Parents' views inform the way forward - alternative arrangements for awarding qualifications in Northern Ireland in 2021

Department of Education NI
12 February, 2021 : 10:00
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For almost a year, the education of our children and young people has been disrupted to varying degrees by periods of lockdown and self-isolation. The mode and pace of learning has been affected, with learning having to take place in school and at home at various times throughout the year. This disruption has also led to heightened levels of anxiety for children and young people, with additional pressure being felt by those young people who were due to take public examinations this year.

While the Department of Education had reduced the assessment burden on young people by reducing the number of examinations they had to sit, the worsening health pandemic and the closure of schools in January meant learning was interrupted yet again and ultimately, examinations had to be cancelled.

As a result, CCEA produced a range of proposals for alternative ways to award qualifications and officials from the Department of Education met with groups of young people to listen directly to their views on the proposed arrangements. They also consulted with school leaders, teaching unions and managing authorities for schools to inform advice to the Minister on these proposals.

Given the pivotal role of parents in education, it was crucial to the provision of well-informed Ministerial advice for officials to hear the views of parents who were not only experiencing first-hand and sharing the concerns of our young people but were strong advocates for them. The Department of Education asked for Parentkind’s help and support to meet with parent representatives from all sectors and from across all regions of Northern Ireland.

With the help of Parentkind, parents were able to meet officials and put their views forward. The key points of the consultation, facilitated by Parentkind, are summarised below.

Use of a Centre Determined Grade

Parents felt that the use of a centre determined grade was the best way forward given the level of disruption and the uncertainty of when schools would reopen. They expressed trust in the schools and felt they were best placed to reach these determinations but voiced a range of concerns due to the issues with awarding in 2020.

Standards and no use of the algorithm

Parents were very relieved to hear that CCEA would not be setting a statistical ceiling on grades and that the grade awarded would be based solely on the evidenced standard at which their child was performing. They were keen for reassurance that no algorithm would be used by CCEA to standardise centre determined grades.

CCEA predicts that standards overall will be similar to those of 2020. The approach adopted is similar to those proposed across the other UK jurisdictions.

Optional use of the Assessment Resource

Parents were in favour of the optional use of the assessment resource to help strengthen the evidence base on which the judgements were to be made once they received clarification as to how it differed from an examination. A key concern was that the young people are given the opportunity to progress in their learning in the next few months and then get sufficient opportunity to demonstrate their progress.

Fairness and robustness

Parents were very keen to hear how they could be confident that standards within and across schools would be consistent and fair. The quality assurance processes were discussed including: the provision of guidance, support and training to teachers and lecturers on how to make accurate judgements; internal centre moderation processes; and, the external quality assurance process involving reviewing samples of students’ work from all schools and colleges to make sure the grades submitted reflect accurately the evidence provided.

Clear and accessible documentation for parents and young people

Parents felt that the documentation published last year was not very accessible, especially to the young people. In response, the Department has produced a range of documentation including a concise factsheet, a leaflet of the five-step process, a short guide for parents and young people and a document of answers to frequently asked questions.

This documentation is available on the CCEA’s website here.

Work continues at pace on the proposals for the arrangements for awarding for our Year 11 and Year 13 pupils in 2022. The Minister hopes to make an announcement on these arrangements at the end of March or as soon as possible thereafter. Officials will meet with parents to discuss these proposals in the next few weeks.

Officials from the Department of Education are 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. The way forward is all the better for our young people as a consequence of the engagement.


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Department of Education NI
The Department of Education is part of the Northern Ireland Executive. The minister with overall responsibility for the department is the Minister of Education.

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