Northern Ireland

Minister reduces number of subjects schools must offer

Peter Weir
Image caption Mr Weir wrote to school principals on Monday 16 January informing them that they now only had to offer 21 subjects at GCSE and A-Level.

The Education Minister Peter Weir has changed a major departmental policy developed by his Sinn Féin predecessors.

Mr Weir has reduced the number of subjects post-primary schools have to offer pupils under the "entitlement framework" to 21.

Since September 2015 all schools, by law, have had to offer at least 24 courses at GCSE and 27 at A-Level.

The policy was originally introduced by Sinn Féin's Caitríona Ruane in 2009.

It was then fully developed by her successor and party colleague John O'Dowd.

As many schools could not offer 24 courses at GCSE and 27 at A-Level alone it meant that they had to collaborate with other schools in their area to offer pupils the required choice of subjects.

For instance, in east Belfast Ashfield Boys and Girls High Schools, and Bloomfield Collegiate and Strathearn grammar schools offer some A-Level subjects jointly.

Image caption Mr Weir has reduced the number of subjects post-primary schools have to offer pupils under the "entitlement framework" to 21.

Pupils from Ashfield Boys High School can go to study Physics at A-Level at Bloomfield Collegiate grammar school.

Introducing the policy in the assembly in November 2009, Ms Ruane said it would ensure that "all young people should have access to high quality education provision."

In a speech to the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) in 2015, Mr O'Dowd said that the policy rendered academic selection at 11 redundant.

"Gone are the days when a test set at 11 set the course of a child's educational pathway and indeed their career," he said.

"The Entitlement Framework ensures that every child regardless of what school he or she may attend can access the same curriculum."

However, Mr Weir wrote to school principals on Monday 16 January informing them that they now only had to offer 21 subjects at GCSE and A-Level.

He said that he had introduced the change after listening to the concerns of school principals.

"I also wanted to provide schools with a degree of flexibility, in line with my objective of increasing autonomy," he said.

"Reducing the specified number should provide both this flexibility and enable schools to manage their resources better in these challenging times."

However, Mr Weir also said that he still regarded the entitlement framework as a key part of the curriculum.

The change in the number of subjects will come into effect at the start of the new school year in September 2017.

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