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Live Reporting

Robin Sheeran and Tori Watson

All times stated are UK

  1. That's all for today

    Principal Deputy Speaker Christopher Stalford thanks the minister for coming to the assembly chamber to make his announcement rather than simply issuing a press release.

    That's all from Stormont for today.

    The next scheduled business is a full plenary session of the assembly on Tuesday morning.

    However, things have a habit of changing at short notice in these changed times and if additional business is posted we'll be here to cover it.

    In the meantime, have a great weekend and keep safe.

  2. 'Is there a cap based on school's previous results?'

    The UUP's Roy Beggs asks when teachers will receive the necessary guidance from CCEA.

    The minister says he understands the detailed guidance will be issued today.

    Peter Weir

    The Green Party's Rachel Woods asks if the results will be "capped in any way by the proportion of grades awarded in previous years".

    Peter Weir says there will be no cap as such but the modelling will take into account centre performance.

    "It's quite a sophisticated statistical model which will be developed by CCEA," he says.

    The important thing is to ensure no student is to be advantaged or disadvantaged, he adds.

  3. 'Mental wellbeing is taking a battering'

    Alliance's Kellie Armstrong asks the minister to outline the different options CCEA presented the minister with before he made a decision and asks if the minister will consider bringing forward "legislation to cancel" post-primary examinations in Autumn.

    Mr Weir says "there were a range of options" which were presented with three criteria in a "traffic light system - good, fair or poor".

    He says the option he decided to go with "scored the best".

    He adds: "I don't intend to bring legislation forward" in relation to post-primary examinations.

    "The post-primary examinations offered which pupils can take or not take are offered by two private organisations," says the minister, adding he has "no control over these".

    Kellie Armstrong

    Mark Durkan of the SDLP asks the minister about "additional support" being given by the department to "those whose mental wellbeing is taking a battering at this moment in time".

    Mr Weir says there will need to be support in general for "young people and teachers".

    He adds, "sometimes we almost ignore the role of teachers".

    Mr Weir says "we need look at what support can be given".

  4. 'A unique year'

    The UUP's Mike Nesbitt asks the minister if teachers are "entirely comfortable with this and does it set a precedent of some sort?"

    Mr Weir replies, "I don't think this sets a precedent for anything".

    He says it is not a "perfect solution" but rather "about trying to provide the best possible outcomes in difficult circumstances".

    He says that he hopes it is "a unique year" and something that will not have to be revisited.

    Mike Nesbitt

    Meanwhile Sinn Féin's Cathal Boylan asks if there will be an independent body to provide oversight of teachers grading.

    Mr Weir says the decision is about "ensuring students are not put at a level of disadvantage" and says it's important to ensure teachers are not "more generous" than they should be, as it may actually be "counted against our pupils" in the longer term.

    He says the "grounds for appeals are likely to be narrow" and that there is a "safety net" for students "to do re-sit".

  5. 'Danger of universities' race to the bottom'

    Sinn Féin's Martina Anderson asks about collaboration with the Minister for the Economy, Diane Dodds, on universities and in particular about the proposed medical school at the University of Ulster's Magee campus in her Foyle constituency.

    The minister says universities are mainly in the realm of the Economy Department, and the new medical school is a matter for the departments of the economy and health.

    He says that further down the line it's important that in the jobs market someone who left school in 2020 is not seen as "the poor relation".

    Martina Anderson

    The SDLP's Matthew O'Toole also has a question about universities and the role of the applications authority, UCAS.

    The minister admits to some concerns over university applications this year.

    "We don't want to see the universities have a competitive race against each other and the danger almost of a race to the bottom" in order to suck in as many students as they can, he explains.

  6. 'Protect teachers in terms of workload'

    The DUP's Paul Frew asks if teacher's assessments of pupils will be based "over a period of time or left to the teachers" to decide.

    Mr Weir says it will be up to the teachers to give a "holistic view," adding that there will be "detailed guidance in terms of how schools are to collect data".

    Catherine Kelly of Sinn Féin asks about the consultation around the decision.

    Mr Weir says there are "policy issues which would take months, are having to be made in weeks, days and sometimes hours".

    He says he had lengthy sessions with the teaching unions about the issue.

    Paul Frew

    The DUP's Keith Buchanan asks if any A level students will be disadvantaged if they are seeking to apply to universities.

    Mr Weir says he doesn't "envisage any disadvantages for anyone in those positions" and says there has been an effort to ensure "all the results come out at the same time".

    Robbie Butler of the UUP asks the minister for more on the communication with the teaching unions and the announcement.

    Mr Weir says there is a need to "protect teachers in terms of workload".

    He also says there was "no disagreement with general direction of travel" in relation to the announcement.

  7. 'A technical device called Z scores'

    The SDLP's Justin McNulty asks he has spoken to a school principal who expressed concern about the effect of alternative arrangements on pupils of a socio-economic background without access to IT or broadband.

    He also asks the minister to explain what he means by "a recognised statistical model".

    Peter Weir

    Mr Weir says the statistical model is "a technical device known as Z scores" that has traditionally been used for students who have been unable to take part in exams due to illness or family bereavement.

  8. 'Comparability and portability'

    The DUP's William Humphrey asks the minister about communication from CCEA to schools as well as the appeal process.

    Peter Weir says the "communication will be through CCEA" and that information "is being shared with schools as we speak".

    He says that for appeals, there is a need "to ensure we have a robust system" which is "aligned as possible with England and Wales".

    He says this is important for "comparability and portability and also that our students, by way of process of appeal, are not disadvantaged".

    He says the appeal mechanism has to be one "which mirrors what else is there".

    William Humphrey

    Sinn Féin's Karen Mullan asks about working class boys who may be disadvantaged due to the situation in terms of results.

    Peter Weir says due to the model, results will be given on the "basis of teacher judgement and indication," adding, "they will know where a pupil has ability but may not have advantages".

    He says "that should provide some level of balance in terms of producing end results".

  9. 'Some may treat their more pupils strictly or generously'

    Chris Lyttle is the chairperson of the Education Committee.

    He asks what is meant "by the rank order of school" and asks what consideration is being taken to reflect the work pupils "would have done for exams".

    Mr Weir replies that the rank order would be within each school.

    He says it involves "ranking a number of pupils on a subject" and is part of the "statistical modelling".

    He says: "It is human nature some schools may treat their cohort of pupils strictly or more generously," and so ranking is important.

    Chris Lyttle
  10. Appeals procedure will be 'as robust as possible'

    Mr Weir says he believes the arrangement "provides flexible options where possible to ensure learners, particularly in years 11 and 13, are not overburdened".

    He says "schools have a wealth of information to evidence the achievements of their students, including demonstrating the progress over the current academic year".

    The minister says CCEA will be issung detailed guidance to schools pupils and parents highlighting the arrangements he has just outlined.

    CCEA is also developing an appeals procedure "which will be as robust as possible".

    Mr Weir says the results will be issued on the dates originally intended.

  11. Arrangements for GCSE students

    Turning to GCSEs, Mr Weir says entrants will receive a grade based on "a combination of teacher professional judgement again involving grading and rank-ordering by schools and the average centre performance over the last three summer series".

    He also outlines the arrangements for students due to take GCSE modules this summer.

    "I appreciate that this is all very complex," the minister apologises to members.

    He says CCEA will be issuing additional guidance to schools, students and parents "as a matter of urgency".

    Peter Weir
  12. 'Not everybody will agree with everything'

    The minister says exam board CCEA offered advice which was "considered by myself, officials" and others, adding that "my officials consulted with head teacher and teaching unions and other education stakeholders".

    He says the engagement was constructive and that he took all views into account in arriving at decisions.

    He adds "not everybody will agree with everything" and that "everyone recognises there is no perfect solution" but he says he hopes "young people will be awarded results they merit to enable them to progress to next stage of lives".

    He adds that "teachers will have a key role to play in the form of assessment" as they know pupils "aptitudes and achievements".

    Peter Weir

    The minister then outlines that those sitting CCEA A Level and GCSE exams will receive grades "this summer to allow them to progress further study or employment" but says GCSE unit level results, or module results "will not be provided".

    As for A Level pupils, he says they will receive grades "in the absence of examination" based on "teacher professional judgement" as well as "statistical modelling".

    He says "students are not required to take exams, but if they wish, there is an option in the Summer of 2021 for them to do so - effectively a form of re-sit".

    For AS Level students, he says, in NI these are combined to give A Level, or A2, results.

    He says these students will "also receive a calculated grade" and that this will not contribute to A Level results in Summer 2021.

    He says these will be calculated by teacher professional judgement and pupil prior performances, including GCSE mean scores.

  13. Alternative arrangements for GCSEs and A Levels

    After a brief suspension, the Education Minister, Peter Weir begins his statement.

    He's going to talk about arrangements for young people who were due to complete their GCSEs, AS levels and A levels this summer.

    This will ensure that they "will be awarded grades that will enable them to move on to the next stage of their lives," says the minister.

    "I am very aware of the importance of these exams for the futures of the young people who have been working so hard towards them," he adds.

    Peter Weir

    "I am very aware of the importance of these exams for the futures of the young people who have been working so hard towards them," says Mr Weir.

    He says that once the decision had been taken that the exams would not be held his priority was to ensure that arrangements were made for "a robust process that would provide the young people affected with fair and equitable results".

  14. 'Reshaping our spaces'

    Rachel Woods

    The Green Party's Rachel Woods asks about the use of road space and possibly "implementing temporary cycle lanes".

    Ms Mallon says "when I spoke earlier about the need to reorientate and not just go back to the way it was" before Covid she says.

    She adds she "wants to be proactive" and says there is a need to "look at active travel".

    "We need to look at reshaping our spaces so they are people-centred," she says "but in reality the ability to progress it at this time is limited in scope".

  15. 'Never seen more cyclists, walkers and runners'

    Sinn Féin's Emma Sheerin says she has "never seen more cyclists, walkers and runners" on her local roads, but says there is also less car traffic and as such, a greater opportunity taken by some drivers to speed.

    She asks the minister if she would consider implementing temporary reduction in speed limits.

    Ms Mallon says she "wouldn't want to add further confusion to the situation" but that she is dedicated to "raising public awareness around the issue".

    She says she will "engage with the PSNI today to get a better understanding about the speeding problem".

    Emma Sheerin

    The SDLP's Matthew O'Toole asks about the need for greater testing and contact tracing in terms of moving towards the next phase of the crisis.

    Ms Mallon says: "I am pleased to have received assurances on commitment to scale up testing in NI."

    She also says she is "pleased we are able to play our part by handing over our MOT centres".

    She adds that the "facts lead us to the conclusion, we need to test and trace" and says it's "important we follow the medical advice".

    Matthew O'Toole
  16. Intimidation of front line staff

    Kellie Armstrong of Alliance says she's concerned about the future of the Infrastructure Department as it is often the poor relation when it comes to funding.

    "The last thing I want to see is NI Water failing to meet its standards," she says.

    Ms Armstrong says NI Water and Translink both need money.

    What can be done to bring forward the integrated transport strategy and the future of NI Water, she asks.

    The minister says she has been "amazed and uplifted" by the response of community transport sector.

    She says infrastructure is not just about bricks and mortar and roads, it "is actually about connecting each one of us to critical services and each other”.

    Kellie Armstrong

    The DUP's William Humphrey asks about intimidation of staff.

    "There is, sadly, a problem in terms of our front line essential workers being subject to abuse from others who can't understand why they are at work," the minister replies.

    She says she has tried to be very public about thanking staff doing valuable work, and that those who can be seen out on the roads are carrying out "essential services to all of us".

    William Humphrey
  17. 'Over £100m' needed to help Translink

    Mike Nesbitt of the UUP asks the minister about the impact of the lack of financial income for Translink and other services.

    Ms Mallon replies that "there is no doubt the financial impact of Covid-19 on the Department for Infrastructure infra is hugely significant".

    She says that Translink has "gone public" on its financial difficulties and says "we are talking over £100m in terms of Tranlink".

    Mike Nesbitt

    The DUP's Paul Frew asks the minister about MOT certificates and the process people, who have not been able to secure a test, have to go through and why they have not yet received documentation.

    Ms Mallon says she is "aware of it due to contact from members and members of the public".

    She says it is a "cumbersome process because of the lack of automation," adding that "because of the volume, as well, and impact on staff in terms of social distancing and working from home" it is "taking longer for a hard copy to reach people in their homes".

    She adds that "over the weekend the DVA website did crash" but that "it did seem to be quickly resolved, but it did cause confusion with members of the public".

    Paul Frew
  18. 'MOT model and Covid-testing model are a perfect match'

    Sinn Féin's Liz Kimmins asks the minister about the deferral of water bills by NI Water and if that will apply to those who have received a bill since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis.

    The minister says she would like to "check on that and get back to the member to make absolutely sure".

    The SDLP's Pat Catney thanks the minister for making MOT centres available for use as Covid-19 test centres and asks what other resources have been made available to the Department for Health.

    Pat Catney

    Ms Mallon says "in truth, I want to pay tribute to health staff and those in my department" who have "seen the transformation of MOT centres into much needed Covid-19 testing centres".

    She says that today she "visited the Newtownards Covid testing centre with Minister Swann" and that it was "amazing to see it in action".

    "The MOT model and the Covid-testing model are a perfect match for each other," she says.

    "I think it is an important aspect if we are to rapidly increase testing."

  19. 'Often the lowest paid are seeing us through this'

    Sinn Féin's Martina Anderson asks about personal protective equipment (PPE) and whether the minister has been in touch with the trade unions about PPE for workers.

    The minister confirms that she has been in contact with the unions.

    She pays tribute to the Trsslink workers who have been transporting workers on healthcare workers.

    She says there needs to be a recognition that the people who have seen us through this pandemic "are often the lowest paid".

    Martina Anderson

    The DUP's Keith Buchanan asks about the number of the minister's staff who are off work or working from home.

    Permanent secretary Katrina Godfrey says there are staff who are vulnerable and absolutely must stay at home, staff who "have been quite gravely ill and hospitalised" and a fairly substantial number of staff who are self-isolating due to symptoms.

    "We're managing it with huge goodwill," she says.

    Katrina Godfrey
    Image caption: Katrina Godfrey