Officials from the Department of Education have met with many young people who are due to sit examinations in 2022 to hear directly their views on awarding. It was, however, on meeting with their parents that the full extent of the challenges they have faced and the concerns they have were put forward.
The health and wellbeing of young people
Parents informed officials that, while there is considerable anxiety among young people on educational issues such as examinations and awarding, they are equally concerned about their own mental health and well-being and that of their peers.
Parents recognised and appreciated the efforts of teachers to deliver engaging lessons. They were, however, mindful that many young people found it difficult to remain motivated while learning remotely. They missed the contact with, and support from, their teachers and friends. They missed socialising and sports, and the routine of school.
Changes to qualifications
Parents felt strongly that changes were needed to qualifications in recognition of all their children have missed, both educationally and socially, as a consequence of the pandemic. Most felt that a return to public examinations was necessary but that there should be a reduction in the number of examinations facing their children. Due to the cancellation of exams in the previous two years, a significant proportion of the pupils moving into their final year of post-primary education have never sat a public examination before.
On 17th May 2021 the Minister announced that, whilst pupils should continue to study as much of the content of the qualification as possible for progression, they will be able to omit a unit of study for assessment from the vast majority of CCEA GCSE, AS and A level qualifications. Candidates who will be completing their GCSE, AS and A2 study will complete a minimum of 60% assessment in GCSE subjects, and a minimum of 50% in AS and A2 subjects. CCEA will choose the unit to be omitted to provide a consistent and equitable approach. In discussions with the further and higher education institutes, they welcomed this consistency.
In a number of practical subjects, the requirements of the internal assessment (sometimes referred to as coursework) will be reduced rather than a unit being omitted to help ensure young people get access to a range of assessment modes that reflect the nature of the subject being studied.
Unit omissions will also be applied across the wide range of CCEA Entry Level, Occupational Studies and Vocationally Related qualifications.
GCSE English and Mathematics
Parental views were varied on whether or not there should be unit omission in GCSE English Language and Mathematics. Some parents felt there should be no unit omission due to the importance of these subjects as ‘passport’ qualifications to further study and employment. Others felt that these subjects had suffered the same disruption as other subjects and should, therefore, have some omission to ensure learning experiences were positive ones next year.
In considering unit omission in GCSE English Language, the Minister announced his decision that candidates will be permitted to omit the controlled assessment unit. This part of the course requires significant class time to prepare for assessment. Its omission will free up time for wider teaching and learning experiences in English, including a focus on communication skills which has added importance following the isolation of the lockdown period.
Due to the completely unique structure of GCSE Mathematics, with many different pathways at different tiers or levels of entry, omitting a unit would have potentially made it more difficult for young people to achieve the highest grades in Mathematics. The Minister, therefore, decided not to opt for unit omission but has instructed CCEA to provide additional examination aids for all candidates for use in the 2022 examination series. He also instructed officials to explore what additional support might be provided to schools to help them in preparing Year 12 students for their examinations in this qualification.
A Level awarding
Normally both the AS mark and the A2 mark are added together to reach an overall A level grade. In the interest of fairness for all young people, the A Level grades awarded in 2022 will use the marks from the A2 exams only. CCEA has produced a useful short video to explain why this arrangement is necessary; the video along with other useful documentation such as frequently asked questions are now available on the CCEA’s website.
Communications with parents and young people
Parents felt that the Department’s communication on awarding arrangements in 2021 had been very good, empowering them to support their children well throughout the process. Officials from the Department have continued to work with parents to produce documentation on awarding in 2022 which is clear and informative.
The Department is very grateful to Parentkind NI for facilitating the consultation with parents, and a huge thank you to the parents for their time, suggestions and insight. Arrangements are all the better for our young people as a consequence of the engagement.