

Markethill High School claimed its best results ever, while Campbell College had its most impressive set in a decade.

James Maxwell, principal of the co-educational comprehensive, praised all his pupils, particularly the 12 who achieved more than seven A*s. Mr Maxwell said: "Behind every single grade is a story. A number of our pupils had many challenges during the course of their GCSE studies, including ill-health.

"I would to say a very special well done to Lesley-Ann Dempsey, who missed seven months of Year 12 due to severe illness. Despite this, Lesley-Ann achieved straight A/A* grades in all her subjects and is a complete inspiration to us all."

Justin Edwards, chief executive of Northern Ireland's awarding organisation, the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment said: "The general pattern of growth in Stem subjects that emerged last week at A-level is repeated in today's GCSE figures and is underpinned by notable growth in mathematics and ICT.

"It's also encouraging to see the improved performance of males this year, closing the gender gap at grades A*-C."

Exam results - What next?

Frances O’Hara, head of the Department for Employment and Learning’s Careers Service, answers your frequently asked questions:

Q. I want to stay at school but didn’t get enough GCSEs

A. Consider whether you can achieve your career goals by studying an alternative course or taking an alternative route to A-levels such as an apprenticeship.

Q. Is there financial support if I go to an FE college or stay at school?

A. You may be entitled to an Educational Maintenance Allowance. Further details are available at

maintenance-allowance.html; or by emailing or telephoning 0845 601 7646.

Q. What can I do at an FE college?

A. You can choose from a range of options including A-levels, GCSEs, vocational qualifications, apprenticeships and more. Details are at

Q. Is there any training that I can do?

A. There are higher level apprenticeships, and Training for Success provides 16-to-18-year-olds with an opportunity to gain the skills necessary for employment. For information on both, visist

Q. Is employment an option?

A. If education is not on the cards, vacancies are advertised in JobCentres, Jobs and Benefit Offices, online at, in local and regional newspapers and more. Careers advisers can help you to perfect your job-hunting skills and help with job applications, CVs and interview preparation.

Q. Where will future jobs be?

A. Sectors identified by the Minister for Employment and Learning are business services (including ICT), financial services, advanced engineering, advanced manufacturing and materials, food and drink, hotels and catering (in support of tourism), retail, health and life sciences, and creative industries and digital media.

More information and details of how to contact your local careers adviser are available at or phone 0300 200 7820

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