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Economy Minister Diane Dodds today urged vocational learners to remain focused on their futures and told them they will receive the support they need to continue their courses.

The Minister was speaking after all six of Northern Ireland’s further education colleges and a number of schools and training organisations chose to cancel forthcoming January vocational examinations due to the current Covid-19 pandemic.

The Minister said: “These decisions were taken in the best interests of learners and staff and in light of the ongoing impact of the pandemic on public health and subsequent disruption to teaching and learning. The colleges, schools and training organisations understand the needs and personal circumstances of their learners better than anyone and I fully support their decisions.”

She said that providers will now work closely with learners and awarding organisations and the Regulator to ascertain the most appropriate alterative approach, whether that be sitting exams at a later date or using evidence of learning to inform a teacher/tutor based assessment of grade.

The Minister went on to say: “I am directly appealing to learners to continue to stay focused and to remain engaged with your individual courses of study, irrespective of whether you will be sitting an exam or not, and to follow the guidance from your teacher or tutor. The further education sector is the largest provider of vocational qualifications in Northern Ireland and I would reiterate this message to learners studying at the six further education colleges, taking either full-time or part-time courses."

In conjunction with schools and training organisations, the Minister said she was pleased that the FE colleges are making considerable efforts during this period of additional restrictions to be able to continue to deliver programmes using increased online learning.

She added: “Whilst the assessment process is changing due to the health considerations, the learning process must still continue and learners must play their part. It is vitally important for all learners therefore to continue to engage with their college and their tutors to get the latest advice and guidance on their learning and assessment arrangements. Your tutors will work with you to build evidence for your qualification and any future assessment arrangements.

“It remains my priority to ensure that vocational learners are afforded every opportunity to study and flourish during these challenging times and to gain recognition through fair and robust results over the coming months, and we will do everything possible to support this process.”