Almost 40% of GCSE entries awarded A or A* in Northern Ireland

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Almost 40% of GSCE entries in Northern Ireland have been awarded A or A* grades.

The proportion of entries awarded top grades by teachers has increased by 3.6 percentage points to 39.9%.

There has been little change in the number of entries achieving A-C grades – with 89.6% in 2021 compared to 89.8% last year.

It was the second year in a row grades issued in Northern Ireland were based on teacher assessments.

The system was used after formal examinations were cancelled again due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The number of GCSEs entered in Northern Ireland increased by 2.6% this year, from 162,035 to 166,172 in line with the rise in the school population.

Some 28,940 students from 246 centres, mostly schools, were entered for GCSE qualifications set by local exams body the CCEA.

The full total receiving GCSE results will be higher, with some students having entered for qualifications set by other exam bodies based across the rest of the UK.

The proportion of males receiving A or A* grades increased by 3.3 percentage points while the rise was 3.8 percentage points for females.

In the English language GCSE, the percentage of entries achieving A or A* grades increased by 1.5 percentage points to 29.8%, with a slight decrease of 1.1 percentage points at grades A-C, from 87.2% in 2020 to 86.1% in 2021.

In maths, top grades increased by 0.8 percentage points to 30.5%, compared to 29.7% in the previous year. Grades A-C increased by 2.4 percentage points to 81.5%, from 79.1% in 2020.

Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects accounted for 42% of all GCSE entries in Northern Ireland in 2021, an increase of 3.9% on the previous year.

“They have worked incredibly hard to achieve success in their studies and this has been reflected in the grades they have deservedly achieved today,” she said.

“No other cohort of students have experienced a situation where they have been out of the classroom for a sustained period of time, not just once, but twice. Despite two years of disrupted learning, our young people have shown immense determination, resilience and tenacity in their studies.

“I also wish to pay tribute to teachers across Northern Ireland who have been at the heart of students’ education throughout this important year. Without their enthusiasm, dedication and commitment, today’s successes would not have been possible.”

In the absence of formal exams, grades were instead assessed by teachers and decided through a five-stage process.

This did not include the statistical algorithm used last year to standardise A-level results which sparked outrage after more than a third of grades predicted by teachers were reduced.

An outcry from teachers, parents and students led to the original teacher-assessed grades being issued.

Pupil celebrates GCSE results
GCSE pupils across Northern Ireland are receiving their results (Jacob King/PA)

Students were described as being assessed on what they had been taught, taking into account disruption throughout schools due to the pandemic.

School leaders received training from the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors, as well as resources to train teachers to assess grades in accordance with CCEA grade descriptors, before an internal standardisation process within schools.

Centre heads, principals in most cases, were required to confirm the grades were a true reflection of student performance.

The CCEA then took samples from each centre to assess the effectiveness of the policy to produce reasonable grades.

Grades can be challenged without charge this year in a two-stage process of a centre review to rule out administrative errors and/or a CCEA review of the professional judgment of the teachers.

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