Pupils in Northern Ireland have extended their lead over those in England in this year’s GCSE results, with a significant rise in top grades.
Results published today show that 28.6 per cent of grades in Northern Ireland were at A* and A, compared to 21.0 per cent in England. The gap in top grades between Northern Ireland and England rose from 7.1 points to 7.6 points.
Results in Wales were lower than those in England and Northern Ireland. The proportion of A* and A grades in Wales this year dropped by 0.2 percentage points to 19.2 per cent and the proportion of A* to C passes remained static at 66.6 per cent. This was below England’s figure of 68.8 per cent and Northern Ireland’s figure of 78.7 per cent.
However several major education reforms, including the switch to linear GCSEs, have been implemented in England only and mean it is difficult to make fair comparisons between the countries. Students in Wales and Northern Ireland are not affected by a requirement that exists in England to retake maths and English GCSEs if they do not gain a C in Year 11.
Schools in Wales and Northern Ireland are also not covered by the “first entry counts” rule that has been introduced in England. The rule means English schools will see a student’s first attempt at a GCSE exam counted towards their performance measures even if the student goes on to achieve a higher grade.
Students in Wales and Northern Ireland still have their speaking and listening skills assessed, unlike most in England after this assessment was removed from the English GCSE.
Justin McCamphill, an official for the NASUWT teaching union in Northern Ireland, said: “It is a pity that the young people who have worked so hard to achieve such excellent results face such an uncertain future as a result of the continuing austerity facing Northern Ireland.
“Cuts to higher and further education and rising levels of youth unemployment threaten to hamper their opportunities to build on the achievements secured today."
Justin Edwards, chief executive of the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA), Northern Ireland's awarding organisation said the results were a "testament to the diligence of the students and the support given to them by their teachers".
"This year's results show a steady improvement in A* to C grades," he said. "Importantly, the grades in English and mathematics have continued to build on the good performance of recent years."
A breakdown of results by English region revealed that students in London outperformed those in all other regions, with more than a quarter (25.3 per cent) of their exams scoring an A* or A grade. The capital also had the highest A* to C pass rate, at 72 per cent.
London and the north east were the only regions this year to see an increase in A* and A grades. Although the north east scored the joint lowest proportion of A*s at 5 per cent, its improvement in A* to C passes was the best in the country, with 67.2 per cent representing a 1.5 percentage rise in these grades compared with last year.