33,000 Northern Ireland students get A-level results

Students receive their results at Wellington College, Belfast

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More than 33,000 students across Northern Ireland have received their A-level results.

The results show that Northern Ireland students have performed particularly well in subjects such as mathematics, chemistry and modern languages.

Students from Northern Ireland continue to outperform their counterparts in England and Wales.

There has been a small decrease in the percentage achieving the top grades but a slight rise in those getting passes.

The proportion of entries achieving A*-E pass grades rose slightly to 98.2% (98.1% in 2012) with A*-C grades unchanged at 83.5%.

The number of students achieving A* and A grades dropped to 30.7% this year compared to 31.9% in 2012.

In England and Wales, 26.3% of entrants were given A or A* grades, while the overall pass rate was 98.1%.

While girls still outperform boys in Northern Ireland overall, at the highest level the gap has almost closed.

In 2013 the proportion of boys achieving the top A* grade remained unchanged at 7.1%, while the performance of girls has fallen back from 8.1% in 2012 to 7.2%.

At the overall A*-E pass rate, the gap has also narrowed. The percentage of boys achieving those grades was 97.8%, with the performance of girls unchanged at 98.5%.

The top five subjects in terms of entries were biology, mathematics, religious studies, history and English.

Spanish is the fastest rising language in terms of entries (up 4.7%), with Irish (up 1.6%) also showing an increase.

However, French remains the most popular modern language, despite an 8.5% drop in entries. The number of people taking German dropped by 20.8%.

Biology remains the most popular subject choice, accounting for 10.2% of the overall entry, although the number of people taking the subject in 2013 fell.

Students of the second most popular subject, maths, performed particularly well with 46.2% of entries achieving the top A*-A grades.

Favourites from last year like media studies, drama and psychology fell sharply.

University entries

Two-thirds of students were able to get results online and from 07:30 BST they had checked in from 43 different countries.

BBC Northern Ireland education correspondent Maggie Taggart said that half of 18 and 19-year-olds in Northern Ireland will use their grades to go to university.

"This is a much higher proportion than other parts of the UK," she said.

Students have been urged not to jump at the first offer.

Peter McEvoy of the Careers Service said: "Some of these young people who get their results will see themselves as having failed. They have not failed.

"They have worked really hard for two years. They may only have missed their course by one or two points. They are by no means a failure and there are options for all of them."

Universities in Northern Ireland have experienced a slump in interest in recession hit, construction-linked degrees, and across the UK physical and biological sciences have seen an upturn.

The careers service help line for students is telephone: 0300 200 7820 and its website offering advice to students is NI Direct - exam results advice .

A-level changes in England and Northern Ireland

A-level changes in England:

  • In courses starting in 2015, A-levels will be linear only - one exam at the end of two years, not in modules.
  • AS will exist as a stand-alone exam only, but will not count towards the final A-level grade.

These changes will affect Northern Ireland students choosing to do their exams through English boards.

A-level interim changes in Northern Ireland:

  • In courses starting this September, January re-sits will go - only one re-sit in June will be allowed
  • Modules will stay
  • AS will remain part of the overall A-level but will have less value.

Speaking about the results, Avril Hall Callaghan from the Ulster Teachers' Union said the success of those who had excelled also highlighted the level of under-achievement.

'Smaller classes'

She called for parity of funding to correct this.

"Whilst we welcome what the minister is doing to address the needs of children he has identified as having the greatest literacy and numeracy deficit, this exam result disparity must be addressed holistically or we risk losing a generation of young people who see little future for themselves," she said.

"The issue would be best addressed if policy makers took a holistic approach, particularly in terms of funding a child's learning journey from pre-school days into adulthood."

Ms Hall pointed out that primary schools in Northern Ireland had some of the highest pupil to teacher ratios in Europe.

"Children need smaller classes, not larger, if they are to fulfil their maximum potential. They need support and guidance from expert teaching, and they need that from the very start of their educational experience," she said.

Chris Keates, of teachers' union the NASUWT, said the results had been achieved against a backdrop of uncertainty over the future of the A-level system in Northern Ireland.

"Claims have been made in Westminster that the current A-level system lacks rigour, that exams are getting easier and that more reform is the only answer to this 'crisis'," he said.

"Not only does this undermine the achievements of young people and their teachers, it threatens to fatally undermine the principle of a unilateral qualifications structure which is broad and balanced and which enables all young people to make the most of their skills and talents.

"Ministers should celebrate the achievements made today, recognising the importance of retaining a qualifications system which supports all young people to gain the skills and opportunities they need to realise their full potential."

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