Northern students still ahead of British counterparts

Almost 30% of A-level students achieve A* and A grades in Northern Ireland

From left: Aislynn Bagnall, Eileen Muckian, Antone Bagnal, Michael Heary and Catherine Donnelly, who are all students at St Paul’s High School, Bessbrook, receive their A-level results. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

From left: Aislynn Bagnall, Eileen Muckian, Antone Bagnal, Michael Heary and Catherine Donnelly, who are all students at St Paul’s High School, Bessbrook, receive their A-level results. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

Thu, Aug 14, 2014, 23:22

Northern Ireland’s school-leavers have again outperformed their counterparts in Britain when it comes to achieving top grades in their A-levels. However, they slightly underperformed when gaining A* grades compared to students in England and Wales.

Some 32,000 students across the North received their A-level results yesterday, with 29.9 per cent gaining A* or A grades. This compares with 26 per cent of students in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland achieving A* or A grades.

The numbers in the North gaining A* grades increased slightly from 7.2 per cent to 7.3 per cent. However, this was lower than the average A* figure for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, which was 8.2 per cent.

The North’s growing reputation as a film-making centre, particularly with the production of Game of Thrones, is reflected in the number taking film and media studies, up by almost 6 per cent, and art and design, up 3.5 per cent. Perhaps a cynicism about politics is reflected in the figures, with the number of those taking political studies down 10.6 per cent.

The numbers studying biology, chemistry and physics increased 2 per cent, with maths up 0.9 per cent. Those studying English at A-level was down 4.6 per cent.

Michael Turner, director general of the Joint Council for Qualifications, said this year’s results were very stable. “As ever, students and teachers across the country have worked hard to achieve them, and should be congratulated for their efforts and the fruits of their labours.”

Thousands of Northern Ireland students will now start choosing university courses. Many will attend Queen’s University, Belfast, and the University of Ulster, while others will travel south or go to Britain to attend colleges in Scotland, England and Wales.

Unionist politicians in the past have complained of a Protestant “brain drain” from the North where a higher percentage of Protestant students than Catholic students who studied at third level in Britain did not return to Northern Ireland to live and work.

Recent figures show that at Queen’s University, the University of Ulster and the North’s two teacher-training colleges, there were 21,000 students from a Catholic background compared to 14,400 from a Protestant background.

Educationists will be studying if higher tuition fees in Britain – up to £9,000 compared to £3,685 in Northern Ireland – will lead to fewer students from both traditions attending universities in Britain.

The North’s Minister for Education, John O’Dowd of Sinn Féin, congratulated all the students. For those who were disappointed with their results, he said: “Not all pupils will get the results they were hoping for and I urge those young people not to worry. Help and advice is available to you, and I encourage you to speak to teachers, careers advisers and parents to discuss your future career or study path.”

The Alliance Party’s Minister for Employment and Learning Dr Stephen Farry spoke of the importance of students now making “informed and effective career-planning” decisions. “Taking time now to explore options will pay dividends in the future. There are many opportunities available to you and I would urge you to examine these fully.”