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Northern Ireland students outperform the rest of UK – yet again

By Lindsay Fergus

Almost one in three A-Level entries here were awarded an A* or A grade – outperforming their UK counterparts.

In Northern Ireland 29.9% of entries achieved the top grades compared to the UK average of 26%.

And more than four out of five (83.7%) – secured A* to C grades, which was seven percentage points higher than the UK average.

Anne Marie Duffy, director of qualifications at the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) said: "These excellent results reflect hard work and dedication to study over the last two years."

The drive by the Department of Education and the Department for Employment and Learning to entice more pupils to study science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects appears to be paying off.

The three sciences – biology (first), chemistry (seventh) and physics (eighth) – as well as maths (second) were among the 10 most popular A-Level subjects, accounting for almost a third of all entries.

Education Minister John O'Dowd said: "I am delighted to see Stem subjects such as biology and maths ranking amongst the most popular choices for pupils."

And the Stem subjects were also the ones that pupils performed best in.

Almost half of pupils (45.3%) got an A*/A, 38.8% in chemistry, 34.2% in biology and 33.2% in physics.

Although we marginally lag behind the UK average for the percentage of pupils taking maths and chemistry, there are more students here studying biology and physics.

However, biology is the only subject more popular with girls in Northern Ireland than boys.

There is a considerable difference in the percentage of girls and boys studying maths (7.3% versus 12.6%) and physics (2.3% versus 8%). It was also a similar picture to previous years with girls outperforming boys at all grades – 32.1% got A*/A grades compared to 27.4% of boys.

Mr O'Dowd added: "Every pupil is different and they stand the best chance of succeeding if they follow courses that interest and inspire them.

"Pupils here continue to perform particularly well."

Chris Keates, general secretary of the largest teaching union in Northern Ireland, NASUWT, said standards had been maintained across the board. "That teachers have achieved these results despite savage pay and funding cuts, job losses and the continuing uncertainty over the future of the A-Level system in Northern Ireland is a testament to their dedication and skills."

GCSE and A-Level exams in Northern Ireland are to remain largely unchanged.

Mr O'Dowd's decision came after the former education secretary for England and Wales, Michael Gove, announced an overhaul of their exam system.

Although the CBI has welcomed the strong set of results from pupils here, director Nigel Smyth warned that employers wanted more than just results.

"It is particularly good to see NI outperforming the rest of the UK in A and A*s combined, but of course education is not all about exam results. What's more important is that we have an education system which fully prepares young people for life outside the school and college gates, with the skills and characters to do well in life," he said.

And it was revealed that for the first time this year, the total number of people going to university in the UK could top half a million.

Belfast Telegraph


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