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

GCSE Qualification Market & Grading

Changes to GCSE Grading

Since their introduction in 1988, GCSEs taken in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have used the same grading system.

From the summer of 2017 this will begin 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 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) file 2016/17

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 NIEFQAN file is now closed to additions and amendments for the coming August results.  Schools should note that it is not possible to enter exam results for any qualifications not shown in the NIEFQAN file.

In cases where schools have offered and received pupils’ results for qualifications not on the NIEFQAN file, qualifications will only be added to the file in exceptional circumstances.  In such cases, schools will be asked to explain why the qualification needs to be added after the EF Audit process and subsequent NIEFQAN file checks have been completed.   

For delivery of qualifications in the next academic year

From March 2017 onwards schools can make approval requests for qualifications intended for teaching in the following academic year.  While these qualifications will not be included in the current version of the NIEFQAN, which was closed to approval requests on 24 March 2017, details of all qualifications approved after that time will be published on the DE website on a monthly basis, until the new NIEFQAN file is published in September 2017.

Monthly Updates

The NIEFQAN file will be updated in September 2017 to take account of newly approved qualifications. 

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:

Final policy documentation

The final policy documentation can be accessed via the links below.

Any queries should be addressed to the Assessment & Qualifications Team.

A-level science practicals and AS/A2 weightings

Earlier this year, the 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 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 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:

All Ireland Scholarships 2017

The third level scholarship scheme, funded by the trustees of the JP McManus charitable foundation, is available once again for 2017. The scheme provides financial assistance to top-performing students from low income households, and in receipt of an education maintenance allowance (EMA). Each scholarship is worth £5,500 per academic year.

The scholarships will provide financial assistance for up to 25 students per year in Northern Ireland for studies at undergraduate level, with 19 of the scholarships being awarded through the schools sector and 6 through the further education (FE) sector. The scholarships will be awarded to students starting university in September 2017.

A copy of the guidance notes, nomination form, confirmation of A-level results form, and frequently asked questions are available below.

Circular 2017/05 – Higher education scholarships 2017

Information for schools on the awarding of higher education scholarships.

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