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AS/A-Level re-sits in January may be scrapped

Lindsay Fergus

Northern Ireland students will have just one chance each year to re-sit AS and A-Level exams from this September, if the Education Minister endorses recommendations made by his department.

After a Department of Education consultation on proposed changes to A-Levels, officials have recommended that John O'Dowd scraps the current January AS and A-Level re-sits. The June re-sits would be retained.

The consultation came after Westminster Education Minister Michael Gove wrote to Mr O'Dowd in March 2012 informing him of plans to reform A-Levels in England.

Mr O'Dowd said he has no objection in principle to changing A-Levels or GCSEs, but believes changes in England should take into account the repercussions for pupils here.

Details of the resulting consultation launched last September emerged at yesterday's education committee meeting at Stormont.

Other recommendations include:

• One assessment for AS and A-Level pupils in June instead of the proposed assessment at the end of two years of study in England.

• Retaining AS-Levels as part of A-Levels, whereas it is being proposed AS-Levels will not form part of A-Level courses in England.

• Local exam body CCEA considers changing the current weighting of AS/A-Levels from 50/50 to 40/60.

According to the findings of the consultation, there was no support for Mr Gove's plan to remove AS-Levels, but officials believe more emphasis should be placed on A-Levels to acknowledge their higher level of difficulty. Most respondents believe the AS/A-Level model helps learners move from supported GCSEs to greater independence needed for A-Levels.

Some 74% were opposed to scrapping re-sits altogether in favour of a return to one exam after two years.

A report on the way forward is due to be made public next month.

Schools here will continue to have the option of choosing A-Level exams set by local awarding body CCEA or qualification bodies in Britain.

Education committee chairman Mervyn Storey said there were concerns that the value and worth of qualifications here are maintained.

He stated no one wanted local qualifications to become like the "Ulster £5 note", which while legal tender is treated with suspicion in the rest of the UK.

Dr David Hughes from the Department of Education told the committee: "The minister has made it very clear, it is absolutely critical for our young people the qualifications they get are in no way compromised."

story so far

The future of A-Level and AS exams in Northern Ireland was questioned when Coalition Education Minister Michael Gove wrote to Stormont Education Minister John O'Dowd informing him of plans to reform A-Levels in England.

Mr O'Dowd launched a public consultation on the matter last December, details of which have now been revealed to the education committee at Stormont.

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