Support for minister’s decision to keep modular exam system option

Education Minister John O'Dowd
Education Minister John O'Dowd

There has been a general welcome from across the political divide for the retention of Northern Ireland’s current educational marking system.

Sinn Fein Education Minister John O’Dowd has decided to allow schools in Northern Ireland the choice of whether they assess pupils in a “modular” or a “linear” way – contrary to what the Westminster Education Secretary Michael Gove has decreed.

Modular marking means assessing a student bit-by-bit throughout their course, while linear marking means presenting the student with a big exam at the end of the course – and Mr Gove had previously decided to make the English marking system entirely linear.

The UUP and DUP education spokesmen both said they were supportive of Mr O’Dowd over this particular issue.

Mr O’Dowd said in a statement yesterday: “I believe [my decisions] will help school staff tailor their teaching to the individual needs of the child; will ensure pupils, parents, employers and further and higher education institutions across these islands can have confidence in our qualifications; and above all will ensure our young people are able to fulfil their potential during their time at school.”

DUP MLA Mervyn Storey said: “I think the right decision has been made here” – adding that the minister’s move will “have the general support of the sector”.

The UUP’s Danny Kinahan said that a consultation had previously been carried out over reforms to the system in Northern Ireland , and that the upshot from teachers and other respondents was that they wanted to continue with the option of using either modular or linear assessments.

While he believes Mr O’Dowd made the right decision in this case, Mr Kinahan added he is not fundamentally opposed to the Gove reforms, and indicated the issue could be re-visited in the future.

Applies to GCSEs and A-Levels

The decision to offer head teachers the choice of testing after each module or at the end of the overall course applies to both GCSEs and A-Levels.

In addition, the current grading system of A*–G will be retained in Northern Ireland, rather than bands running from One to Nine, as proposed in England.

However, Minister O’Dowd said this decision would be “kept under review... to ensure that no pupils are disadvantaged”.