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Ulster Teachers’ Union


24th May 2017


As exam season kicks off, NI teachers fear confusion over this year's new, untested GCSE exam grading system could cost local students places at university... teachers say our students are 'little more than guinea pigs'...


For more information please contact UTU Gen Sec, Avril Hall Callaghan on 02890 662216 or 07808 363702 or her deputy Jacquie White on 07764 899288 or Mandi Millar  on 077 1966 4642



Northern Ireland teachers fear the ‘grades cocktail’ resulting from changes to how GCSEs will be graded from this year in England could jeopardise local students’ university admissions.

“Students sitting GCSEs in Northern Ireland this year are among the most disadvantaged since the Education Act of 1947,” said Avril Hall Callaghan, General Secretary of the Ulster Teachers’ Union.

“They are being cynically used as what amounts to little more than guinea pigs.”

She was referring to changes in how GCSEs offered by the English exam boards AQA and OCR will be graded from this year.

Under the grading changes, pupils in England will have results graded 9-1 while pupils in Northern Ireland could end up with a mix of A*-G and the new numerical grades.

Initially, the Stormont had said all exam boards operating in the province must give their results on an A* to G basis. This led English exam boards OCR and AQA to announce they would not offer the new GCSEs there.

But in June 2016, this decision was reversed by the then Education Minister Peter Weir and pupils will now be allowed to sit GCSE grades from English exam boards giving results using the 9-1 system.

Approximately three-quarters of GCSEs in Northern Ireland are taken through the NI Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA); the remaining quarter through the AQA, OCR, Edexcel or WJEC exam boards.

It certainly feels like our students in the next two year groups trialling this system for the first time will potentially be guinea pigs for this new grading system,” said Ms Hall Callaghan.

“We can only hope the cocktail of exam results they will present to colleges and universities – ie A*-G and grades 1-9 – will not put them at a disadvantage when competing against their English counterparts all of whose grades will be numerical.

“The new GCSE courses are also controversial in their reliance on exam performance rather than coursework or a combination of the two. Courses, we are told, are designed to be more rigorous with exams taken after two years of study, rather than in modules with exams along the way.

“This arguably seems like another retrograde step, mitigating against young people who may have an off-day on the day of the exam and favouring those able to cram for a single day’s exam but who may otherwise lack a natural ability for and affinity with their subject.

“It also means that young people who leave at the end of the first year of their two-year courses will have nothing to show for even that year’s work.

“It remains to be seen how this will pan out. The most important thing though is that our young people have someone in a position of elected authority to speak up for them and ensure they are not allowed to fall between the cracks of this new, untested system.

“Mistakes and oversights at this stage could cost a young person their best chance in life and this must not happen. We need our elected representatives to be in situ and fighting for the best possible outcome for our young people.”

For more information please contact UTU Gen Sec, Avril Hall Callaghan on 02890 662216 or 07808 363702 or her deputy Jacquie White on 07764 899288 or Mandi Millar  on 077 1966 4642