The Education Minister has said she is “confident school exams should proceed this summer as planned”, with pupils due to sit A-levels, AS levels and GSCEs for the first time in three years.
Michelle McIlveen said only “a deterioration in the public situation would prevent students from being able to physically sit exams”, but that is now “increasingly unlikely”.
In 2020 and 2021, students had to rely on teacher-assessed grades as the pandemic closed schools, with thousands left to contend with remote learning.
In 2020, there was confusion for pupils and teachers over what was expected, with chaos on A-level results day as many pupils had their results downgraded due to an algorithm used to standardise grades by the examining bodies.
That meant many were facing the prospect of missing out on university courses, but a few days after the results were published, the algorithm was dropped and many pupils saw their grades revert to the teacher-assessed decisions.
The process of teacher-assessed grades was smoother in 2021, with Northern Ireland still in the grip of the pandemic, but this year formal examinations will be held as normal. However, several courses have been amended to allow for the continued loss of time in the classroom.
Ms McIlveen said: “Arrangements are in place to support the managed return to public examinations for awarding CCEA qualifications in 2022.
“Wide-ranging adaptations have been made to CCEA qualifications to take account of the disruption to learning experienced by students throughout their courses.
“These arrangements include unit omission meaning a significant reduction in the overall number of exams students will need to sit, as well as a generous approach to grading.
“The arrangements were announced in May 2021, providing clarity for students at an early stage and enabling teachers to use the flexibility of unit omission to adapt to the specific circumstances in their school as the year progressed.”
Ms McIlveen also said that Northern Ireland’s examining body, CCEA, has plans in place to allow for any students who are unable to take an exam should they be unwell on the day, suffer the bereavement of an immediate family member or have to isolate due to Covid.
“CCEA has also written to centres setting out bespoke arrangements for those candidates who miss exams during the summer 2022 exam series,” she added.
“This will include a reserve series for A-levels. These arrangements are designed to ensure as many young people as possible are enabled to complete their qualifications.”
While there is no option for pupils to sit reserve exams at AS level and in the vast majority of GCSE subjects, pupils who miss an exam will have the option of having their overall mark decided based in the papers they are able to sit, a process called a missed component calculation.
Reserve exams will be available in a few GCSE subjects, including history, religious studies, government and politics, economics, and statistics as pupils are likely to sit only one exam in those subjects and should they miss an exam a grade could not be awarded.
Ms McIlveen added: “CCEA’s modular exams for GCSE English language, maths, single and double-award science ran successfully in November/December 2021 and CCEA advises that student performance was strong in the context of the pandemic.
“I am therefore confident that exams should be able to proceed this summer as planned. A deterioration in the public situation which would prevent students from being able to physically sit exams seems increasingly unlikely.”
Schools in Northern Ireland still remain subject to mitigations, with advice not changing in educational settings despite the recent ending of restrictions in wider society.
The Department of Education said it remains “strongly recommended” that face coverings are worn in schools after updating guidance as pupils returned following the half-term break.
“The position on face coverings, based on public health advice, remains that it is strongly recommended that post-primary pupils wear a face covering at all times when inside school buildings, including classrooms, corridors and confined communal spaces such as toilet areas,” the department said.