Northern Ireland

Coronavirus: Further cancellations for GCSE and A-Level exams

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This summer’s GCSE and A-Level oral and practical exams have been cancelled by Northern Ireland's exams body.

The announcement by CCEA affects students taking subjects like languages, music and drama.

The decision had previously been made to cancel written exams due to take place in May and June as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Some schools had, however, considered holding orals and practical assessments remotely if possible.

Education Minister Peter Weir has said that existing data will be used to award pupils GCSE and A-Level results this summer.

He said that pupils would be awarded grades based on: "A combination of prior achievements, internal assessments, predicted grades, analysis and modelling of existing data trends to provide the necessary assurance about the robustness, accuracy and fairness of the grades awarded.”

Almost all pupils in Northern Ireland take their GCSEs through CCEA, with only a small number sitting subjects set by English exam boards.

About 85% of A-Levels in Northern Ireland are also taken through CCEA, with the rest taken through English boards.

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In a letter to schools on Friday, CCEA said that oral and practical exams could not take place.

For instance, pupils taking GCSE French would normally take an oral test involving conversation and role-play with a teacher that would be used to assess their speaking ability in the language.

It would have made up 25% of their total GCSE mark.

CCEA, however, has asked schools to retain all coursework as it will be part of the data used to give pupils a grade.

In their letter they also said pupils should continue with their GCSE and A-Level courses.

BBC News NI understands that is because there may be an option for pupils to sit GCSE and A-Level exams, if they are not happy with their grade, when schools open again.

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Pupils due to sit exams in England and through English boards have already been told by the education secretary in England, Gavin Williamson, that they will have that option.

In a written statement to Parliament this week, Mr Williamson said: "If they do not feel their calculated grade reflects their performance, they will have the opportunity to sit an exam at the earliest reasonable opportunity once schools are open again.

"Students will also have the option to sit their exams in summer 2021."

But Northern Ireland Education Minister Peter Weir said exams were a devolved matter.

“Mr Williamson’s statement refers to arrangements for English exam boards," he said.

"A small number of students in Northern Ireland take exams set by these boards and the arrangements outlined by Mr Williamson will apply to those students.

"The vast majority of students in Northern Irelands sit CCEA exams.

“Before taking decisions on the date for issuing results in Northern Ireland, and any processes that may be available for candidates who are unhappy with the calculated grade awarded through an alternative process, I want to be assured that the complex issues involved have been thoroughly considered and the processes we put in place are robust and have realistic timescales."

The minister said that more detail on how results would be decided in Northern Ireland and when they would be given to pupils would be made available as soon as possible.