BTEC: Irish-medium Provision

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 15 March 2021.

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Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

It is question 5 rather than question 6.

Photo of Sean Lynch Sean Lynch Sinn Féin

Sorry about that.

Photo of Sean Lynch Sean Lynch Sinn Féin

5. Mr Lynch asked the Minister of Education for an update on the provision of BTEC qualifications through the medium of Irish. (AQO 1735/17-22)

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

Currently, BTEC qualifications through the medium of Irish are facilitated by a contractual arrangement between the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) and the awarding organisation, Pearson. Towards the end of 2019, the Pearson awarding organisation had given notice of its intention to end that agreement and no longer provide the qualifications. While CCEA continued its discussions with Pearson about the decision, the school that was offering those BTECs was advised to consider and identify alternative qualifications. Unfortunately, in the past couple of weeks, Pearson has confirmed its intention to withdraw from the arrangement, withdrawing level 3 qualifications in September 2021 and level 2 qualifications in September 2022. Pearson's decision has been taken in the context of a significant change to all level 3 BTECs this year. Pearson 2010 BTECs are being withdrawn fully across the UK in September 2021, and the new style 2016 BTECs will be the only BTECs available to any school, be it in the medium of English or Irish. The new-style BTECs introduce external assessment units, making them more like A levels in their assessment arrangements.

CCEA provides a range of applied A levels that are available in the medium of Irish. A total of 13 applied A levels are offered by CCEA. Other vocational qualification providers may wish to make their qualifications available in Irish, and CCEA has contacted other providers to explore that option. CCEA will continue to explore what further actions might be possible to address the matter.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP 2:30, 15 March 2021

I will allow the Member to ask a brief supplementary.

Photo of Sean Lynch Sean Lynch Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for his answer. I am sorry for the confusion, Minister. What I have asked you to do is to step up your engagement with the qualifying bodies to ensure that those qualifications are there for Irish-medium students.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

There are two aspects to that, and obviously the direct engagement is with CCEA through Pearson. Pearson is the only group that directly offers BTECs, and, as it is an awarding organisation, we have no means of directly compelling it to do things. It could withdraw entirely from the Northern Ireland market, and we want to make sure that there are no particular barriers.

It is not helpful when there is a narrowing of choice, but there are awarding organisations that also provide alternative vocational qualifications. CCEA is working with them and will step up to the mark to provide qualifications. The problem is that we are very much in the one boat with Pearson when it comes to BTEC.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

That ends the period for listed questions. We will now have 15 minutes of topical questions to the Minister of Education.