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U-turn urged over GCSE gradings as subjects cut in Northern Ireland

By Rebecca Black

Published 26/01/2016

Education Minister John O'Dowd
Education Minister John O'Dowd

The Education Minister has again been urged to consider a rethink after it emerged that his decision to stick to letter grades for GCSEs could lead to 25 subjects being taken off the table in Northern Ireland.

John O'Dowd confirmed that 12 GCSE subjects - including business studies and law - will not be available for pupils here after 2017.

Earlier this month two English exam boards - AQA and OCR - announced they would no longer offer GCSEs in the province.

That came after Mr O'Dowd announced Northern Ireland would stick to letter grading instead of moving to the numerical system that England is adopting.

As well as the dozen subjects now axed, doubt remains over an additional 13.

Business studies; economics; environmental science; expressive arts; further additional science; general studies; human health and physiology; law; linked pair maths; applications of maths; computing, environmental and land based science, and methods in mathematics will no longer be available to our pupils.

They were offered by the English boards, but will not be offered by either local exam board CCEA or a Welsh board that has stuck with Northern Ireland.

The subjects that remain in doubt are mostly languages and include Polish, Urdu, modern Hebrew, Punjabi, Chinese, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese and Turkish. CCEA currently offers a GCSE in business studies, which attracted 2,631 entries last year.

It also offers GCSEs in business communication systems and applied business.

In 2013/14 some 114,930 of the GCSEs sat in Northern Ireland were set by local board CCEA, while 34,336 were set by AQA, and 4,403 by OCR.

A smaller number - 883 - sat exams set by Welsh board WJEC, which will still operate here.

Another examinations board called Edexcel (Pearson) has not yet announced whether it will remain in the Northern Ireland GCSE market.

The figures came to light following an Assembly question asked by DUP education spokesman Peter Weir.

He expressed concerns about reduction of choice for young people.

"No pupil should be denied the opportunity to take a GCSE subject as a result of an inflexible approach, and with 12 subjects due to be unavailable to pupils in 2017, and 13 in doubt, it shows the scale of work that needs to happen.

"The solution lies in the minister adapting his position to ensure that the other boards can re-enter Northern Ireland, make available these courses and provide competition and choice."

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