Concern as minister decides not to adopt English GCSE grading system


The education minister’s decision not to adopt the new English GCSE grading system could potentially deny Northern Ireland students the chance of attaining grades comparable to the highest available in Great Britain, it is claimed.

The chair of the education committee, DUP MLA Peter Weir, said he had “major concerns” after minister John O’Dowd announced this week that GCSEs in Northern Ireland will continue to be graded from A* to G while grades in England will range from 9-1, from 2017.

Grading in Wales will continue to be alphabetical.

Mr O’Dowd recently consulted on changes to GCSE grading following the decision in England to move to numerical grading.

The minister acknowledged there was “general interest about whether it will be possible to compare one set of grades with another”.

He said grade 4 will be “anchored” to the grade C, and the grade 7 to the grade A.

Mr Weir welcomed the retention of the alphabetical grading in Northern Ireland

“The announcement by the education minister provides some certainty for the future, which is to be welcomed, but still leaves significant concerns hanging,” he said.

“I welcome the retention of alphabetical grading system in Northern Ireland, which has served Northern Ireland well, and also the assurance that this will be uniform for all examining boards awarding GCSEs in Northern Ireland.

“Major concerns, however, remain on comparability and portability.

“A GCSE C grade here could be counted as a grade 4 in England, when many employers are likely to indicate that a grade 5 is the minimum, and similarly an A* will equate to an 8 in England, potentially denying students in Northern Ireland the opportunity to attain the equivalent of the highest grade in England.”

The department has received assurances from Universities that local pupils will not be in any way disadvantaged, he said, but added that it will need to be monitored.

Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment chief executive Justin Edwards said: “We appreciate that there may be some anxiety about entry into ‘high demand courses’, such as medicine or veterinary studies, where the universities consider GCSE grades along with A-Level grades.

“We understand that universities, such as Queen’s University, will consider the A* as equivalent to the English 8 and 9 grades in these situations.

“We will continue to work with universities and employers across these islands to ensure that there is a clear understanding of the differences between the regions and jurisdictions in regards to qualifications outcomes.”

Education Minister John O’Dowd told the News Letter that universities and employers have, for a long time, been dealing with a global market and applications from people from across the world that have different qualifications and grades. “These organisations have long recognised and accepted the achievements of young people, regardless of the grading system used for the exams they sit,” he said. “Having a grading system different to England makes us no different than Poland, Canada, the South of Ireland or indeed Wales, which is also retaining an alphabetical grading system. The highest performers in our system will have an A* and this will align with a grade 8 and 9.” He is confident that local students will continue to compete with others across the world, he added.