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Exams timetable will not be changed to fit around Ramadan, confirms board

Joint Council for Qualifications denies reports that GCSE and A-levels will be moved to accommodate Muslim holy month

Published 08/01/2016

Children’s Commissioner in England, Anne Longfield, hinted exams could be delayed to lessen the impact on fasting Muslim pupils
Children’s Commissioner in England, Anne Longfield, hinted exams could be delayed to lessen the impact on fasting Muslim pupils
Henry Reilly, a TUV councillor for Newry and Mourne, denounced the decision

There are no plans to adjust some GCSE and A-level exams in Northern Ireland to accommodate Muslim pupils fasting for Ramadan.

Umbrella body the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which sets exam dates for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, said in a statement: "There has been a clear misunderstanding in some parts of the media as to how the GCSE and A level timetable is set and the impact religious events, such as Ramadan, Easter and Passover, have on it. 

"It is important to note that the timetable for 2016 was drafted over a year ago, is published, and won’t be changing.

"Each year the timetable is reviewed to ensure it meets the current needs of students,  schools and colleges. This review includes a consultation and considers comments from a wide range of stakeholders including schools, colleges and religious groups. However, each year there are only minimal changes. 

"In such a large, complex system where there is a large number of candidates taking examinations and a diverse range of subjects available, it is not always possible to meet each and every request. Exam boards will always aim to be as fair as possible to all. 

"If a small change can be made for any one group that does not impact negatively on most students, it will, quite rightly, be considered – but these are made before the timetable is published."

Earlier Henry Reilly, a TUV councillor for Newry and Mourne, said he was dismayed at reports that exam timetables were to be moved.

"This news is particularly galling. The vast majority of pupils are not Muslim. It is pure belligerence to have the observance of Ramadan imposed upon them in this way."

Ramadan's dates change each year depending on the lunar calendar. In 2016 the beginning of Ramadan falls on 7 June, in the latter part of the summer exam season.

During this time many Muslims choose not to eat or drink from dawn to dusk.

The issue first received attention on Wednesday when the Children's Commissioner in England, Anne Longfield, hinted that talks were being held around "delaying the exam timetable" to lessen the impact on taking tests for Muslim students.

‘Hard to focus when you are thirsty’

Ihsan Baleed, a computer science student at Queen’s University, Belfast, sat his A-levels last year at Wallace High School in Lisburn during Ramadan.

“I did my last A-level exam in Northern Ireland last year during Ramadan on June 18. I had to go 20 hours without eating or drinking with the long daylight hours for June.

“It was really tough for me. I was doing mechanics, which was my last exam, I was really thirsty and that was hard. It’s not easy to concentrate doing the exam if you can’t focus properly.

“I didn’t ask for it to be changed as I thought that it wasn’t possible.

“It’s a global exam that everybody has to do, but at the same time they can’t make exceptions unless something major happens.

“To be honest I was a bit annoyed as I didn’t perform the best I thought I could.

“Doing exams is difficult enough without fasting.”

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