Review of GCSE and GCE Qualifications Gets Underway

Monday 19 November 2012

A review of the future of GCSEs and A levels in Northern Ireland gets underway today with the publication of an online survey seeking views from across the community on these important qualifications.

The Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) has been commissioned by the Minister for Education, John O’Dowd MLA, to carry out the review to ensure that GCSE and GCE qualifications are capable of

testing and rewarding the learning and attainment of pupils at the end of compulsory schooling and at the end of 6th form.

The review will look at the benefits of retaining the current system, options for improving it, and the possibility of replacing it.

CCEA will be gathering feedback from across the Northern Ireland community, taking evidence and advice from key stakeholders, and looking at best practice in other exam systems. In particular CCEA will be looking to ensure school leaders play a significant part in the process.

CCEA Interim Chief Executive Richard Hanna commented:

GCSEs and A levels are excellent qualifications and there is significant evidence to show they are valued by employers and universities. However it is essential that we keep our qualifications under constant review to ensure they continue to meet the needs of our young people, the economy and reflect international best practice.

In particular, it is vitally important to ensure that our qualifications at both GCSE and GCE continue to have currency and transportability in these islands and beyond.

The first stage of the process is today’s publication of an online survey to gather feedback on how the current system is viewed and how it might be improved for the future. We would encourage anyone with an interest in this important issue to log on to our website and fill in the questionnaire.

The survey questionnaire can be found on here and will be available to complete until 21 January 2013. To request a hard copy questionnaire, please contact CCEA Research and Statistics Unit on (028) 9026 1455 or e-mail:

Note to Editors

The terms of reference for the review of GCSE and GCE qualifications in Northern Irelandare published at -

This online consultation questionnaire asks for views on the current GCSE and GCE qualifications and on future qualifications provision in Northern Ireland.

There will be a further phase of the consultation early in 2013 involving research events. This will provide an opportunity for discussion the issues around qualifications for 14-19 year olds in more detail.

Background to the review

  1. GCSEs and GCEs are offered by five awarding organisations which are regulated in the three jurisdictions by the Qualifications Regulator for Northern Ireland (CCEA Accreditation), England (Ofqual) and Wales (Welsh Government).
  2. In Northern Ireland external qualifications are taken by learners at 15/16 and at 18/19. In schools these qualifications are in the main GCSEs and GCEs. Whilst some differences in GCSE and GCE qualifications do exist across the three jurisdictions, the qualifications regulators work to ensure that there is a consistency of demand and standards therefore ensuring the portability of these qualifications for learners.
  3. The last 12 months have seen great change to the nature and operation of the three jurisdiction qualifications system and the qualifications regulators no longer make joint decisions on qualification provision. They do however continue, where possible, to engage in parallel decision making in order to maintain a level of consistency in the demand and standards of qualifications offered.
  4. The government in England is in the process of introducing changes to GCSEs and GCEs for use in England following recommendations from the 2010 Schools White paper – The Importance of Teaching. The Welsh Government has recently completed a review of 14-19 qualifications in Wales and findings from this will be released shortly. As a result differences are already emerging in the qualifications offered across the three jurisdictions most notably in GCSEs where England has already chosen to move to linear only GCSEs. In Wales and Northern Ireland there is still the option for both linear and unitised GCSE's to be available.
  5. The Entitlement Framework (EF) here will become statutory from September 2013. The EF is designed to ensure that all 14-19 year olds in schools have access to a broad curriculum with a range of relevant and engaging courses available. Since its inception, a cornerstone of policy on the EF is that the choices and opportunities it offers must also be open to young people with Special Educational Needs (SEN). Development work is currently being undertaken to investigate how special schools and learning support centres could best be helped to engage fully in the EF and receive recognition for the achievements of their learners.