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Officials look at exam contingency plans amid Covid-19 outbreak

He said there was the network capacity to potentially allow pupils to sit A Levels and GCSEs remotely come the summer.

Education officials are scoping out contingency plans to deal with any impact the coronavirus outbreak could have on school exams.

Education minister Peter Weir told the Assembly there were no plans to cancel any exams, but he acknowledged the situation regarding Covid-19 was evolving rapidly.

He said there was the network capacity to potentially allow pupils to sit A Levels and GCSEs remotely come the summer.

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Peter Weir, Minister for Education (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye)

Mr Weir said the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) was liaising with UK exam regulators to discuss how exams could proceed in the event of school closures.

He said it was important to establish a “consistent approach” among all exam bodies that operate in Northern Ireland.

“That approach will, then, be worked through by CCEA with the exam regulators that look after exams across the United Kingdom,” Mr Weir told Assembly question time.

“CCEA is working with the exam regulators to scope out precisely the contingency plans that, potentially, could be put in place.”

He added: “At present, there are no plans to cancel exams, and we are working on an initial assumption that they will simply go ahead. However, that may be overtaken by events, and we will have contingency plans put in place.

“However, some of the detail of that is still to be worked out by CCEA because the matter does not lie entirely in CCEA’s or, indeed, the Department’s hands.”

The SDLP’s Sinead McLaughlin asked Mr Weir had he looked at the potential of pupils sitting exams remotely and whether that would require further investment in the school system’s internet network, C2k, which is operated by the Education Authority (EA).

“My understanding is that what EA has in place for C2k at present would enable remote learning and therefore, potentially, the opportunity for remote examinations to happen,” replied the minister.

“I am not sure whether some additional resources would be required. That can be looked at and prioritised. There is a basis there for remote learning and, therefore, remote exams.

“We will scope out with CCEA and the exam regulators the best way to take that forward.”

He added: “Where we are today, in March, may not be the position that we are in at the beginning of April, the beginning of May or the beginning of June.

“To some extent, a range of scenarios may have to be worked through by the Department. CCEA will be at the table for any discussions that the Department may have on contingency plans so that that aspect can be front and centre. Along with potential school closures, that is probably the most obvious area that might be affected by the coronavirus.”

PA