Number scoring highest A-level grade in North falls

Biology, maths and religion most popular subjects but more students taking science, techonolgy

Students Jonathan Cushenan and Hannah Cole celebrate their A levels results outside Ballymena Academy in Co Antrim. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire.

Students Jonathan Cushenan and Hannah Cole celebrate their A levels results outside Ballymena Academy in Co Antrim. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire.


The proportion of A-level students achieving the highest grade in Northern Ireland has fallen.

Almost 33,000 pupils received their results today, and around 7.2 per cent were awarded an A* — a decrease of half a percentage point on last year.

Particularly high numbers achieved good grades in mathematics, chemistry and modern languages, the organisation overseeing qualifications said, and an extra 1,373 entries earned grades A-E compared to five years ago.

Traditional subjects were most popular but an increased number taking science and technology subjects showed young people were thinking about their futures, Anne Marie Duffy of the Joint Council for Qualifications said.

“It would appear to me that students are choosing traditional subjects which they feel will further their employment opportunities or their access to further and higher educations,” she said.

The proportion of A*-C grades was unchanged at almost 84 per cent but there was a decrease in the percentage of entries achieving the top A*-A grades, dropping to just over 30 per cent this year compared to almost 32 per cent last year.

The number winning top marks remained roughly the same but more pupils entered and achieved lesser grades, pushing the overall percentage at the top down.

While girls outperformed boys overall, at the highest level the gap closed notably, with the performance of girls falling from 8 per cent achieving an A* last year to 7 per cent this year.

Biology, mathematics and religious studies were the most popular subjects.

The qualifications organisation recorded rises in the number of entries in mathematics, further mathematics, ICT, chemistry and physics.

Biology accounted for a tenth of overall entries. Business studies also saw an increase, by 14 per cent or 174 pupils, and was the 10th most popular subject. The number of candidates taking single award applied qualifications (aimed at developing a particular skill or expertise) rose.

Ms Duffy said efforts were being made to ensure qualifications were more work-related. An A-level on software and systems development is to be introduced in September to encourage a greater uptake in the field of computing.

Education chiefs also believe efforts to encourage pupils to enrol for STEM subjects such as science and mathematics have been successful.

While Spanish and Irish recorded attracted increased proportions of entries, only Spanish has seen a consistent rise over the last five years. Entries in French and German continued to fall, with French down 8.5 per cent on last year and German down by a fifth.

Exam chiefs stressed the need to treat statistical changes over one year with caution, pointing to declines in subjects such as psychology, which posted an increase this time last year. Art and design entries fell by 15 per cent while communication studies had no entries.

Ms Duffy added: “At a time when overall student numbers have been decreasing, it is pleasing to see that Northern Ireland students continue to enter for GCE courses in such high numbers.”