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Stormont Assembly set to be recalled over A-levels controversy

The SDLP called for a recall last week.

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Education Minister Peter Weir (Northern Ireland Assembly/PA)

Education Minister Peter Weir (Northern Ireland Assembly/PA)

Education Minister Peter Weir (Northern Ireland Assembly/PA)

The Stormont Assembly is set to be recalled from summer recess to discuss the A-level results controversy, after Sinn Fein and Alliance backed the move.

A recall petition requires the signatures of 30 of the legislature’s 90 MLAs.

The SDLP called for recall last week. Talks between the three parties over the weekend have seen the SDLP’s original motion replaced with a new version.

The support of Sinn Fein and Alliance will guarantee the 30-signature threshold is reached.

The recall petition is based on the position adopted by the Assembly’s education committee on Friday, when a majority of members called for students to be awarded the highest A-level grade from three options – their AS-level result, their teacher-predicted grade or the grade they received last week through a controversial standardisation formula.

More than a third of A-level grades issued last Thursday were lower than teacher estimates.

Northern Ireland’s education minister has ruled out using teacher grade predictions to replace disputed A-level results.

Peter Weir has defended the mathematical model used to standardise the results, insisting using teacher estimates to allocate A or AS-level grades would lack any level of credibility.

In 37% of cases teachers were overoptimistic in their prediction, while in around 5% of entries they underestimated the result.

Overall, the percentage of top grades allocated in 2020 was up on previous years.

However, many students have been left shocked and disappointed after receiving grades that were significantly lower than both their performance in previous exams and their teachers’ prediction.

Sinn Fein chief whip John O’Dowd said: “Sinn Fein had hoped to see significant movement from the education minister over the weekend to address the exam grading crisis.

“In the absence of any necessary action by the minister, Sinn Fein will support the recall of the Assembly to discuss an agreed motion based on the position adopted by the Education Committee on Friday.

“This is a sensible and responsible approach to finding a solution to the current difficulties.”

Alliance chief whip Kellie Armstrong said: “The Alliance Party is backing the recall of the Assembly next week.

“In June when I called for the Assembly to shelve its normal summer recess plans it was exactly to avoid this kind of situation. There is no justifications for taking a break from legislating during a national health and economic crisis.

“I’m glad my colleague Chris Lyttle (Education Committee chairman) was able to so quickly convene a meeting of the Education Committee, allowing the process of questioning the minister to begin, and where he proposed and received the backing of the committee calling for the minister to award pupils with whichever of their AS grade, teacher grade or CCEA grade is highest, taking the same approach for GCSE.”

The recall petition states: “That this Assembly is deeply concerned that the modelling used to calculate grades for AS and A-levels has awarded incorrect results for students across Northern Ireland and calls on the education minister to award students with the highest of their AS, teacher-predicted or CCEA grade for A-levels, AS-levels and GCSEs due to exceptional Covid-19 circumstances.”

PA