Northern Ireland Post-16: A Level and AS – the last 5 months, January – May 2018 News article - view all Alps blog post - view all

Advice for Heads of Sixth and Raising Standards Leaders in Northern Ireland

I am writing this before Christmas conscious that Sixth Form leaders will want to ensure that their students and their school or college gain the best possible results next summer.

Your Y13 and Y14 students may have taken ‘mock’ examinations in the run‐up to Christmas or will be taking them in the early part of January. In most schools these results lead to more ‘laser‐sharp’ data that can be used to determine improvement priorities at subject and student level in the final five months of the AS and A Level courses.

My first question to you is how robust is your data? Make sure you have quality assured your data with subject leaders, so that you are confident you are not wading deep in shifting sands;

  • For example, how accurate were their predictions at this time last year?
  •  Have they predicted results that are very similar to the mock results?

The latter might seem sensible, but how seriously have students taken these exams and how well prepared for them were they? In England many schools are re‐branding mock exams as Pre‐Public Examinations with ‘Results Days’ to try to ‘big‐up’ their importance to students and their parents.

Maximising your results in 2018

This much I know, the only way to improve your A*‐A% or A*‐C% or A*‐E%, or your potential Value Added score for those using Alps, is to raise your results;

  • Focus your energies on further improving predicted attainment by concentrating on raising subject outcomes.
  • In turn, that can only be achieved by raising the performance of specific targeted students. That should be your strategic priority from now through to the exams.

The way targets are set in Northern Ireland, and looking at how results are tabulated by the press, it is highly likely that you will be aiming to maximise your performance in terms of A*‐C.

However, why not consider supplementary targets at A*‐A and/or A*‐B (depending on your intake) as, for students, 3A*s open more doors than 3As, and 3Bs open more doors than 3Cs.

Analysing the Mock Results and aiming to significantly improve them – key questions we would suggest asking:

  1. If you have set an A*‐A target for the school or college do you know how many A*‐A ‘secure’ grades you have and what proportion of marginal A/B grades need to be converted to A in order for that target to be achieved?
  2. Similarly, if you have set an A*‐C target do you know how many A*‐C ‘secure’ grades you have and what proportion of marginal C/D grades need to be converted to C in order for that target to be achieved?
  3. Are you arranging meetings with subject leaders and the teachers to focus on the performance of marginal students, prioritising those they believe they can ‘shift’ upwards and setting clear deadlines and review dates?


  1. Are you meeting regularly with your key marginal A/B and /or C/D students to ensure that everything possible is being done to help them achieve their currently insecure grade(s)?
  2. How are you ensuring that the most able in each subject are being stretched and challenged towards A*?
  3. Are you running a UCAS deficit? Every teacher should know the university offers of the students they teach and the grade or points they need to obtain from their subject in the summer if they are going to match their preferred offer.
  4. Are teachers ensuring that students understand the most important points in each unit’s mark scheme, so that they know the differences between, for example, a B and C answer?
  5. Are teachers making sure that students are confident in their understanding of the typical command words in exam questions? How about using those as a series of starters?
  6. Have you mandated that all teaching of new content is to be complete by Easter (at the latest) to give staff time to go back and revisit knowledge and skills that students need to have mastered to excel in the exams.
  7. Are students who under‐achieved in one of their AS units in 2017 taking a re‐sit this summer? How are these students being supported between now and the exam in order to ensure they achieve higher UMS?
  8. Do you have any students who are vulnerable and may not achieve a pass grade? Make sure those students are being supported.
  9. Consider using these strategies with Y13 as their AS results still count 40% towards their A Level results in 2019 and you will want to ensure that they gain the best grades possible.

If you are doing all of the above and more, you should reap your just rewards on 2018 Results Day.