Relief and frustration at cancellation of exams

Relief and frustration at cancellation of exams

13 January 2021

SCHOOL principals and students have spoken of their relief and frustration over the cancellation of GCSE and A-Level exams over the coronavirus pandemic for the second year running.

Education Minister Peter Weir announced his intention last week as secondary level students resumed remote learning after the Christmas break.

Schools are waiting on receiving guidance from the Department of Education on how grades will be calculated and next steps are required for students and teachers.

Mr Joe McCann, principal of St Patrick’s Grammar School in Downpatrick said that while he recognised that it was a difficult decision, he welcomed the clarity.

He added: “New questions are raised and students will now be wondering how their grades will be calculated and what procedures and processes will be put in place to ensure that awarding is a fair refection of their effort and attainment to date.

“Year 12 in particular had seen no real reduction in the course content needing to be covered this year. This will be a relief to them though a disappointment that the GCSE English and Maths modules scheduled for January 11 and 12 were cancelled at such short notice.”

However, he warned that the mistakes from last summer when controversial A-Level grades had to be amended must not be allowed to happen again.

“Many of the difficulties experienced in the summer of 2020 must be avoided and the lessons learned used to inform the way ahead.

“We have to resist the use algorithms to calculate individual pupil results and awarding bodies must trust teacher professionalism coupled with rigorous checks and balances put in place by school leaders to ensure consistency.”

Down High School principal Mrs Maud Perry said: “Pupils are fully engaged in remote learning. Education is so much more than preparation for an exam and pupils will need to be well equipped for their next steps.”

She said that a DENI circular on remote learning was also received by schools last week which draws together key learning points from the last period of lockdown.

Mrs Perry added: “It was reassuring to read that research confirms that we are on the correct path. The effectiveness of remote teaching is determined by the same factors as effective live classroom teaching. Keeping in touch is so important for pupil wellbeing.”

Mr Peter Dobbin, principal of Assumption Grammar School in Ballynahinch, said he was relieved that the “inevitable decision” to cancel GCSEs and A Levels had been been made.

“We now await guidance as to how grades will be awarded this year,” he remarked.

“When this information is received it will give staff, students, and parents clarity as to the way forward for schools to see us safely through the rest of this academic year,” he added.

Ms Jennifer King, vice principal of St Colman’s High and Sixth Form College in Ballynahinch, described the decision as “sensible”, but said she was disappointed it had not been made sooner.

“The main premise for all examinations is fairness and with the number of pupils missing out because of Covid-related absences, running the examinations as standard was never going to be fair,” she said

“Our staff and pupils have been preparing and working hard towards this eventuality, and our hope now is that the Minister and CCEA act swiftly to issue detail on the alternative. Any further delay will only serve to disadvantage our young people even further.”

Pupils from a number of schools also commented on Mr Weir’s announcement.

Down High Head Boy Jack Martin, who is from Newcastle, said: “I will be missing at least 12 weeks of in-school learning this school year alone in addition to the time missed from March last year.

“I know many have missed much more. Thus, I agree with the decision to cancel exams as some pupils have been disproportionally disadvantaged.”

Down High Head Girl Anna Clements, who is from Ballynahinch, said:  “I greatly appreciate what the teachers have been going through in these difficult times and I hope this decision eases the pressure on them.

“We have been in a state of limbo since the start of our Upper Sixth Year. What I would appreciate now from external agencies is clarification with regard to how our grades are to be assigned.”

Assumption Grammar Head Girl Lucia Orsi, from Crossgar, said: “I am relieved that examinations have been cancelled as I feared that our courses would not have been completed in time, due to the current lockdown.

“However, I am anxious that there has been no decision on how our grades will be calculated.