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T5. Mr Clarke asked the Minister of Education, after noting his surprise that GCSE qualifications were not raised until question 4, to state whether he is minded to review his decision on GCSE grading, given that, in a local paper today, three principals from across the sector have stated their concerns about how the decision will disadvantage children. (AQT 3355/11-16)
I share the Member's surprise that we reached question 4 before somebody asked me a policy question. I thought that topical questions were about policy questions, but how and ever.
We have formal notification from one of the bodies — AQA. I reviewed the information that was at hand to me when I made the original decision to stay with A* to G. I still believe that that was the right decision for our education system and our young people. As I said to Mr McKinney, it was always in the back of my mind that what are known as the English awarding bodies may remove their services from here. Plans were put in place for that.
There are different opinions in education on a range of matters. That is the reality of the situation. There are school principals who are opposed to my decision, and there are school principals who support it. There are others who have varying views on the matter. I assure everyone that no young person will be put at a disadvantage as a result of AQA's decision or if OCR decides to remove itself from our qualifications. We have plans in place. Those young people will be able to study the same wide range of subjects, and the qualifications will be portable and robust.
To a degree, I accept what the Minister is saying about the disadvantage to the children — I do not believe that it will affect the educational standards in our schools. Surely, however, the Minister accepts that, when employers are looking at the grades of young people coming out of school, it is the grades that they are looking for. Given that those are English exam bodies, it is going to affect employers and large firms that create employment in Northern Ireland. Is the Minister minded to look more at that, rather than disadvantaging the employment opportunities of our young people moving forward?
No. There is no evidence to support the argument that our young people will be disadvantaged when seeking employment. Unless they reintroduce Hadrian's Wall in Britain, Scottish students are going to continue to travel from Scotland to England. They will be travelling with totally different qualifications from those that the students in England have. Scotland has its own exam body and system. England remains with GCSEs. The Welsh have decided to remain with the A* to G, so they have the same system as we do. Welsh students and young people seeking employment travel to England, and vice versa. I am acutely aware that our young people travel to England seeking employment and that large English employing organisations here will be looking at our qualifications. All those bodies are used to looking at a wide range of qualifications not only from these islands but from across Europe. To date, they have not shown any difficulties with understanding the changes in GCSEs or the qualifications that come here from across Europe.