Over a third of predicted A-Level grades in Northern Ireland have been lowered

Grade modelling combined AS grades and Teacher predictions

The Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA), has come under immense criticism from parents, students and teachers following the release of A-Level grades this morning, in Northern Ireland.

The board, which is the primary examination body for students in Northern Ireland, calculated grades using a number of datasets to create a conclusive algorithm.

Predictions were made following the move to cancel formal examinations due to the Covid-19 pandemic amidst fears of examination halls and centres not being able to comply with social distancing measures outlined by the NI Executive.

Schools across Northern Ireland made predictions and the results released today have revealed a stark regression to predicted grades, with a third of students underperforming, thus missing out on University places. Despite this, A*- A grades went up by 2.3 per cent with 5.3 per cent of predicted grades being raised by CCEA. However, 37 per cent were awarded a grade below their predictions.

The anxiety of students was not helped when UCAS, the central application body for University undergraduate degree applications went down.

BBC News Northern Ireland this morning revealed that the same algorithm and data modelling which was used to assess English students, witnessed 36 per cent of A-Level results dropping there too.

Defending the model and lambasting the optimism of teachers across Northern Ireland, CCEA Chief Executive Justin Edwards described how teachers can all too often be ‘over-confident’ when predicting grades.

It wasn’t all bad news for students across Northern Ireland, like Year 14 Student Sian McCullough who received a place this morning at Queen’s University Belfast.

Speaking to the The Belfast Tab, Sian said that today went okay but that she didn’t know where she would have been without the unconditional offer she received a number of weeks ago from Queens.

The University came under scrutiny for rolling out over 2,500 unconditional offers for undergraduate students, but clearly this has benefitted students like Sian who wouldn’t be at University without it after having a predicted grade marked down by CCEA.

Speaking on the marking matrix, Sian said, ‘I definitely feel it was not the best plan of action by CCEA. In an already stressful and uncertain time, CCEA have just made it worse for young people’.

Most of the A2 Business students at my school got a mark lower than what they were predicted. Some of my friends were okay with their grades, but many of them like myself will be appealing’.

Students like Sian were penalised by the predicted grades matrix, but is off to QUB after receiving an unconditional offer

Building on this, student Olivia Cole who was hoping to study Marketing at the University of Liverpool, said that the algorithm was seriously flawed and took predicted grades as the be all end all.

She said, ‘My teachers had marked me at being at the bottom of the grade boundaries but the matrix has exasperated this altogether’.

Olivia has gone from being predicted BCC to receiving BDE and still has not received confirmation nor rejection on her place.

However, with such massive discrepancies emerging and immense criticism of the grades released to Scottish students who last week received their Highers results.  This amounted to grades being overturned following accusations that working class students were being penalised over University places in comparison to grammar schools who typically enrol wealthier students.

Similar criticisms have been made here, with the NewStatesman reporting this morning that despite 37 per cent of grades being lowered, the grades at Private Schools have this year soared

Responding to the claims that many students will be appealing their A-Level grades, Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle said; ‘There are serious questions for the Education Minister as to whether the appeals process will be able to address all of this adequately. The Minister and CCEA will be appearing before the Education Committee tomorrow and we will be seeking clarity from both. A-Level results are far too important to allow any lack of clarity or hint of unfairness.’

The longstanding MLA for East Belfast added, ‘My thoughts are with every pupil who has received A-Level and AS grades today. We need to recognise the sacrifice they have made during this pandemic, from school closures to having exams cancelled. The least they can expect in return is fair grades.’

Adding to this, NUS-USI President Ellen Fearon said, ‘the reality is that students in Northern Ireland have not been offered the same safety net as students in the rest of the UK. They will be competing for university places with others who have been guaranteed results no lower than their AS grades, or had their moderated grades scrapped.’


‘It’s not fair that someone receiving their A level results today is at a disadvantage to their peers simply because they live in Northern Ireland.’
‘I would urge anyone who is unhappy with their results to use the appeals process and if they are struggling with their mental health to seek support from their school, college or GP’.
The Belfast Tab contacted Education Minister, Peter Weir MLA for a comment.