Northern Ireland’s top GCSE grades drop as formal exams return

Alex Meyer (left), Charlie Pugh and James McConnell (right) who all achieved a consecutive series of A star/As in their GCSEs at Campbell College, Belfast, Northern Ireland (Michael Cooper/PA) (PA Media)

The percentage of top GCSE grades in North Ireland fell in the first year since the return of formal exams after the pandemic.

Although the results are down from the marks awarded by teachers during the Covid-19 crisis, they are up on pre-pandemic levels.

GCSEs completed in 2022 were different to those in 2019, with the overall assessment load reduced to reflect the disruption to student learning caused by the coronavirus emergency.

Education Minister Michelle McIlveen (Brian Lawless/PA) (PA Wire)

Education Minister Michelle McIlveen (Brian Lawless/PA) (PA Wire)

Provisional figures released on Thursday show that in Northern Ireland, 37% of pupils achieved an A/7 and above.

In 2021, nearly 40% of students achieved top marks in the teacher assessment model. When the exams were last held in 2019, the percentage of top marks was 30.5%.

Ninety percent of students received grade C/4 and above. This was broadly similar to 2020 and 2021, but up significantly from the 82.2% recorded in 2019.

Girls continued to outperform boys with around 42% of girl entries in 2022 receiving A* or A grades, compared to 32% of boy entries.

The results of just under 30,000 students who took GCSE exams in Northern Ireland in 2022 have been published by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ).

Education Minister Michelle McIlveen hailed the hard work and resilience of pupils during a visit to St Columbanus’ College in bangorCo down.

“Congratulations to all of our young people in Northern Ireland who received their GCSE results today,” she said.

“The results are overwhelmingly positive, with 90% of students achieving A* to C grades. Our students’ success is well deserved and a testament to their hard work and resilience after three years of disrupted learning. They should be justly proud of their accomplishments.

“It is also important to recognize the incredible work of teachers across Northern Ireland in helping students prepare for exams in a challenging learning environment.

“I would like to thank them for all they have done, as well as the families of the students who have supported these young people throughout this important year.

A number of principals praised the resilience of students who took the exams following the disruptions caused by the pandemic.



Stephen Thompson, acting headmaster at Sullivan Upper School in Holywood, Co Down, said his pupils had recorded a “fantastic set of results”.

He said: “It went really well, we’re absolutely delighted.

“The headline always hides all the individual student achievements and that’s the most important thing.

“Especially with the last few years they’ve had, it’s been tough for them but everyone has worked hard.”

Deborah McLaughlin, principal of Our Lady and St Patrick’s College in the east Belfastsaid all of their students achieved at least seven A* grades.

She added: “They have achieved exceptional results, given the difficult circumstances they have faced over the past few years.

“The vast majority of our students haven’t taken many exams.

“These exams this year were exceptionally high stakes for them. Therefore, they had to make sure they were very mindful of the ball.



Maria Flynn, principal of St Columbanus’ College, Bangor, said she was proud of all her students.

She said: “It has been an amazing morning for the students.

“The results have been exceptional for all the students and they deserve it in the last two years they have gone through.”