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.)

Alan Meban. Normally to be found blogging over at Alan in Belfast where you’ll find an irregular set of postings, weaving an intricate pattern around a diverse set of subjects. Comment on cinema, books, technology and the occasional rant about life. On Slugger, the posts will mainly be about political events and processes. Tweets as @alaninbelfast.