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GCSE and A level reforms rejected by Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has signaled its intention to keep GCSEs and A-levels in their current form after a review found that the qualifications were still highly prized and there was no immediate case for change.

The country’s education minister, Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd, commissioned the review after education secretary Michael Gove announced plans to overhaul the qualifications in England.

But, like Wales before it, the review found GCSEs and A-levels were still valued in Northern Ireland, and there was no widespread support to follow England’s “unilateral” changes.

The review, carried out by the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA), recommends the qualifications should be kept in the short term, with changes made to reflect the needs of the country’s education policy.

It says the names should stay the same, but acknowledges the potential damage that could be done by the changes in England.

“The brand names have considerable status and, provided they can be protected from being undermined implicitly or explicitly by change or comment elsewhere, they should be retained,” it says.

But it says there is a need for a long-term vision for learning, assessment and qualifications.

Among its 49 recommendations, it says GCSEs and A-levels should have both modular and linear assessments appropriate for the subject and needs of the learner.

However, it says modular GCSEs should have only one resit opportunity per unit and require 40 per cent of assessment to be taken at the end of the course. Modular A levels should have examinations available in June only, with just one resit opportunity per unit, it adds.

It also says consideration should be given to streamlining GCSE English and English Language into one subject, developing a second maths GCSE focusing on mathematical capability, and introducing a more specialised, systems-based, IT GCSE.

Presenting the report to the Northern Ireland Assembly, Mr O’Dowd said: “This is an important piece of work and provides an unprecedented opportunity to set out our own stall for learners here. The recommendations articulate what we should do to improve the life chances of our young people.

“The report allows us to pro-actively determine what is right for us in the context of our own curriculum and to align our qualifications to our curriculum in the interests of all learners.”

A consultation period will now take place.

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