Half of all A-levels entries in North awarded top A* or A grade

Students receive their results after exams were cancelled due to Covid-19

Half of all A-level entries in Northern Ireland this year were awarded the top A or A* grade.

Students in the North received the results of A level, AS level and BTec exams on Tuesday after exams were cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic for a second year in a row.

Instead students received grades determined by their schools and colleges and based on a range of evidence which could include internal exams, mock exams and coursework, with samples from each school then assessed by the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment.

The Joint Council for Qualifications (JQC), which publishes the results, said that as the means of determining grades this year had been different to any other summer, “it was anticipated that the overall distribution of grades would differ from that of a standard year”.


The body commended the hard work of teachers “using their professional judgement and a range of evidence to determine students grades”.

It said the “flexibility at the core of the process ensured that schools and colleges were able to reflect what students had been taught and account for the various levels of disruption they experienced”.

Hard work

Northern Ireland’s Minister for Education, the DUP MLA Michelle McIlveen, said she was “confident that this year’s alternative awarding arrangements were the best available in the circumstances”, and congratulated students and teachers for their hard work.

“I appreciate the past few months have been particularly challenging, but our young people have demonstrated a determination not to let this pandemic put their lives on hold,” she said.

There were more than 32,000 entries for A levels exams by students in Northern Ireland this year. A total of 15.8 per cent of students received the top A* grade, a 2.3 per cent increase compared to 2020.

The proportion of students receiving either an A or A* grade increased by 7.5 percentage points to 50.8 per cent.

Overall 99.4 per cent of students received grades A* to E, a decrease of 0.4 per cent compared to last year.

Maths continued to be the most popular A level subject, accounting for almost 10 per cent of entries.

There were 35,500 entries for AS level exams, with almost three-quarters receiving the top A and B grades.

First choice

According to UCAS, the UK’s university admissions body, a record number of students were accepted on to their first choice of full-time university place on the basis of their A level results.

A total of 12,690 students from Northern Ireland – an increase of 2 per cent – have been accepted.

Last year there was controversy following the publication of the A level results after more than a third of grades predicted by teachers were reduced by a statistical algorithm which had been used to standardise results.

The results were subsequently scrapped following an outcry from pupils, parents and teachers, with students given the choice of the grades awarded by the algorithm or those predicted by their teachers. The algorithm was not used in 2021.

GCSE students in the North will receive their results on Thursday.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times