Teaching Union gives qualified welcome for Minister Peter Weir’s exam plans

The NASUWT teaching union said Education Minister Peter Weir’s announcement addresses some uncertainty but leaves “key question” unanswered.

Education Minister Peter Weir
Education Minister Peter Weir

It was speaking after it was revealed that scondary school students in Northern Ireland will sit fewer exams next year and be subject to a more generous grading regime, the education minister has announced.

Peter Weir introduced a series of mitigating measures for GCSE, AS and A-levels to reflect the disruption to learning caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Weir also raised the possibility of added marks or allowance for students who had missed significant school time due to the impact of the virus.

NASUWT General Secretary Patrick Roach said: “Reducing the content of examinations and enabling greater scope for students to answer optional questions would have helped reduce the pressures of next year’s examinations”.

He welcomed that students are to be provided with additional support for their examinations and that additional flexibility that will be offered for AS and A2  assessments. “However, these measures will not be sufficient to ensure equity for those pupils in Northern Ireland who have suffered higher levels of disruption due to Covid-19.”

The Minister’s decision to benchmark exam standards for 2021 against those in 2020 “is a difficult but entirely understandable decision” he added.

“It is now important that CCEA engages fully and urgently with the sector over the detailed arrangements for standard setting.”

Justin McCamphill, NASUWT National Official for NI, said it was “vital” that the Minister sets out further detail on how the contingency plans for students unable to sit examinations will work in practice.

The further work the Minister has signalled on addressing learning loss must be directly shaped by practicing teachers, he added, he added.

Robert Wilson, NI regional officer at the Association of School and College Leaders supported the decision to go ahead with exams, as long as this can be done fairly.

 “We welcome the package of measures announced today,” he said. “They provide clarity for teachers and students, and include a number of actions which recognise the vastly different extent to which students have been affected by the pandemic.”