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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 August, 2004, 06:21 GMT 07:21 UK
A-levels 'better than ever'
Ballyclare pupils Clare Dundee and Leigh Whiteside receive their results
Ballyclare pupils Clare Dundee and Leigh Whiteside receive their results
Northern Ireland's latest A-level results have been revealed and, as predicted, they are better than ever.

Almost a third of students have won A grades - which is much higher than the national figure of 22.4%.

The number of entries for A-level is up by 5%, the proportion of A grades is up by 1.5 percentage points to 30%, and girls have again attained more grade As than boys.

Critics say so many students are winning A grades it is becoming difficult to choose between job and college applicants.

However, educationalists say that as there is so much more information and help for teachers, it is no surprise that grades are improving.

Gavin Boyd, chief executive of the Council for the Curriculum Examinations and Assessment (CCEA), said: "I'm suggesting very, very strongly we are much better prepared for examinations.

"We are very well used to the system here and we have a group of teachers who are very, very focused on getting the best possible results for their candidates."

I'm not sure we would be motivated to change the system so it would favour males rather than females
Gavin Boyd
CCEA

He said it seemed the continued assessment system suited girls better than boys who may prefer a "single, final, high-stakes" test.

"They prefer to take it relatively easy during the course of study and then make a huge effort just before the examinations," he said.

"But I'm not sure we would be motivated to change the system so it would favour males rather than females."

Meanwhile, a hoax bomb alert has meant a delay in delivering some of this year's A-level results.

The alert at the Mallusk mail centre on the outskirts of Belfast led to the evacuation of the building for two hours.

The delay means that some of the letters only went out at 0700 BST on Thursday and would not make the usual delivery time.

A Royal Mail spokeswoman said it was working on a contingency plan and was hopeful all the results would be delivered at some point on Thursday.

Royal Mail said it was working on a contingency plan
Royal Mail said it was working on a contingency plan

Royal Mail general manager Michael Kennedy said only a small number of results were expected to be affected.

"All the English or GB results will be delivered to all the schools today - the schools will have those results as normal," he said.

"The issue will be with the Northern Ireland results... whilst the schools have them, the notification that the schools send out to pupils will have been affected by the situation.

"So I cannot confirm that all that mail sent out to pupils will be received today."

The controversy over whether the improved grades are justified is relevant in Northern Ireland because 30% of the grades are now at the top A-level, compared to 22.4% nationally.

However, there has been a huge improvement in recent times.

Eight years ago, the proportion getting A grades from the CCEA was just over 17.5%.

Pass rate

The proportion getting the top grade in results from the same board is now 35%.

The vast majority of students who sit A-levels now get some sort of a pass grade - 97.4%.

Back in 1996, the pass rate for the Northern Ireland Board was 89.7%.

Educationalists who support the A-level system say the explanation is that teachers are getting more feedback and better training to help their pupils, and that pupils are generally working harder.

However, the Institute of Directors say there is a "glut of As" and the grading system needs to be restructured so that fewer pupils reach the top A grade.

They say there are not in favour of changing the whole system because employers still have faith in A-levels, but they point out that both employers and universities have difficulty selecting the very best candidates.




WATCH AND LISTEN
BBC NI's Maggie Taggart:
"Eight years ago, the proportion getting A grades from the CCEA was just over 17.5%"



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