A-level results: Jim Allister warns of ‘grade inflation’ with high percentage of NI A and A* awards

The increase in the number of A and A* awards in Northern Ireland “looks a bit like grade inflation”, TUV leader Jim Allister has said.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 11th August 2021, 6:15 am
Jim Allister has stressed the need to return to proper exams
Jim Allister has stressed the need to return to proper exams

The number of pupils awarded at least an A in their A-level and AS level results rose to more than half of all students this year – up from around a third prior to the pandemic.

Mr Allister said that while he does not want to “disparage anyone” who will be celebrating being awarded the highest honours in their A-levels, he did suggest it is “hard to avoid certain conclusions” in light of the increase.

A-level grades have been decided on the basis of teacher and school assessments this year, a move that was taken in response to the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Jim Allister said this year’s results could have a knock-on effect in the future

In yesterday morning’s News Letter, the education minister responsible for putting the system in place said the grades are fair “as best it can be” in the absence of exams and with remote learning forming such a large part of the school year.

Peter Weir, who was replaced as minister by Michelle McIlveen during the recent period of DUP leadership upheaval, stressed that while the system may not be perfect there would be a “level playing field” for Northern Ireland students when it comes to competition with their counterparts from other parts of the UK for university places.

But Mr Allister has suggested problems could now arise in other ways.

“It looks a bit like grade inflation to me,” he said. “A few years ago the figure (for A-A*) was 33%. The sooner we get back to proper exams, properly marked the better.”

Asked if universities might find it difficult to choose between pupils with more than half having been awarded the top grades, Mr Allister said: “There will be some deservedly able students who will be disappointed in not getting the places they deserve.

“Going forward, there will be some sort of knock-on impact I am sure. Next year, I imagine if the results will be back to a more normal pattern then there could be further dissatisfaction pupils this year got a level of 50% into the top ranks when next year, maybe not.”

Last year, in a bid to combat possible grade inflation from teacher-assessed results, a controversial algorithm was used to downgrade certain pupils.

The TUV leader believes the backlash against the use of the mathematical formula has led to the rise in grades this year. “The algorithm was such a disaster that started the reaction that has now led to this year,” he said. “The only answer lies in getting back to proper exams.”