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Furious O'Dowd slams U-turn on scrapping GSCEs

By Lindsay Fergus

Education Minister John O'Dowd has launched a blistering attack on his English counterpart after Michael Gove abandoned controversial plans to scrap GCSEs in England.

The Secretary of State for Education made the major U-turn yesterday – without consulting his Northern Ireland counterpart who has ordered a review of GCSEs and A-Levels here.

NUS-USI, the representative body for over 200,000 higher and further education students in Northern Ireland, has accused Mr Gove of causing confusion for pupils, teachers and parents.

A furious Mr O'Dowd (right) said: "Yet again, Michael Gove has decided to make a decision on post-14 education that affects students in the north of Ireland and Wales without any form of consultation with the administrations here and in Cardiff.

"In the autumn he announced his proposals to abolish GCSEs without seeking our views and today he has announced that they will, in fact, be retained – again, without seeking our views.

"It is clear that Mr Gove has no interest in the operation of a three-jurisdiction agreement, despite the concordats that are in place."

Mr Gove had initially planned to replace GCSEs with the English Baccalaureate Certificate. He has now opted to retain GCSEs, but has axed modules in favour of final exams.

NUS-USI president Adrianne Peltz said: "I am very annoyed at the confusion that Michael Gove is creating for pupils, teachers and parents over his apparent U-turn regarding GCSEs.

"I am appalled that Michael Gove hasn't consulted with Education Minister John O'Dowd or his counterpart in Wales. This is a snub and it sends out a very negative message about his attitude to the impact his plans and apparent U-turn have elsewhere.

"Students should be placed at the centre of all considerations regarding qualifications, and any government that doesn't do so is dooming itself to fail in its task."

Following Mr Gove's decision to phase out GCSEs in England, Mr O'Dowd announced a review of GCSEs in October fearing that the brand had been "fatally flawed".

Mr O'Dowd last night said: "I am not against change if it makes sense. As the minister responsible for education policy here, I am determined to make decisions that are in the best, long-term interests of learners.

"In order to protect those interests, I announced a fundamental review of GCSEs and A-Levels in October. That review is due to report to me by June at which point I will be able to make informed decisions on the way ahead.

"I am quite clear that I want a suite of qualifications that are robust, fair and portable. They must be credible in the eyes of employers and other education providers, while ensuring our learners are not disadvantaged against their peers across these islands."

Story so far

The Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment is undertaking the review of GCSEs and A-Levels here. An online survey closed last month with more than 500 people and organisations responding. CCEA analysed the feedback and made an interim report to the Department of Education last week. The next stage will involve 10 face-to-face meetings across Northern Ireland to gather more opinions. A final report is due to be handed to the Education Minister in June.

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