Belfast Telegraph

Minister may cut modules and multiple GCSE re-sits

By Anna Maguire

Many GCSE modules could be axed and the number of re-sits could be restricted in future, the Education Minister warned as pupils across Northern Ireland received their results on Thursday.

The move would follow in the steps of wide-ranging reforms in England, which will mean reverting to linear GCSEs, where pupils sit exams after two years without assessment during courses.

Education Minister John O'Dowd is currently considering the findings of a review into GCSEs and A-Levels.

He has ruled out moving to an exclusively linear structure. But speaking ahead of his autumn announcement on the future of GCSEs and A-Levels he warned that balance is needed.

"You have to be sure that you do not have too many modules within the modular system," Mr O'Dowd said.

"We have to get the balance right (so) the module system is not over-burdening our schools with testing and there are not too many opportunities to re-sit exams."

It follows a reduction in A-level re-sits, introduced this year.

Sources have pointed towards the imminent announcement of a major change to GCSEs here with growing interest in replicating aspects of the Welsh system. Referring to the minister's announcement one source said: "I would say there would be a slight sea-change. It could be less modular and more linear in line with England."

Some grammar schools favour the linear system while schools in other sectors believe the modular style suits their pupils better.

However the minister has ruled out scrapping GCSEs. He confirmed he is "not actively considering" raising the school leaving age to 18, which would render GCSEs redundant and bring more vocational subjects into schools.

"As with all policies in place, GCSEs should be open to constant review, change and improvement but I have never believed that we needed to scrap the (GCSE) brand," he said.

Yesterday's GCSE results saw a drop in the percentage of local pupils achieving A* in their GCSEs with 8.7% of entrants getting the top grade – 0.2% less than last year, but still 2% higher than the rest of the UK.

The number of pupils here getting good GCSEs (A* to C) increased slightly to 76.5% of all pupils – with nearly 5,000 more pupils sitting GCSEs this year, the first increase since 2007.

The gender gap continues – with 10.8% of girls getting the top grade, compared to 6.6% of boys.

STEM subjects – sciences, technology, engineering and maths – are increasingly popular among GCSE pupils, as are the humanities. Spanish and Irish are increasing in popularity, but French and German are in decline.

However 8,576 local children did not achieve five good GCSEs at A* to C, including English and maths this year. The literacy gulf also continues between grammar and non-grammar pupils.

Provisional 2013 data from local exams' board CCEA reveals that 97.4% of grammar pupils got at least a C – the government benchmark – in their GCSE English.

That compares to 51.7% of pupils from non-grammar schools.

Tears of joy over 11 top grades

Katie Steele: Coleraine High School

A stunned Coleraine student was left seeing stars when she tore open her GCSE results.

Katie Steele (16), from Coleraine, could scarcely believe it when she saw she had achieved an incredible 11A* grades in her GCSEs.

The teenager, who attends Coleraine High School, was in a state of shock when she passed round her letter to make sure she was in fact seeing straight A*s.

"It didn't really hit me. My best friend and I went in together," said Katie.

"We broke down when we got our results. I was so scared, I didn't want to go in. My mum came with me but I made her wait in the car. She was over the moon." It was a nerve-wracking wait for the teen, who couldn't get to sleep the night before.

After getting their results, Katie and her friends planned a seaside dip to celebrate.

"Me and a group of friends are planning to jump into the sea as a celebration at Portballintrae."

Star pupil fought cancer

Ted Mackey: Royal Belfast Academical Institution

He started his GCSEs with a devastating cancer diagnosis.

But not only did Ted Mackey overcome the disease, he also emerged with a top-notch results tally.

The Co Down pupil, who attends Royal Belfast Academical Institution, achieved a very impressive nine A* and two As in his GCSEs – a result which shocked him yesterday morning.

The 16-year-old, who is starring in Fame at Belfast's Titanic Quarter this weekend, said he had worked hard.

His achievement is even more impressive as the aspiring composer was treated for testicular cancer in 2011.

He spent his 15th birthday in hospital receiving a six-week programme of chemotherapy after being diagnosed in August 2011.

His doctor warned him not to go back to school until five days after he was discharged from hospital. Five days later, Ted was back behind his desk.

"I'm going to do English literature, French, Latin and music at A-level. I want to be a composer for film or TV."

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