Northern Ireland

GCSE: Education Minister Peter Weir allows numbered grades

Education board
Image caption Northern Ireland pupils will now be able to receive GCSE grades from English exam boards who give the results in numbers not letters

Education Minister Peter Weir has decided to allow pupils in Northern Ireland to receive GCSE grades from English exam boards who give results using numbers from 9-1.

This overturns a decision made by former minister John O'Dowd in 2015.

He maintained all exam boards operating in Northern Ireland must give their results using the letters A* to G.

That led to the two largest English GCSE exam boards to say they would not offer GCSE courses in Northern Ireland.

Mr Weir said those exam boards - AQA and OCR - have now confirmed they will reverse that decision.

Mixture of numbers and letters

Therefore, from 2018, many pupils in Northern Ireland will receive results in both letter and number form, as around one in four GCSEs here is studied through an English board.

The local examining body, CCEA, will continue to award GCSEs from A* to G only.

However, they will introduce a new C* grade.

Under the numerical grading system 9 is the highest and 1 is the lowest.

Speaking in the assembly, Mr Weir said that he had "decided to lift the current restriction upon the accreditation of 9-1 GCSEs".

"By re-opening the market in this way, our learners will be able to access GCSE courses leading to both alphabetical grades and numerical grades.

"Depending upon the decisions of schools, some young people will leave school with a record of attainment that consists of a mixture of letters and numbers." he said.

"This in practice is little different from what happens now with the mixture of qualifications at level 2 with GCSEs, BTEC, Level 2 Certificates and Diplomas."

In 2017, English examining boards will give their results in the form of numbers, where nine is the highest grade and one the lowest.

However, the change will not take effect for results in most subjects until 2018.


The body which runs examinations in Northern Ireland, the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA), has welcomed the minister's decision.

It a statement it said: "We are pleased that the Minister has moved swiftly to review policy and provide his decision on the future of grading for GCSEs in Northern Ireland.

"CCEA, as the Qualifications Regulator, has a statutory responsibility to ensure that qualifications taken by learners here are comparable to similar qualifications taken by learners in other parts of the United Kingdom.

"We will start work immediately on the technical implementation of the new grading and continue to ensure that our qualifications remain comparable to other similar qualifications elsewhere in the United Kingdom."

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