What’s the real story behind today’s GCSE results?

gcse bbc fragmentMuch of the mainstream media’s reporting around this morning’s GCSE results has focussed on the highest grades.

The clipping to the right (from a BBC News online article) is a typical example.

Not much mention of any grade below C.

Mick’s post from earlier today has already started some discussion.

GCSE English results

The disparity between male and female results is very noticeable in a subject like English. This year 24.5% of girls opened their envelope to discover they had been awarded an A* or an A, and a total of 75% scored A*-C. In contrast, only 12.7% of boys achieved A* or A (nearly half the percentage of girls), while 62% scored A*-C.

In Maths, male students score marginally higher than females.

GCSE 2011 male female comparisons

But overall, girls outperform boys by a country mile: 31.9% vs 23.3% for A*-A; 78.1% vs 71.3% for A*-C.

Compared to GCSE results across the UK (though note that GCSEs are not taken in Scotland), both male and female students in Northern Ireland have an edge on their English and Welsh counterparts.

You can access the full statistics for the last eleven years of GCSE results for UK, England, Northern Ireland and Wales at the Joint Council for Qualifications website. Unfortunately, the tabular data is released in PDF format rather than spreadsheet, and the 2010 figures aren’t even searchable. Not very data.gov.uk-friendly!

(Note that the figures above all refer to GCSE ‘full course’ and don’t include the double-award subjects or short courses.)

Of course this isn’t the full story.

The data released today simply looks at exam entries rather than the performance of individual pupils. It will be many months before the Department of Education release the figures for Northern Ireland the north of Ireland (as they refer to it on their website) that show the number of pupils who achieved 5 or more A*-C grades including Maths and English – the general measure of success. They have to wait for the School Leavers Survey to be processed, as the statistics are not gathered from the individual school results.

It’s quite difficult to find the figures.

The latest figures are for 2009/10. The School Leavers Survey states that 59% of school leavers (53.4% male, 64.7% female) had achieved at least 5 GCSEs A*-C including English and Maths. (For reference, the figure for England is 53.4% … but I don’t think we’ve got anything to boast about.)

Northern Ireland School Leavers Survey 2009-10

So 41% of Northern Ireland pupils left school in 2009/10 without reaching this standard. Around 1.7% left without any formal qualifications.

Northern Ireland grammar schools could be quick to point out that only 6% of their students (553 in total) left without the five good GCSEs including English and Maths. However, that percentage rises more than ten-fold to 64.7% (or 8800 pupils) for students in non-grammar schools.

GCSEs in Northern Ireland aren’t a particular big success story for two fifths of pupils.

That’s the unspoken story of today’s results too. 9353 unspoken stories of people who are leaving school without the kind of minimum qualifications that many employers require.

(That and the fact that for the last ten years there’s no record of anyone in Northern Ireland sitting a full Welsh GCSE.)

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  • Mac

    “9353 unspoken stories of people who are leaving school without the kind of minimum qualifications that many employers require.”

    A depressing picture no doubt about it Alan.
    These are the kids that stay here, many of their better qualified peers will go elsewhere to Uni and not return. Our education system with its polarised end result, coupled with an economy that is largely dependant on public sector jobs is decanting the ‘brightest’ kids off and leaving the north with too many kids who lack the means to contribute.
    It’s all very well local commentators holding up our best performing kids as something to be rightly proud of, but their potential will all too often be realised elsewhere, to no real benefit locally.

  • Pete Baker

    “Northern Ireland grammar schools could be quick to point out that only 6% of their students (553 in total) left without the five good GCSEs including English and Maths. However, that percentage rises more than ten-fold to 64.7% (or 8800 pupils) for students in non-grammar schools.”

    Given that the anti-grammar lobby are keen to point out the wide range of 11+ results for pupils that grammar schools actually take in that’s a comparison that’s worth considering more deeply.

    And, I’d remind everyone, that the 11+ is an optional exam.

    Parents that opt out of the 11+ for their children are actively selecting non-grammar schools.

  • Pete – the ‘wide range of 11+ results’ are still the highest results the grammar schools can find. The ‘Every School a Good School’ policy has a long way to go.

    Should also point out that the Leavers Survey results show an improvement over the past few years …

  • PACE Parent

    Alan – you have drawn attention to one of the “elephant in the room” inconvenencies for the educational establishment and their political plants who have colluded in their deliberate failure to address a long-standing failure. Educational underachievement has been characterised by the media and a few ill-informed politicians as a “Protestant” problem but it is noteworthy how it was the likes of McGuinness, Ruane and O’Dowd who handwring about their concern for the children yet have implemented policies that guarantee that the gulf will widen year-on year. Unionist politicians are well aware of the issues of underachievement but are afraid to confront their electorate and the teaching unions in particular. They are happier meeting in secret with schoolheads or union leaders than taking on those who could provide a fix. They are afraid that any such confrontation will upset the gravy train and result in relationship difficulties with SF and some spilling from the gravy train. The DUP in particular have studiously avoided the education portfolio with a less than impressive list of excuses. Dawn Purvis’s former associates in the PUP were warned about the Shankill’s “Enriched Curriculm” project and its predictible consequences but she took a decade to express a concern. In the interim thousands of parents and their children have been failed by a generously funded primary school system that increasingly wants to avoid accountability for failing to teach all children to a decent standard of numeracy and literacy.
    You should not be surprised by the DENI’s complicity in making information available to the public. They have operated for over a decade under SF and a string of like-minded direct-rule Labour ministers.
    Four of our children had telephone calls from the school secretary asking for information for the School Leavers data collection. How reliable is that information likely to be?
    Grammar are not the problem here. Denial of choice for parents and pupils is the real crime. Regardless – the “prizes for everyone” ideology of SF has infected unionist politicians exactly as it was designed to do.

  • Belfast Telegraph ran a piece today about the Maths and English GCSE results.

    Alarmingly, it means that one in four candidates here are failing to achieve a grade C or above in maths, a mandatory subject at GCSE.

    In English it was a similar trend with only 49.6% of non-grammar candidates getting grades C or above – significantly under the Northern Ireland average of 71.2% – and 95.2% for grammar schools.

    Again, those figures have spiralled by 1.2% on last year and 0.1% for grammar schools.

    As in maths it also means that more than one in four candidates are failing to achieve a grade C or above in English, a core GCSE subject.

  • wpadams

    Those small % shifts hardly constitute “spiralling” – if the implication is things are “spiralling out of control”. They could almost be read as sampling error.