Coronavirus: Vocational exams cancelled in NI

By Robbie Meredith
BBC News NI Education Correspondent

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image captionThe diversity of vocational training could make it difficult to find a way for courses to be completed

Exams or assessments for vocational qualifications will not take place as planned this summer.

The move will affect tens of thousands of students at schools and Further Education (FE) colleges in Northern Ireland.

Economy Minister Diane Dodds said work was taking place to find an alternative way to award grades and qualifications.

She said the safety of students was "paramount" in the decision to cancel exams.

“Most vocational qualifications are offered across the UK and therefore my department is working as a matter of urgency with the Department of Education, CCEA and other regulators, awarding organisations and governments across the UK to identify the fairest way to issue grades to learners who are studying qualifications other than GCSEs and A-Levels," she said.

“I will provide more details about these arrangements at the earliest possible opportunity.”

Range of courses

There were 76,670 students across Northern Ireland's six further education colleges in 2018/19, the majority of whom take courses on a part-time basis.

Finding an alternative and fair way to award qualifications is likely to be difficult due to the wide range of vocational qualifications and awarding bodies.

For instance, FE colleges teach a range of courses leading to professional or technical qualifications, apprenticeships and essential skills.

Courses in subjects related to healthcare, construction, engineering and information technology are among the most popular.

Some pupils in schools also take courses such as BTECs.

One tutor who spoke to BBC News NI said the uncertainty around how they would get their qualifications was causing widespread concern among students.

"It's a real issue and is causing mental health problems with our young people," they said.

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