Almost 40% of GCSE entries in Northern Ireland receive top grades

Figures demonstrate ‘remarkable resilience’ amid disrupted learning, council says

Almost 40 per cent of this year's GCSE entries in Northern Ireland received the top A* or A grades.

It is the second year in a row students have received grades based on teacher assessments after formal exams were cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

GCSE exams are usually taken by pupils at the age of 16. This year’s results were released on Thursday morning.

The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which publishes the figures, said they demonstrated Northern Ireland’s GCSE students had “continued to perform well and demonstrated remarkable resilience in an exceptional year.”


It follows a record-breaking year for A level students in Northern Ireland, who received their results on Tuesday. Half of all A level entries in Northern Ireland in 2021 were graded at A or above.

This year’s GCSE marks were determined by teachers based on their professional judgement using a range of evidence, and were based on actual work completed by students such as in-class work, homework, class tests and internal exams.

As the means of determining grades in 2021 was different to any other summer, “it was anticipated that the overall distribution of grades would differ from that of a standard year,” the JCQ said.

In 2021 the proportion of entries in Northern Ireland awarded grade A/7 (equivalent to an A grade) or above increased by 3.6 per cent compared to 2020, to 39.9 per cent.

In 2019, the last set of GCSE exams before the Covid-19 pandemic, 30.5 per cent of entries achieved an A/7 grade.

This year the number of entries achieving C/4 (equivalent to a C grade) or above remained stable at 89.6 per cent, compared to 89.8 per cent in 2020.

Over 99 per cent of entries received a G/1 (equivalent to a G grade) or above.

‘Immense determination’

Northern Ireland’s Minister for Education, Michelle McIlveen, congratulated the students on their results, saying they had “worked incredibly hard to achieve success in their studies and this has been reflected in the grades they have deservedly achieved today.

“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,” she said.

“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,” she said.

The interim chief executive of Northern Ireland's exam board, the CCEA, Margaret Farragher, also sent her congratulations to all those receiving GCSE results.

“Students have had to deal with unprecedented challenges since the Covid-19 pandemic began and I hope that they can take pride in their achievements,” she said.

“We wish them well as they progress, be it in continuing education, training, or employment.

In congratulating students, we must also commend our teachers for their commitment, professionalism, and the critical role they played in delivering the curriculum and determining the GCSE grades this year in the most challenging of circumstances.”

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times