Simpson urges rethink after English exam board withdrawal

Upper Bann MP David Simpson has written to the Education Minister to urge him to reconsider his decision and adjust the GCSE grading system to align with the changes to the system in England.

This comes after English Awarding bodies AQA and OCR announced that they will not run GCSE examinations in Northern Ireland due to the failure to adopt the new GCSE grading system here.

David Simpson said: “The Education Minister John O’Dowd has chosen to ignore advice from Members of the Assembly which has now resulted in the two largest examination boards in England to withdraw from Northern Ireland.

“Between the two boards they offer 25% of GCSE courses here.

“The inflexibility of the Minister will force schools to find replacement courses or indeed reduce choices for their students.

“The situation could have easily been avoided by adjusting our grading system but today we see a direct disadvantage forced upon our young people by the very Minister who is there to ensure the best educational opportunities available.

“I have written to the Minister urging him to reconsider; show common sense and make the necessary adjustments without delay.”

In relation to the decision, an OCR spokesman said: “Operational and financial reasons mean that given the devolved Government’s intention to keep the existing grade structure, we have made the difficult decision not to deliver separate GCSE qualifications in Northern Ireland.”

The statement reassures candidates who have already embarked on courses that they will not be disadvantaged by these announcements. AQA have put a similar message on their website.

This follows the recent decision by Education Minister John O’Dowd that the grading of GCSEs in Northern Ireland will continue under the alphabetical A*-G system despite England changing to a new numerical 9-1 scale.

In addition, this requirement will apply not only to Northern Ireland’s awarding body CCEA, but also to English examination boards wishing to offer qualifications in Northern Ireland which must also use the old A*- G grades rather than their new numerical system.

Banbridge Academy Principal and Association of School and College Leaders Vice President, Robin McLoughlin, explained the impact this will have on schools across the province and specifically Banbridge Academy.

He said: “When the Minister’s decision to require English Awarding Bodies to conform to the A*-G grading system was taken, ASCL warned that in spite of assurances from the Minister, it would not be possible for an open market for qualifications to be maintained with English Awarding Bodies able to continue to offer qualifications here. It now appears that this will indeed be the case.

“Currently three GCSEs are offered via AQA and OCR in the Academy and As with all schools across Northern Ireland we will now have to establish other GCSE options with CCEA and/or the Welsh Examination Board (WJEC) to replace the current GCSEs offered via the English Examination Boards.

“Our focus should be on securing the life chances and future employability of our young people. The suggestion that the education system in Northern Ireland should isolate itself from reforms at a national level and focus only on preparing pupils for the needs of N Ireland FE providers and employers, completely neglects the economic realities which our young people face in a wider national labour market. “

He continued: “They will be competing for jobs with others carrying qualifications potentially perceived as of a higher standard.

“An additional concern is that there is no overall standardisation mechanism to require universities or employers to accept qualifications which differ from those commonly in use in England.

“Given that over forty thousand GCSE examination entries in Northern Ireland each year are with English Awarding Bodies, we ask that the Minister restores the freedom of choice promised to pupils to choose the qualifications best suited to their future career choices and allow both N Ireland and English GCSE examinations to continue to be offered here as at present.”