Sinn Fein minister wants to trap pupils with qualifications that are no use in GB

Sinn Fein minister John O'Dowd. 'Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Sinn Fein minister John O'Dowd. 'Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

The Minister for Education has announced that all A-level science qualifications offered in schools here must have a mark for practical skills that contributes to the overall grade.

He complains that the English exam boards are not complying with this demand.

Stephen Elliott

Stephen Elliott

So schools will have to switch to an exam board that meets the minister’s requirements i.e. CCEA

CCEA sent out the announcement from the Education minister prohibiting physics, chemistry and biology students from taking “English” Advanced Levels.

Already and without protest schools tell pupils they must take the local CCEA A-level examinations in the three sciences.

What does this mean? Simply put the Sinn Fein Education Minister wants to trap pupils here in Northern Ireland with inferior qualifications that will prevent their admission to English universities.

He does this to inexorably move ever closer to an all-Ireland education system. Of course the additional price is the removal of grammar schools since the republic does not operate a selective system.

Regardless of his claims, the A-levels offered by the English awarding bodies do contain practical work which contributes to 15 per cent of the grade. This exposes the minister’s deception. His problem is not with the practical element of the examination, but with the fact that there is still choice for English exams.

The Department of Education have attempted to assure parents that local examinations will have the same standing as those offered by English Awarding Bodies. But what confidence can be attached to the Northern Ireland education establishment’s assurances on CCEA A-levels? They have gone out of their way to deny that Northern Ireland’s education is world class, despite international surveys that tested Northern Ireland’s 10 year-olds and placed them in the top five in the world for literacy and numeracy.

While this incredible achievement would normally be widely broadcast to attract inward investment, it is rarely if ever mentioned. Instead, unlimited opportunities are given to the minister to claim that education here is not world class.

Mr O’Dowd has been supported by Sir Robert Salisbury, his Numeracy and Literacy tsar and Noelle Buick, Chief Inspector Education and Training, who have gone out of their way to deny that Northern Ireland’s education system is world class.

If Mr O’Dowd can get away with deception on literacy and numeracy, he can get away with it on A-level standards.

Moreover, his evidence base for the literacy claim – OECD PISA data – has attracted increasing international condemnation. When commentators on education ignore the good news from test results and, instead, highlight bad news derived from highly suspect statistics, parents have to wonder about the minister’s true motives.

What has all this to do with science A-levels offered by English awarding bodies? Simply this: when the young person from Northern Ireland is rejected by a university in England proffering their CCEA certificates then any reasonable person will conclude that CCEA A-levels are inferior to those offered by English awarding bodies.

Happily, there’s a very simply solution to this problem: simply arrange the dates of the CCEA A-level science examinations so that they don’t coincide with the English examinations and let pupils “double-enter” The minister must abandon his false claim about the practical element of A Level science – which is unconvincing – and leave the system as it is, or permit double entries. Parents must hold John O’Dowd to account; if they don’t, no one else will and their children will not forgive them for be trapped here.

• Stephen Elliott is chair of the Parental Alliance for Choice in Education

Minister: I see no reason to change GCSE grades system