ASCL NI comment on changes to 2021 exams

Robert Wilson, Regional Officer of the Association of School and College Leaders in Northern Ireland, comments on changes to Northern Ireland exams in 2021.
Commenting on changes to Northern Ireland exams in 2021, Robert Wilson, Regional Officer of the Association of School and College Leaders in Northern Ireland, said:
“Students taking GCSEs, AS and A-levels in 2021 face a unique set of challenges.
“They missed out on several months of face-to-face learning in the previous academic year. The need for schools and colleges to implement wide-ranging health protection measures this year is impacting on their ability to provide teaching as normal. In addition, individual students are already experiencing further disruption to their learning because of the need for them to self-isolate.
“We support the minister in his conclusion that examinations for GCSE, AS and A-levels should go ahead, if at all possible.
“The minister has adopted a number of mitigations which we support, including the omission of one unit of assessment from most GCSEs and the decoupling of AS from A-level.
“Teachers and students have already completed seven weeks of this academic year. The decision that CCEA should now advise on the order in which units should be delivered will be problematic for some schools as each school will have been teaching the specification in its own particular order.
“There is now a real urgency that this information is issued to schools; for many classroom teachers, already doing an incredible job with examination classes, this guidance will already be too late.
“We agree that contingency planning is crucial, and we will continue to offer to work with CCEA as it draws up its contingency plans.
“We welcome the minister’s view that such approaches might include widening question choice and increasing the use of optional questions within exam papers.
“ASCL Northern Ireland contends that the fairest mitigation for as many pupils as possible is the introduction, particularly at AS and A-level, of greater optionality within examination papers.
“This would ensure that every candidate has a choice of questions they can answer, which will allow them to demonstrate their ability in a subject even if their education has been disrupted by periods of Covid-related absences.”