Belfast Telegraph

GCSE results: Northern Ireland pupils a class above their UK peers

GCSE results eclipse England and Wales but O'Dowd warns over disparities in attainment

By Lindsay Fergus

GCSE results for Northern Ireland have improved despite concerns that education reforms implemented in England and Wales could have reduced the number of pupils here achieving the coveted A* to C grades.

The vast majority of local students sat GCSEs offered by Northern Ireland's only exam board, the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) but around one in four opted for GB exam boards.

While overall UK results (A* to C) are up just 0.7% to 68.8% year-on-year, Northern Ireland's results improved 1.5% to 78%, according to statistics published yesterday by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ).

Key Northern Ireland figures include:

  • A* grades were up 0.2% to 8.9%
  • A*/As awarded increased to 28.2%, up 0.2%
  • 66.2% of maths entries scored A* to C, an increase of 1.6% with both boys and girls improving
  • In English, 73% of entries were awarded A* to C, a rise of 4.2% with an improvement in the performance of both sexes

Overall, results for England, Wales and Northern Ireland showed a sharp drop in grades in English, with 61.7% of entries scoring A* to C, down 1.9 percentage points from last summer.

This is believed to be the biggest drop in the qualification's history.

But it was a story of continued improvement in Northern Ireland with 73% of entries attaining grade C and above – up 4.2 percentage points on last year and 11.3 percentage points above the UK average. Maths, across all regions, saw an opposite result, with 62.4% of entries gaining an A* to C grade, up 4.8 percentage points on 2013.

However, Northern Ireland entries also pipped that with 66.7% scoring A* to C – 4.3 percentage points above the UK average.

Exam chiefs in England and Wales suggested that the changes in results were down to recent education reforms, including removing speaking and listening from GCSE English, less coursework and a switch to linear exams, where pupils sit subjects at the end of two years.

Speaking and listening are a mandatory part of any English exam offered in Northern Ireland and schools here still have the option of modular or linear GCSEs.

Anne Marie Duffy, from CCEA, said: "It is pleasing to see the hard work of Northern Ireland students and teachers being reflected in these results.

"The performance in core subjects of English and mathematics will provide strong foundations for learners as they move on to further education, training and employment."

Northern Ireland pupils' results in English and maths are good news for the education minister as there is a commitment in the Programme for Government (PfG) to increase the percentage of pupils achieving grade C and above in English and maths.

Minister John O'Dowd said: "I am encouraged to note that attainment by local pupils has again improved in English and maths, and overall, that our young people continue to outperform their counterparts in other jurisdictions."

But the Sinn Fein minister admitted that too many pupils are still not achieving the PfG benchmark of grade C or higher.

In English, 27% of entries (6,348) did not score A* to C in English and 33.8% (8,772) in maths.

Although there is little difference in the performance of girls and boys in maths, there is a significant gap in English.

Of the 6,348 entries awarded a D grade or lower, 3,946 were boys compared to 2,401 girls.

That means of those not reaching the A* to C benchmark in English, 61% were boys.

Mr O'Dowd said: "I strongly believe, however, that progress remains to be made in future years to continue to raise standards and narrow the performance gap between the highest and lowest achievers.

"The number of pupils leaving school without five good GCSEs including English and maths, has fallen in recent years (but) still too many finish their time at school without reaching this important benchmark.

"It is a key commitment of mine to continue to tackle this ongoing issue."

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