Economy Minister Diane Dodds today announced the cancellation of Essential Skills and vocational examinations for the remainder of this academic year.
In making her decision, the Minister said the disruption to learning meant that it was neither sustainable nor fair to learners or to providers to continue with exams.
She said: “The pandemic continues to disrupt every aspect of our lives and I know how unsettling a time this has been for learners, their families and local providers who deliver vocational qualifications and Essential Skills.
“I am acutely aware of the increasing disruption to teaching and learning and despite the best efforts of our local providers and learners, this is no longer sustainable nor fair to learners.
“Therefore, I want to provide clarity and certainty and have taken the decision to cancel all external vocational exams for the remainder of this year, including Essential Skills and BTecs and all other vocational exams scheduled for February / March, and the scheduled summer exam series.”
The Minister has instructed CCEA Regulation to ensure that awarding organisations put in place suitable alternative awarding arrangements that are reflective of this year’s particular circumstances.
She added: “I wish to assure learners that the awards you will receive this year will have the same standards and recognition as any other year and will carry the same degree of portability as you consider progression pathways.
“There are a range of qualifications that demonstrate occupational competency, such as licence to practice, and I have requested that suitable assessment adaptations are put in place, in a similar manner to last year. Where this is not possible, assessments may need to be delayed given public health and safety considerations.”
In relation to Essential Skills, the Minister said that external exams will also be cancelled and replaced with a teacher judgement approach, based upon suitable evidence. There will be a short transition period where Essential Skills on-demand exams will still be available up to the end of February 2021, where they can be taken safely in line with PHA guidance, until the new arrangements are in place.
The Minister further added: “Timeliness is a critical consideration for learners and learning centres, and whilst I am aware there are complexities for vocational qualifications that are awarded across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, I have instructed CCEA Regulation to work with the other regulators to ensure that clarity on the alternative arrangements is provided by awarding organisations to learning centres as early as possible in March 2021. In relation to Essential Skills and other Northern Ireland only qualifications, I expect clarity on the alternative arrangements to be available by the end of February 2021.”
The Minister concluded: "It is my priority to ensure that vocational learners are afforded every opportunity to receive fair, robust and timely results and I believe that this is the most appropriate way forward, particularly in light of the recent decision to cancel this year’s GCSE/A-Level exams.
“I would like to appeal directly to learners and emphasise the importance of remaining focused on your course of study and to continue to engage with your college, school or training centres. Please continue to undertake any work assigned to you by your teacher or tutor as it may form part of the alternative awarding arrangements.
“Finally, I would encourage learners to speak with their college, school or training organisation in the first instance for more information and to check the CCEA Regulation website for updates.”