Weir announces return of exams but warns it 'will not be business as usual'

Education Minister Peter Weir

Northern Ireland's Education Minister has announced the return of GCSE and A-Level examinations next year, but warned it would not be "business as usual".

Peter Weir said that there would be significant reductions in assessment across a range of qualifications.

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to severe disruption to examinations.

Schools in Northern Ireland will calculate GCSE, AS and A-Level grades to be awarded to their pupils this year.

The NI exams board CCEA will then review the grades.

Last year the Minister was forced to do a U-turn and award pupils grades predicted by the teachers following an outcry over a statistical process used by CCEA which lowered the grades of thousands of children.

Mr Weir set out a road map for the return of A-Levels and GCSE exams for next year during an appearance at the Assembly on Monday.

He said: "A planned return to public examinations is not, however, a return to business as usual.

"I am mindful of the need to consider our young people's mental health and well-being; the many difficulties they have faced with great resilience; and the significant disruption to their learning.

"In light of this, I have decided that young people will have significantly fewer examinations next year and I am announcing a package of significant reductions in assessment across the range of CCEA qualifications."

Mr Weir said a unit of study will be omitted from the vast majority of GCSE, AS and A Level qualifications in 2022.

Unit omissions will also be applied across CCEA entry level, occupational studies and vocationally related qualifications.

Mr Weir continued: "I am very conscious that our young people have faced incredible challenges as a result of this pandemic.

"In making these adaptations to examinations, we will ensure that their lives are not defined or held back by the disruption they have experienced."

The unit of study which will be omitted from the vast majority of GCSE, AS and A Level qualifications in 2022 will be specified by CCEA.

At A and AS Level in a number of practical subjects, where omission of a unit would take away assessment of practical skills, the content of internal assessment tasks will be reduced rather than a unit being omitted.

The Secondary Students’ Union of Northern Ireland has welcomed today’s statement to the Assembly by Minister Peter Weir MLA citing it as “a victory for not only SSUNI’s #CutTheContent22 campaign but for student voice as a whole” The Union had called for omissions across GCSE and A level subjects and robust contingency planning for 2022. SSUNI President, Cormac Savage, commented “This is a victory for student voice. This shows our young people that their voices can be heard at the top levels. “On behalf of SSUNI, I want to thank Minister Weir for engaging so positively with the Union and for his kind words in today’s statement.

"This is a timely announcement that will go a long way in easing much of the anxiety our students feel.

“I am particularly delighted to see the Minister’s use of the phrase ‘Cut The Content’ during the debate following his statement. “Since SSUNI’s inception we have always made the case for timely announcements and the integral inclusion of student voice in decision making. Both principles have today been delivered on. “It is now imperative that contingency planning continues to take place in a robust and detailed manner and that our students continue to be heard and listened to by the Minister and Department of Education. “On behalf of SSUNI, I thank the Minister for this lifeline to students as we emerge from the pandemic and his commitment to make future further arrangements should they be required. “I hope this is the beginning of newfound attitude to and appreciation for the value of student voice within our government”