Changes to examinations and qualifications announced to support pupil progress

Date published: 09 October 2020

Education Minister Peter Weir has announced decisions on proposals for changes to the awarding of qualifications during 2020/21.

News Update

The focus of these changes is to protect and support our pupils in their progress towards future study and employment.   

The changes include a reduction in the number of exams that pupils will be required to take, as well as making a number of adaptions to qualifications to ensure they can be delivered safely and meet public health requirements by incorporating a range of appropriate adjustments and necessary mitigations.

Year 14 pupils will not have to take AS examinations and, in the majority of GCSE qualifications a specified module will be omitted from assessment.  All assessments in GCSE Maths will be retained but the speaking and listening component of GCSE English Language is to be omitted. This ensures these key qualifications are comparable across the UK.

Education Minister Weir said: “Today, I am announcing changes to exams and assessments this academic year which I have instructed CCEA to implement.   They take account of the disruption for pupils to date due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the potential for further impacts over the coming months. 

“My key priority is to ensure that all Northern Ireland students will have the opportunity to obtain portable qualifications, comparable to those of other jurisdictions that will enable them to succeed in future study and employment.

“These changes are also designed to free up teaching time, reduce pressure on students and allow assessments to be undertaken within current public health restrictions.”

The timetable for the summer exam series will be delayed by one week with exams starting no earlier than 12 May 2021, but concluding by 30 June. Results will issue at the end of August.

Continuing the Minister said:  “Following the cancellation of exams last summer, it is important that students have the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and skills through the exam process.

“It is my priority to ensure that public examinations go ahead, if at all possible. Sitting examinations is a proven way to generate fair and reliable outcomes for pupils.”

Concluding the Minister said that he has asked CCEA to consider back-up arrangements in case they should be needed.

He said: “I hope today’s announcement will relieve some of the uncertainty and help students focus on the important task of preparing for their exams.  The public health crisis has not gone away and we must balance the difficult task of providing a degree of certainty for young people and teachers whilst recognising the need to be flexible and able to respond quickly to changing circumstances.

“Contingency plans are being drawn up to be available should we need to respond quickly to changing circumstances.”

Notes to editors: 

  1. More information including FAQs and the letter to schools is available on DE website - Qualifications
  2. Follow us on Twitter @Education_ni
  3. Media enquiries to the Department of Education Press Office at
  4. The Executive Information Service operates an out-of-hours service for media enquiries between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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