Peter Weir urged to 'fix' A-level results

Education Minister Peter Weir

EDUCATION Minister Peter Weir is being urged to "fix" A-level grades after complaints from pupils and schools.

The issue was discussed at a meeting of the executive last night with the minister appearing to stand firm.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said the situation was "unacceptable" and called on Mr Weir to explain how he intended to fix the problem.

She said many students had been awarded grades "way below what they expected to achieve".

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood urged the first and deputy first ministers to help resolve what he called "the education grading debacle".

"It is a disgrace that students across the north have been let down by the education system," he said.

"The education minister has questions to answer - but so does the joint leadership in the executive. They can’t just sit this out - with Nicola Sturgeon saying Scotland got it wrong - it's well past time the joint first ministers make it clear they got it wrong and work to resolve the situation."

St Dominic's pupils Rachael McAreavey, Emma McArt and Kira McDonnell. Picture by Mal McCann

Mr Eastwood said there was a need to trust the teachers' assessment, work with universities to guarantee places and "ensure that those small proportion upgraded by system keep their grades too".

Mr Weir will appear before a special meeting of the education committee at Stormont today.

Committee chairman, Chris Lyttle of the Alliance Party said it was important to recognise the sacrifice pupils had made during the pandemic, from school closures to having exams cancelled.

"The least they can expect in return is fair grades," he said.

"I have been clear in these unprecedented times, grades must be based on individual ability and teacher assessment, and any anomalies must be addressed by engaging with schools and a robust appeals process. Going by reactions by principals and pupils, that engagement has not taken place.

"There are serious questions for the education minister as to whether the appeals process will be able to address all of this adequately."

Ulster Unionist education spokesman Robbie Butler called on Mr Weir to provide a solution within 24 hours.

"Regrettably this A-levels results day has been a nightmare for some students, teachers and parents," he said.

"Whilst many students and their parents will be happy with their results, some have been left devastated. What we need now is for the education minister to provide a roadmap to a solution within 24 hours. We cannot allow students from Northern Ireland to be disadvantaged when they are competing with those from England, Scotland and Wales for university places and jobs. It's not acceptable.

"I have spoken with many principals and it is clear that there is no common understanding of how statistical data standardisation has been implemented and the fact that an impersonal algorithm has had such a negative impact on some students' prospects means it requires urgent review."

Sinn Féin committee member Catherine Kelly said she had written to the Human Rights and Equality Commissions.

"The hopes of so many young people have been dashed by an algorithm that appears to have generated inconsistent and erratic results," she said

"I am calling on the minister of education to take urgent action to resolve this and take immediate steps to protect the future of young people. Those hoping to seek further education have only a small window of opportunity to secure places.

"The Scottish minister did not hesitate to put right this wrong. Peter Weir needs to act with similar decisiveness."

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