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Stormont Assembly set to be recalled over Northern Ireland A-Level exams debacle


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The Assembly is set to be recalled (Niall Carson/PA)

The Assembly is set to be recalled (Niall Carson/PA)

PA

Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd (Brian Lawless/PA)

Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd (Brian Lawless/PA)

Peter Weir appears before the Assembly education committee (PA)

Peter Weir appears before the Assembly education committee (PA)

The Assembly is set to be recalled (Niall Carson/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.

Former education minister and Sinn Fein MLA John O'Dowd said it was a sensible and responsible approach to finding a solution to the current difficulties.

A recall petition was initially put forward by the SDLP "to hold the minister for education to account" and now has 47 signatories, according to the party's education spokesperson, MLA Daniel McCrossan.

It surpasses the 30 signatures needed to trigger the recall. Talks between the three parties over the weekend have seen the SDLP's original motion replaced with a new version.

It comes as DUP Education Minister Peter Weir comes under increasing pressure as anger grows about almost 11,000 grades being slashed by a computer algorithm after exams were cancelled due to Covid-19.

"Our young people must not suffer at the hands of a failed system. Delighted to have [the] support of fellow MLAs. Our young people come first," said Mr McCrossan.

Mr O'Dowd said: “Sinn Fein had hoped to see significant movement from the Education Minister over the weekend to address the exam grading crisis.

"I am confident that the (...) motion will attract the necessary support to ensure the Assembly is recalled and will properly focus on the need for urgent action from the Education Minister to sort out this crisis."

MLAs from the Ulster Unionist Party and the Alliance Party have said they will back the move while TUV leader Jim Allister has also pledged his support.

Gerry Carroll of People Before Profit is supporting the petition. "I have added my name to the recall petition for the Assembly to be reconvened in light of the disastrous handling of A-Level results for students," he said, posting on Twitter on Sunday evening.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson dismissed the petition as "political opportunism" but it's expected the potential recall may also coincide with a planned protest by students at Belfast's Custom House Square this week.

Sammy Wilson

A group of young activists has called on students, teachers, principals and politicians to gather on Tuesday to demand grades are reassessed.

Cormac Savage, President of the Secondary Students' Union of Northern Ireland, said: "We plan to be seen and be heard. We want our rightful grades. We want our teachers and our schools given the respect they're due. We want to be given the respect we're due as the next generation of voters."

Unlike previous years, students can appeal their grades without being charged if they feel their grading is unfair. The Northern Ireland exam body, the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) said prior performance in mock examinations will be used as evidence.

Results estimated by teachers were downgraded last week using a mathematical model created by the CCEA.

Education minister Peter Weir has insisted the grading system is essential as some teachers would have been "generous" in estimating grades.

The model takes into account numerous factors including a pupil's AS level performance.

The Department for Education has been asked for a response.

Belfast Telegraph