Northern Ireland news

Fears A-level pass rate reduction will hit poorest pupils hardest

Summer exams were cancelled

SECONDARY school principals fear their pupils may be unfairly disadvantaged if predicted A-level grades are later reduced.

Summer GCSE, AS-level and A-levels were all cancelled. Pupils who were due to sit the exams will instead receive "calculated grades".

Results due to be published next week will be based on a combination of information provided by schools and statistical data.

Teachers have already predicted the grades they think pupils would have achieved. Schools have also ranked pupils in each subject.

Widespread downgrading of teachers' grades in Scotland this week has caused alarm in the north, however.

In Scotland, the pass rate of pupils in the most deprived areas was reduced by 15.2 per cent from teacher estimates after exam board moderation.

In contrast, the pass rate for pupils from the most affluent backgrounds dropped by 6.9 per cent.

The exam board's criteria for moderation included the historic performance of of schools and grades were adjusted "where a centre's estimates were outside the constraint range for that course", according to the SQA chief examining officer Fiona Robertson.

Some straight-A pupils said they were downgraded based on where they lived.

Michael Allen, principal of Lisneal College in Derry, was among the school leaders to express concern.

"Let's hope NI results won't follow a similar pattern for school types," he said on Twitter.

"A blanket adjustment based in school performance is deeply flawed and unfair. Many pupils who 'buck the trend' will have become collateral damage."

Professor Tony Gallagher from Queen's School of Education said many head teachers were worried.

"Following what happened in Scotland, some secondary school principals are expressing concerns that their pupils may be unfairly disadvantaged if ‘school-based’ adjustments reduce their predicted grades more than for grammar pupils," he said.

"Published performance data show that secondary schools have a much more varied year-on-year pattern of performance than grammar schools, so a blanket reduction of grades for all secondary pupils would, on the face of it, seem to be unfair.

"Hopefully the system used by CCEA will be more sophisticated than this. It is also worth noting that the decision by Queen's to make unconditional offers means that a significant number of pupils have got their places in Queen's already, regardless of the results they receive."

Queen's offered guaranteed places to about 2,500 Northern Ireland students in July to "reduce anxiety and provide clarity for young people".

They were given to applicants who previously held a conditional offer and had already selected Queen's as their first choice.

Such `conditional unconditional' offers have been banned in England to prevent institutions luring young people away from their competitors.

While predicted grades will not be known until August 13, Queen's Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Greer said the offers were based on "rigorous, equitable, evidence-based statistical analysis" of the students' academic performances.

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