Northern Ireland Assembly to debate A-levels crisis

The controversy over this year’s exam grades in Northern Ireland is to be debated by MLAs after most Stormont parties backed a motion to recall the North’s Assembly from summer recess.

The text of the motion – which was proposed by the SDLP and supported by all parties with the exception of the DUP – notes that the Assembly is “deeply concerned that the modelling used to calculate grades for AS and A-levels has awarded incorrect results for students across Northern Ireland”.

It calls on the education minister, the DUP MLA Peter Weir, to award students either their AS or the exam board’s grade, or their grade predicted by their teacher – whichever is the highest – “due to exceptional Covid-19 circumstances.”

Assembly Speaker Alex Maskey will decide when the debate will take place.

Mr Weir has so far resisted calls to revisit the policy on A and AS-levels, but on Monday shifted his stance on GCSE grades, which are due to be released on Thursday.

Marks will now be based solely on predicted grades provided by their schools and colleges, and there will be no standardisation of marks by the North’s exam board, the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA).

He said he had taken the decision following advice from CCEA, and had “listened to the concerns of school leaders, teachers, parents and young people.”

While standardisation was “normally a key feature of awarding qualifications”, he said he was “conscious that for GCSEs, unlike at A-level, we do not have system level prior performance data for this group of young people”, and this would not be available to influence any appeals process.

Reassure young people

“I have, therefore, acted now in advance of the publication of GCSE results to ease anxieties, reassure young people and their families and ensure that every individual candidate receives a grade that recognises the work they have done,” he said.