NI students: Is U-turn decision on A-levels and GCSEs too little too late?

  • With the U-turn decision that all A-Level, AS and GCSE candidates in Northern Ireland taking qualifications through CCEA will now be awarded their predicted grade qualifications, the news has been welcomed but has still left many hopeful students with bad tastes in their mouths. 

    A-Level and AS pupils will now be awarded the higher of the grades predicted by their school or awarded officially last week and Education Minister Peter Weir said that his “prime concern is to ensure that young people in Northern Ireland are in no way disadvantaged in comparison to their peers elsewhere.”

    Approximately 97% of GCSE exams in Northern Ireland are through CCEA, and these students are also now covered by the decision.

    Minister Weir said:  “Whilst standardisation is normally an important feature of awarding qualifications, these are truly unique circumstances and this approach is now being adopted across the UK.

    “In the challenging situation in which we find ourselves, there are no perfect solutions. Students would have preferred to have taken their exams, but that was simply not possible in the circumstances. There is no substitute for exams themselves and recent events highlight the need for a full-time return to education, five days a week.”

    CCEA officially welcomed the decision, with GCSE results due to be published this Thursday 20 August.

    RELATED: A-level results 2020: Higher A* and A grades in NI

    Many social media users are still feeling disgruntled though, with multiple taking to Twitter to say that the UK government should have put this new process in place once Scotland made their decision to do so following a student outcry after 125,000 estimated results were downgraded.

    Furthermore, the new assessment has come too late for many that initially got rejected from their first-preference of university due to the original algorithm.

    Student media outlet The Tab reported various young people’s stories of such instances, including one girl named Anna that missed out on her top two preferred courses at her first-choice uni in Liverpool. She instead opted for a position at the University of York and now already has accommodation locked in.

    Overall results from across Northern Ireland, Wales and England show higher A* and A grades this year, but 37% of AS and A-level results awarded by CCEA were lower than those predicted by teachers in NI.

    RELATED: Belfast is fifth most affordable UK city for students

    Those from more socio-economically deprived areas were especially likely to have their results under-predicted last week under the original standardisation process, which was a thought echoed by Isabel Hutchings, Applications Engineer at Content Guru.

    She said that “the accuracy of predicted grades have been shown to limit STEM progress for many young people” and added that “a 2015 Cambridge Assessment report showed just 45% of Science and Maths and 42% of ICT/technology grades were accurately predicted.”

    Prof Sir Anton Muscatelli, Chair of the Russell Group and Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Glasgow, commented: “Our message to those who may have missed their grades is not to panic and to contact their first-choice universities to discuss their options.

    "It is a unique and unprecedented results season and our universities are being as flexible as possible with admissions. They are taking a range of factors into account to ensure no students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are unfairly affected and can benefit from the world-class higher education offered by Russell Group universities."

    RELATED: Studying STEM in NI: Who, where and why?

    BBC News reported that there will be 25,000 university courses available in clearing, including 4,500 in top Russell Group universities.

    (c) FSM 

    In Northern Ireland, Protestant boys in receipt of free school meals have consistently been found to perform the worst academically, with only Roma and Traveller children getting poorer results.

    A CRC report in 2019 revealed that these stats have not changed positively or negatively since 2014, and hence show "the failure of the Northern Ireland government to tackle fundamental problems regarding the structure of education".

    RELATED: Free WiFi for announced for NI children lacking digital tech access in lockdown

    Sources: BBC News, The Irish News, FE News, The Tab UK

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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