A Level changes 'should not be made at NI's expense'

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The Westminster Education Secretary, Michael Gove, should not make changes to A Levels in England at the expense of Northern Ireland and Wales, the chairman of the Education Committee said on 22 May 2013.

Mervyn Storey was speaking about a leaked letter, written by Mr Gove, which outlined his plans for a split in the GCSEs and A-level systems in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Stormont Education Minister John O'Dowd has written to his counterpart in England to complain about the leak.

Mr O'Dowd previously announced plans to partially change the A level exam system in Northern Ireland. These differed from the reforms planned for England where A levels will revert to a linear system with exams at the end of a two-year course.

Instead, the minister announced that from September 2013, the modular system of exams would remain in place, a June re-sit would be allowed but the January re-sit would be removed.

Speaking in the committee meeting, Mr Storey said the changes had "been handled extremely badly but not by our own minister".

He said he was concerned that pupils in Northern Ireland would be disadvantaged.

"We need to ensure our pupils, our young people and our examination process and system is capable of delivery, that they (pupils) are not disadvantaged and that they are not treated in a way which is less than what is currently the case," he said.

"We don't want an examination process which is the equivalent to the Ulster Bank £5 note when it comes to its validity on the mainland."

"He (Michael Gove) has a problem but he shouldn't use Wales and Northern Ireland as the place where by he decides to try and improve the situation in England."

Mr Gove held a meeting with the Welsh and NI ministers in London last week to discuss his plans to toughen up GCSE and A-level exams.

Following the meeting, Mr Gove assured both Mr O'Dowd and his Welsh counterpart Leighton Andrews that despite earlier disputes, there would be full consultation about future changes.

Members of the Controlled Sector Working Group briefed the committee on proposals to set up a support body. The controlled sector consists of all schools run by the state.

Rev Trevor Gribben said the group was ready to set up the representative body and "saw no reason why we can't proceed".

Representatives from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation also briefed the committee on the role and contribution of classroom assistants working with special educational needs.

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