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Everyday maths exam on cards in GCSE and A-Levels shake-up

By Anna Maguire

A GCSE teaching maths skills for daily life could be introduced in Northern Ireland under proposals being considered by the Education Minister.

It is understood that John O'Dowd may unveil the proposal on Monday as part of a wide-ranging announcement on the future shape of A-Levels and GCSEs.

The proposals will be put out for public consultation.

The new math GCSE qualification is recommended in a report by Northern Ireland's main exams body, CCEA (Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment), following an extensive review of A-Levels and GCSEs.

Mr O'Dowd commissioned the review in October 2012 following widespread changes to qualifications in England under Education Secretary Michael Gove. He has been considering the CCEA's report since June.

The Belfast Telegraph understands that the minister's announcement on Monday may propose:

* The introduction of a second GCSE maths qualification, focusing on the use of maths in daily life.

* Introducing a programme of vocational qualifications for all pupils aged from 14 to 18 – coupled with a promotion campaign around vocational qualifications and GCSEs, and more options for pupils who do not want to sit A-Levels.

* A more specialised, systems-based IT GCSE qualification, to be offered alongside the current IT GCSE.

* Merging GCSE English and GCSE English language into one GCSE.

* Retaining tiering, which is expected to be abolished in England.

The AS element of A-Levels is expected to be retained, meanwhile.

Mr O'Dowd has already abolished the January resit available at A-Level – with only one opportunity now in June. The CCEA report has recommended that pupils should have one opportunity, per module, to resit GCSEs – with 40% of the assessment taken at the end of the course.

However, recommending trialling of changes, the CCEA report also suggests considering "developing/aligning (GCSEs) with an alternative 14-16 qualification system and the removal of high-stakes external assessment at age 16".

The CCEA document focuses on the need for flexibility of qualifications. This is so they can also be carried around the UK.

Around 38% of young people here study at higher education institutions in England, Scotland or Wales.

Mervyn Storey, the DUP chair of the Assembly's education committee, welcomed the expected changes as being measured.

However, he added: "The big issue is how we make sure that our qualifications are portable, comparable and equitable across the rest of the UK.

"I do not see anything (in the minister's expected proposals) to say how this will be ensured."

A spokesman for the CCEA said the body has a legal responsibility to ensure qualifications are portable across the United Kingdom.

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