Record numbers of Northern Ireland students achieve A level grades

More Northern Ireland students than ever are achieving grades in A level examinations.

Figures released this morning on behalf of the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) show that in Summer 2012 there were a record 32,908 entries for GCE A level examinations in Northern Ireland. This marks a 10% rise in entries over 5 years and is in contrast to the trend in England and Wales where the numbers taking A levels are falling.

Northern Ireland students continue to perform well, with 31.9% of entries awarded the top A* - A grades (34.5% in 2011). The corresponding figure for England, Wales and Northern Ireland is 26.6% (27% in 2011).

The percentage of entries achieving grades A* to E is steady at 98.1% and is broadly comparable to the three-country figure of 98.0%.

Anne Marie Duffy, Director of Qualifications at CCEA commented:

"Congratulations to the pupils and to their teachers for an outstanding performance. More local students than ever are staying on at school and achieving GCE A level grades.

Over time results can fluctuate and this year we have seen a small decrease in the percentage of entries gaining the top grades. This is in line with expectations, based on predicted performance for this group of students, and their performance in last year's GCE AS level exams.

Over the last five years despite a downward trend in pupil numbers overall, we have seen record levels of entries for A level examinations. The figures show that since 2008 entries for A levels in N Ireland have risen by close to 3,000.

Official statistics also show that during this same period the proportion of students staying on to A level has risen from 47-57%. Therefore as the size of the group taking A levels has grown, the range of ability of the students taking the exams has widened too. In these circumstances the performance of our students continues to be very pleasing!"

Gains for STEM and Modern Languages

The results also show an upward trend for entries in the key ‘STEM’ subjects of Biology, Chemistry, Maths, Physics and Technology. There is also good news in the area of modern languages, with entries for French, Spanish and German all on the rise.

But the biggest winners this year have been Psychology, with a 25% rise in entries and Drama up by 16%.

Gender gap maintained

Once again the results show females have achieved higher grades than their male counterparts.

34.2% of females achieved A*-A this year in Northern Ireland compared to 29.1% of males.

Additional Information

The statistics below represent the provisional Northern Ireland GCE results from five JCQ awarding organisations:

  • AQA
  • CCEA
  • Edexcel
  • OCR
  • WJEC

Northern Ireland GCE A Level entries and provisional results

  2012 2011
Entries 32, 908 32,582
%A* 7.7 8.6
%A*-A 31.9 34.5
%A*-C 83.5 84.2
%A* - E 98.1 98.1

5 most popular subjects at GCE A level in NIre

Subject % entries Entries
Biology 10.5 3470
Mathematics 9.5 3120
History 7.4 2451
Religious Studies 7.3 2402
English 7.2 2355

Gender comparisons

  NI 2012 NI 2011
  Male Female Male Female
%A* 7.1 8.1 7.9 9.1
%A*-A 29.1 34.2 31.5 36.9
%A*-E 97.6 98.5 97.7 98.4

GCE AS Levels results and entries

  Entries %A %A-C %A – E
2012 44,486 29.5 76.1 94.6
2011 42,666 31.6 76.5 94.3
  1. This is the third year of the A*. In order to get an A*, candidates have to get an A overall for their A level and score 90 per cent or more of the total A2 marks available. It is not awarded for AS levels or for individual units.
  2. All awarding organisations are answerable to the regulatory authorities - Ofqual (England), Welsh Government (Wales) and CCEA (Northern Ireland) – for examinations standards. The regulatory authorities monitor the awarding bodies’ standards. In addition, the awarding organisations themselves conduct a number of comparability studies to compare standards. Maintaining standards within and across all qualifications in order to ensure fairness to all candidates is the paramount concern of the awarding bodies.
  3. The approach to maintaining standards in awarding is informed by ‘comparable outcomes’ as described in the Ofqual document available at:

Media enquiries to Robert Shilliday on (028) 9026 1247, Mobile 07748 113 810, Email

Useful Downloads


JCQ Northern Ireland Statistics
159.5 KB - uploaded 08-10-2015
JCQ UK Statistics
159.5 KB - uploaded 08-10-2015

Note to Editors

Media enquiries to MarComms, Mobile 07718 424 373, Email