Schedule CCEA A-levels not to clash with English board exams

Letter to the editor
Letter to the editor

I am replying to Minister O’Dowd’s response (November 23) to my comment piece of November 18.

I pointed out that the minister was misleading the public by asserting that the assessment of A-level practical science made no contribution to the A-level grade, in respect of English examination boards. In his letter, Mr O’Dowd, in effect, admits that the statement on CCEA’s website was misleading when he corrects the record by acknowledging that, in fact, contribution is at least 15 per cent.

He misrepresents my comment piece by claiming that I suggest “that the achievements of our young people at A-level are inferior because they don’t sit English exams”. I make no such suggestion. Rather, I claim that the minister’s directive that schools avoid English examination bodies in respect of A-level science, is to leave them in the hands of an inferior examination body, namely, CCEA.

When called before the Committee for Education, Gavin Boyd struggled to justify why CCEA was not regulated with the same independent rigour as the English examination boards (Hansard July 4 2012). Indeed, by OfQual standards, CCEA tests might even be labelled “unregulated”!

Furthermore, few if any English awarding bodies has CCEA’s record for failure in that organisation’s core activities: failure to deliver the Pupil Profile Report; a catalogue of failures in developing computer tests for primary schools; a curriculum (the so-called Enriched Curriculum) designed to enhance achievement in the Greater Shankill which – to paraphrase the reading expert Keith Stanovich – made the rich richer and the poor poorer; the current chaos surrounding CCEA’s ill-conceived “levels of progression,” all underpinned by a general learning model dismissed as damaging to the life chances of disadvantaged pupils in one of the most comprehensive educational studies ever undertaken.

I found it striking that one aspect of my comment piece was not addressed at all by Mr O’Dowd. I offered a very simple solution to his problems. By all means insist that schools take the CCEA examinations in A-level science but timetable those exams so that they do not clash with those offered by English boards. In this way N. Ireland pupils will have two opportunities to secure good grades in science, advantaging them over their English counterparts and facilitating a much sought-after investigation of the relationship between numbered and lettered grades.

Stephen Elliott, Antrim