This section provides information on the qualifications system in Northern Ireland.

Awarding Arrangements for CCEA Qualifications in 2021

On 6 January 2021 the Education Minister, Peter Weir MLA, announced that, due to the serious public health situation, examinations for CCEA GCSE, AS and A level qualifications would be cancelled in 2021 and alternative arrangements would be put in place to award these qualifications. 

On 2 February 2021 the Education Minister, Peter Weir MLA, announced plans for the alternative awarding arrangements for CCEA examinations in Summer 2021.  The Education Minister has written to schools, parents and pupils providing further information in relation to this announcement. 

A range of leaflets and guidance for parents, pupils and schools on this year’s alternative awarding arrangements are available at:


GCSE qualification market and grading

Changes to GCSE grading

Since their introduction in 1988, GCSEs taken in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (NI) have used the same grading system, however from September 2017 this began to change.

Full details of the changes to GCSE grading are available on the Regulation section of the CCEA website, which will be updated regularly while the changes are introduced from 2017-2019.

Letter to schools: GCSEs offered by WJEC

The former Minister for Education made an oral statement to the Assembly on the Qualifications Market & Grading on 28 June 2016.

Performance Measures/NI Entitlement Framework Qualifications Accreditation Number (NIEFQAN) 

All qualifications that have been approved for use in schools in Northern Ireland will appear in the NIEFQAN file.  The NIEFQAN file shows details of GCSE equivalences for level 1 and level 2 qualifications, and A-level equivalences for qualifications at level 3.  

The system is designed to enable schools to report their performance.   The information on equivalency applies only to the allocation of school performance points. 

It is not intended for use in relation to the equivalency of qualifications for employment and/or further/higher education purposes.

The 2021 NIEFQAN file is now available to schools.  This NIEFQAN file lists all qualifications which have been approved for use in schools and which are available to teach in the 2021/22 academic year. 

Qualifications which are available for teaching this year (2020/21) but which will be closed to new learners next academic year (2021/22) will not be listed on this NIEFQAN file. These qualifications will still be available for teaching up until their certification end date. It may be the case that some schools are in the midst of completing these qualifications and will be certificating later in the year or indeed the next year.  Systems will be in place to allow schools to enter results for qualifications up until the certification end date of the qualification. 

DE Circular 2021/02 sets out the process and criteria which are applied to approve qualifications for use in Post-primary schools in NI. It also provides details on how the NIEFQAN file should be used.

Joint Council for Qualifications - JCQCIC

JCQCIC is the organisation representing the awarding bodies offering the majority of qualifications on offer in the UK. It helps the awarding bodies to create common standards and guidance on issues such as access arrangements and special consideration. Further details can be found at:

A-level science practicals and AS/A2 weightings

In 2014 the former Education Minister, John O'Dowd confirmed that he had accepted the recommendations from the CCEA fundamental review of GCSEs and A-levels. At that time he said that he had some concerns about proposals in England to change the assessment of practicals in science subjects at A-level.

On 8 September 2014, the former Minister announced that practical assessments of science subjects will remain as part of the overall grade at A-level.

Following in-depth discussions here and in Wales, the former Minister also announced his decision to alter the weightings for AS and A2 qualifications to AS to 40 per cent and A2 levels to 60 per cent.

The Register

The register of regulated qualifications contains details of organisations and qualifications Ofqual regulates. There are available links to view recognised awarding organisations and regulated qualifications; the register can be found at:


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