Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland exam system: No case for change

Students taking exams
Image caption There is no immediate case for replacing A-levels or GCSEs in Northern Ireland, a report suggests.

There is no case for replacing A-levels or GCSEs in Northern Ireland in the short or medium term, a report has suggested.

But the review acknowledged the need for a long-term vision for learning, assessment and qualifications.

Education Minister John O'Dowd commissioned the review following a plan to change the exams in England.

Mr O'Dowd presented the review findings to the assembly and has opened a consultation process.

The review was conducted by the Northern Ireland examinations board, the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA).

It made 49 recommendations ranging from short-term changes to GCSEs and A-levels, to exploring the use of the GCSE and A-level brand alongside England and Wales.


Mr O'Dowd told the assembly he was pleased with the report.

"This an important piece of work and provides an unprecedented opportunity to set out our own stall for learners here.

"The recommendations articulate what we should do to improve the life chances of our young people.

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Media captionEducation Minister John O'Dowd commissioned the review following a plan to change the exams in England.

"The report allows us to pro-actively determine what is right for us in the context of our own curriculum and to align our qualifications to our curriculum in the interests of all learners."

The report proposed that GCSEs and A-levels remain as they are, but there will be discussions about those names.

Pupils will still be tested periodically as well as at the end of the courses and coursework will still count towards the final result.

The review also said consideration should be given to streamlining GCSE English and English language.

It recommended a new mathematics qualification and a new IT course.

The Ulster Teachers' Union urged Mr O'Dowd to take on board feedback from teachers during his consultation.

Avril Hall Callaghan said its biggest concern was that Northern Ireland pupils "should not be disadvantaged by any changes".

"The education secretary in Westminster, Michael Gove, has also proposed swingeing changes to the system there, so we are facing a period of upheaval and it is vital that our young people should not suffer as a result," she said.

"Northern Ireland has traditionally produced some of the UK's top performing students and any changes to the system must ensure this gold standard remains."

President of the NUS-USI student movement Rebecca Hall expressed reservations about the planned removal of second re-sit opportunities.

"This could have a very negative impact upon people's ability to fulfil their potential and have access to the widest possible range of opportunities," she said.

"We do, however, recognise that the minister is ensuring a high degree of consistency in the qualifications.

"We also recognise the fact that this announcement today, in cementing the future of these qualifications, will hopefully help retain their integrity and portability."

In June, Westminster Education Secretary Michael Gove announced an overhaul of GCSEs in England, which would move from coursework to exams at the end of two years.

Mr Gove proposed that the changes should come in from 2015.

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