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A-levels 2020: A Systemic Injustice


Northern Irish students today, 13th August 2020, faced a results day like no other. For the first time in living memory, students sitting GCSEs, AS and A-levels will receive results for exams they didn’t complete – rather they were subject to teachers' professional judgement, prior performance and a statistical model designed by Northern Ireland’s main awarding body, CCEA.

This morning I woke up and opened the CCEA website to be greeted with results which made my jaw drop. Why? How? Is this for real? These are only a few of the questions that ran through my head. I did, for one moment, think to myself, “it mustn’t have updated from last year”, because the results on my screen were the exact same as my AS results – Mathematics - D, Psychology - B and Government and Politics - B.

In Year 13, I didn’t have the best year academically as my head and heart were elsewhere and that’s why I believe my grades weren’t as good as they could have been. In Year 14, I ‘pulled my socks up’ and ‘stuck the head down’ to improve, to better my grades and ultimately get into university. However, CCEA didn’t believe in my ability to improve and they definitely didn’t believe in my willingness to better myself. That’s the systemic injustice – I, a working class young adult from a socio-economically deprived area was subject to. I wasn’t graded as my teachers professionally judged me to be graded, rather I was deemed incapable of improvement and my entire Year 14 work seems to have been disregarded!

Justin Edwards, CEO of CCEA and Peter Weir, the Minister of Education, now have a responsibility to put an end to this postcode lottery and trust our teachers - as was said on the radio this morning by a young person “CCEA don’t know me, my teachers do”. I would urge Minister Weir to reconsider this current approach and to state whether he will stand over 37% of students having a grade downgraded from a teacher's professional judgement. I was predicted an A B B/C and downgraded to a B B D with many others in a similar situation, if not more extreme downgrades.

I am personally in a lucky situation. I received an unconditional offer from Queen’s University Belfast to study Law with Politics, therefore my results today will not stop me from progressing to higher level education. However, this is not the case with all students facing a downgrade this year as some don’t have the privilege of an unconditional offer on their side. Many have now been rejected from university and will wait in limbo for a lengthy appeals process to conclude or rush to find an alternative place of education through clearing, or giving up on their dreams of going to university all together – something which is damaging to one’s mental health and a completely unsatisfactory system.

It’s time for action. It’s time to fix this systemic injustice. It's time for leadership.


Arón Hughes is 18 years old and a past pupil of St Colm’s High School. He is a Young Ambassador for T:BUC and youth worker from West Belfast.

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