Clarity over exam results needed now, says NI mental health champion

Interim mental health champion screengrab
Siobhán O'Neill, Interim Mental Health Champion for Northern Ireland has urged for clarity on this year's exam results. Credit: UTV

The Interim Mental Health Champion for Northern Ireland says clarity and certainty around exam results is needed urgently for both A-level and GCSE students.

Professor Siobhán O'Neill has spoken to UTV about the distress that the uncertainty around last week’s A-level results has caused some young people. More than a third of A-level grades issued on Thursday were lower than teacher estimates.

She explained that in her role, she would be a voice for young people experiencing distress or crisis, speaking out on their behalf and making sure that support is available for them. “The perceived injustice of what's happened with this year's A-level results has created a really high level of anxiety about whether we can rely on these results and whether universities will be able to offer places to students and whether the results are trustworthy and young people now feel like they've been failed by the system and that's causing them significant distress,” she said. "They're worried about their future, their parents are worried and their teachers now have to work really hard to try and find a solution and a way through this. "

The Education Minister rejected calls to scrap results allocated using the standardisation model by exams body CCEA and replace them with teachers' predictions, arguing the grades would lack credibility as they would be much higher than those achieved in previous years. He said there was no way of creating a perfect replacement for sitting the exams which were cancelled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Weir highlighted that a fast-tracked appeals process has been established for those students who believe they have been treated unfairly.

Professor O'Neill said the Education Minister could help young people and parents by making sure a place of support is in place and making sure people know where to go for help.

She added: "The other side of it is we must address these issues as soon as possible and create clarity so people know what's happening going forward and of course we have the GCSE results out next week and we have significant concern there about the accuracy of that process and the algorithms involved. "So we need clarity and certainty from now."

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