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A*-G grades to remain in place for north's GCSE pupils

Grading of GCSEs will continue under the alphabetical system A*-G

Familiar A*-G grades are to remain in place for GCSE pupils with the north refusing to follow England in adopting a numerical system.

Education minister John O'Dowd yesterday confirmed that grading of GCSEs would continue under the alphabetical system A*-G.

The minister consulted on changes following a decision in England to move to numerical grading from 2017. Grading in Wales will continue to be alphabetical.

Mr O'Dowd told the assembly that there were no educational arguments for changing to numbers.

Members of the assembly education committee have already voiced concerns, however. They fear pupils receiving grades on the A*-G scale will be at a disadvantage when applying for some university places in future.

Most pupils take exams offered by the north's exams board, the CCEA. However, many take papers set by boards from England too.

Universities have already said they are aware of the implications of devolved regional policy in regards to qualifications. While fundamental differences are starting to appear, universities say they have no issue as long as standards are retained.

Mr O'Dowd said whether a GCSE award was in letters or numbers "does not help improve outcomes or address underachievement". He further told the assembly that there was general interest about whether it would be possible to compare one set of grades with another.

The new grade 4 in England will be anchored to the north's grade C, and the grade 7 anchored to the grade A.

"I especially recognise the concern that has been expressed to me that it will be unnecessarily confusing for everyone to maintain a mixture of letters and numbers for GCSEs. An exam certificate should be an immediately recognisable record of the young person's achievement, not an alpha-numerical challenge to the reader," Mr O'Dowd said.

"After consideration of the options available to me, I have reached the decision that grading of all GCSEs here will continue under the present alphabetical system using A* to G grades.

"I have heard no compelling arguments for change, and I have heard strong arguments for consistency. I believe that it will be in the best interests of learners here to continue with the established practice of awarding using letters, and I believe we must avoid unnecessary complexity as far as possible."

Chief Executive of the CCEA exams' board Justin Edwards said the minister's decision meant the continuation of a system that was well understood by parents, teachers, pupils and employers.

"It provides continuity at GCSE and cohesion with A-level. The decision by the minister to apply the A*-G grading approach at GCSE to all awarding organisations will provide clarity and consistency in regards to qualifications here and removes any potential for confusion," he said.

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