Meeting the challenge of revising GCSEs and A-levels

Web GCSEs and A-levels are changing and differences are emerging in the shape of these important qualifications across Northern Ireland, England and Wales. To understand this change and find out what is being done to ensure our qualifications remain highly respected and valued, read on…

For many years, the Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) has worked closely with counterparts in England and Wales on the development of GCSE and GCE courses to ensure that standards are comparable across the three countries.

More recently however, the Coalition Government in Westminster has embarked on a series of qualifications reforms without consultation with its counterparts in Belfast and Cardiff.

This has led to a divergence in qualifications policy in a system historically shared across the three countries.

The Minister for Education, John O’Dowd MLA, has determined that qualifications reform in Northern Ireland is based on informed research evidence, international best practice and has the support of key stakeholders in education, industry and commerce.

Having commissioned CCEA Accreditation to undertake a fundamental review of GCSEs and A-levels, in March of this year the Minister accepted a series of recommendations arising from the review.

Over the next three years the CCEA Awarding Organisation (AO) will revise its GCE and GCSE courses; with revised GCEs delivered to schools in time for first teaching in September 2016 and revised GCSEs introduced a year later in September 2017.

The main policy differences emerging are between the system in England, as opposed to Wales and here. At both GCSE and A-level, CCEA AO will continue to offer modular and linear assessment opportunities, acknowledging that schools take these decisions in the best interests of their students.

At GCE, we have retained the link between AS and A2, with the AS grade continuing to count towards the full A-level. The decoupling of the AS and A-level in England has led Cambridge University, among others, to postulate that students in England risk being “significantly disadvantaged” by the change there.

In A-level sciences, having consulted closely with learned societies, science faculties in higher education and other stakeholder bodies, the Minister has confirmed that practical assessments of science subjects will remain as part of the overall grade at A-level. In England, practical assessments will no longer be part of the overall grade. The decision in England, according to the Welcome Trust, is at odds with the “overwhelming consensus from expert scientific bodies, universities and industry.”

An essential part of qualifications reform journey will be to ensure that our GCSEs and A-levels continue to be highly regarded by universities and employers, and continue to provide access to jobs and further and higher education within and beyond Northern Ireland.

CCEA AO has already enlisted and briefed teams of subject experts to write our new GCE qualifications. At every stage of the revision process we will seek the views of stakeholders, including teaching professionals, business and industry representatives, and experts from higher education here and from other jurisdictions.

CCEA Accreditation will work closely with regulatory colleagues and the Department of Education to ensure that our GCSE and GCE qualifications continue to be of comparable standard to those on offer elsewhere.

CCEA Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment
29 Clarendon Road
Clarendon Dock, Belfast, BT1 3BG
Tel: +44 (0)28 9026 1200

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