Dozens of heads of department at Northern Ireland schools have written to the Education Minister slating his decision to ban local pupils from taking Welsh Board A-Levels.
In a letter to Peter Weir, a body which ‘represent[s] over fifty-five Heads of Drama and their Departments’, has questioned the Minister’s reasoning and say the move will reduce local young people’s choices.
The move comes after the DUP MLA barred the WJEC exams for a number of subjects including drama, PE, sociology and computer science.
Hundreds of students have been affected and Belfast Live understands some heads of department who teach the other subjects are also angry about the move.
The Minister says he banned the exams to “protect the interests of students in Northern Ireland”, saying it was a “response to the concerns raised by schools here” after the Welsh Government’s announcement in November 2020 that exams were being cancelled.
But NI teachers have questioned the claim the Department raised concerns with them, while the head of drama at WJEC says the “news came as a complete shock to me”.
In their letter, dated January 29, the NI Drama forum says the Welsh Government’s decision to cancel the exams “did not cause undue disruption to our teaching and learning”.
It adds: “Many of us were in communication with relevant subject-leaders throughout; WJEC have always been supportive, forthright, and forward-thinking so we had faith that a mode of assessment would be arrived at in a timely manner: ironically, it is this decision by the Department of Education which has now ‘left learners in a position of uncertainty’.”
The letter states: “It is the duty of our representatives to negotiate and to find compromise to ease our way through this difficult pandemic, not to draw-up red lines; furthermore, we understand that the delay in WJEC’s decision was largely down to Northern Ireland’s lack of proposed alternatives.”
The Minister says there are alternatives with local exam boards, however this is disputed by drama heads who part of the forum. One source familiar with the situation has told Belfast Live dozens of local schools switched to the Welsh Board a number of years ago and had established a good working relationship with examiners there.
NI pupils had “thrived” under the WJEC regime, the source added. Changing to a new Board, they say, will entail teachers having to develop teaching materials for an entirely new syllabus.
The forum letter tells the Minister that as CCEA “do not offer an equivalent A’- Level to Drama, many of us will not be able to offer Drama A’-level to our students”.
The WJEC Drama course is more academic centred than the CCEA’s Performing Arts, it is understood. The CCEA option also presents potential problems with regard to recognition when gaining entry to third level education, sources say.
The letter adds: “Many students of A – Level Drama would not choose to study Performing Arts in its place, and likewise the other way around. Until now, Northern Irish students rightly had the choice: your decision means that Northern Irish students will now be denied this option and their experience will be narrower.
“The Department of Education’s complaint that, ‘changes to the awarding of WJEC qualifications in 2021, were without consultation with DE’ is a false premise as you have not consulted widely with teachers of the subjects, the principals concerned, or the teaching unions. Therefore your written claim to be acting on our behalf is either a misrepresentation or a misunderstanding of the stresses and pressures felt by teachers and schools.”
The letters finishes by saying the teachers ‘urge you to act on our behalf and reconsider the decision regarding WJEC”.
In a letter to NI teachers, Wyn Jones, Drama Subject Officer at the WJEC says Peter Weir’s decision “came as a complete shock to me and to my senior colleagues at WJEC”.
It added: “I’m so disappointed and haven’t really taken it in yet!”
A spokesperson for the Department of Education said: “The Education Minister took this decision following the Welsh Government’s announcement in November 2020 to cancel exams.
“The Minister’s decision was taken to protect the interests of students in Northern Ireland.
“The arrangements subsequently announced by the Welsh Government in December 2020 to replace exams have had to be revised following the national lockdown January 2021. Students taking WJEC qualifications will be graded in 2021 in line with the revised arrangements put in place by WJEC.
“No learner currently taking WJEC qualifications is affected by this decision.
“Those completing WJEC AS qualifications and planning to progress to the full A-level in the next academic year will be able to continue with their course. Similarly, those planning to start a WJEC AS course in September 2021 and progress to A2 in September 2022 to be awarded in the summer of 2023 are also unaffected.
“The change announced applies to full courses (i.e. an AS leading to an A2) commencing on or after September 2022.
“There are alternative awarding bodies offering the same specifications as those offered by WJEC. WJEC Eduqas qualifications, which are the same specifications as WJEC qualifications but are regulated by Ofqual, are not affected by this decision and remain available in Northern Ireland.”
-- to www.belfastlive.co.uk