The Education Minister has said there is still a window of opportunity for the Welsh exams board WJEC to make moves that would allow him to reinstate its qualifications in Northern Ireland schools.
Peter Weir said the decision to stop offering WJEC qualifications here was taken after the board unilaterally cancelled exams without consulting other UK nations about how it would then award grades.
Pupils in Northern Ireland currently take 16 AS or A-level qualifications through WJEC in a range of subjects, and will do so until the end of the 2021/22 academic year.
Mr Weir was accused of “throwing his toys out of the pram” by Sinn Fein MLA Pat Sheehan at the Education Committee yesterday.
Mr Weir denied that, saying there was “no personal slight” that the Welsh board had made its own decision to cancel the exams without consultation.
“The Welsh board has a 19 month window to provide clarity that examinations they offer are still compatible with the wider national picture. There is still the opportunity for reinstatement,” Mr Weir told the Education Committee.
“That is possible if it becomes clear that WJEC remains compatible within the broad framework of the UK and does not disadvantage NI pupils.”
He added that schools still have three viable alternatives from other education boards for similar qualifications.
The minister’s comments came after the chief executive of the Welsh exams board WJEC asked the Education Minister to reverse the decision banning its qualifications.
WJEC chief executive Ian Morgan said Mr Weir’s move would have “a significant and lasting impact”.
Mr Weir previously said he had taken his decision because WJEC did not consult the Department of Education (DE) in Northern Ireland about how it would award pupils results this year after summer exams were cancelled in 2021.
Following the Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams’ decision to cancel summer exams, Mr Morgan said in a letter to the Education Minister that schools in Northern Ireland were given the option to have the same arrangements as Wales or to take exams.
“We did not receive confirmation from policy makers about which of these options we should offer centres in Northern Ireland,” Mr Morgan wrote.
“We were therefore taken aback to read of your decision to no longer permit centres in Northern Ireland to take our WJEC AS/A-level qualifications.”
Education Committee chair Chris Lyttle said there has been “widespread dismay“ at the minister’s decision.
Mr Weir said local exams body the CCEA “expressed their levels of concern over the broad direction of travel” while Department of Education official Karen McCullough added that CCEA had “been talking to WJEC to find out what the plans were once we’d heard they were cancelling exams”.