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

GCSE qualification market and grading

Changes to GCSE grading

Since their introduction in 1988, GCSEs taken in England, Wales and Northern Ireland 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 2020 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 2020/21 academic year. 

Qualifications which are available for teaching this year but which will be closed to new learners next academic year will not be listed on this NIEFQAN file. 

DE Circular 2019/17 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:

All Ireland Scholarships 2019

The third level scholarship scheme, funded by the trustees of the JP McManus charitable foundation, is available once again for 2019. The scheme provides financial assistance to top-performing students from low income households, and in receipt of an education maintenance allowance (EMA).

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 2019.

A copy of the guidance notes, frequently asked questions and associated documents are available below:

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