Education Minister Peter Weir has ruled out cancelling GCSE and A-Level exams this school year despite disruption to students' education during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Weir, speaking at Glenlola Collegiate Girls School, in Bangor, Co Down, on Monday, said it was important that exams go ahead.
"It is particularly important that we have compatibility and portability with the rest of the United Kingdom," he said.
"This is not something we can go on a solo run because, particularly when it comes to universities and jobs, our students are going to be competing with those from different parts of the UK and the Republic of Ireland and elsewhere. So we can't go on some kind of solo run."
He added: ""We are not envisaging exams being cancelled, we have asked CCEA to look at contingency arrangements. What I think is much more likely is there will be a range of mitigations, some of which have been announced already.
"Others are being worked on on a national basis. But I think the contingency arrangements will be particularly pertinent because there will inevitably be some pupils who find themselves in a position, either through self-isolation or because they have the virus at that particular time, will not be able to sit a particular exam. "
Mr Weir, who was speaking as pupils returned to school after an extended mid-term break, said face-to-face teaching is a "critical element" of students' education.
"In responding as we have done in the Executive it is very clear that the overwhelming desire, particularly of the parents, is to see their children fully integrated into schools," he said.
"There is also a critical role for parents to play in trying to ensure that any level of disruption that happens within schools and also any spread of the virus is kept to a minimum."
Mr Weir asked parents to ensure they wear a mask and to not get out of their cars if possible when dropping off and picking up their children at the school gates.
The minister also said it is not a "battle" between keeping schools open and the hospitality industry closed in a bid to slow the spread of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland.
"I don't think it should be put as a tension or a battle between the two. As an Executive what we are looking at is how to we find a way of ensuring that once the lockdown is completed that we can actually learn to live with the virus. That will mean a range of interventions. It means particular actions which are more focused."
He added: "Simply trying to turn everything off and turn everything on again is not something which is a long term solution. We have to be more nuanced in our approach to try ensure that we stop the spread of the virus but also enable society as a whole to carry on and have that functionality which I think everybody needs."
Mr Weir acknowledged that there had been at least one incident of Covid-19 at more than half of schools in Northern Ireland since pupils returned to the classroom.
He added: "That is over a two months period where there has been at least one incident and in half of those cases there was a single person that that impacted on. There will have been mitigations that have been put in place and we will continue to work with those. "
Mr Weir said that the classroom is a safe place for children and teachers.