An umbrella body for Irish language teachers has criticised proposed changes to GCSE and A-level courses as “unfair.”

An Gréasán has accused Northern Ireland’s exams board CCEA of a “total failure” to reflect their concerns.

CCEA is planning to reduce what is taught and the number of exams in 28 GCSE subjects in the 2020/21 year.

It said the changes were in response to the pandemic “and the loss of direct teaching contact time” for students.

However, there are set to be no reductions to what must be taught or studied at GCSE in Irish, Gaeilge, French, German and Spanish.

Gaeilge exams are usually taken by pupils who have been educated in Irish-medium schools and “builds on the range of Irish language skills that students acquire”.

A consultation on the proposed changes ends on Monday 7 September.

CCEA said the consultation would allow “interested groups and individuals to comment on a range of potential adaptations to the exam and assessment requirements”.

“Views will be considered in the context of a changing health scenario and the need to balance reducing the burden of assessment on students, as well as maintaining their wellbeing, while upholding the integrity of the qualifications in Summer 2021,” CCEA said.

In 2020, 1,555 pupils completed a GCSE in Irish, while 209 took a GCSE in Gaeilge.

In a strongly-worded statement, An Gréasán said substantial teaching time had already been lost due to the closure of schools in the pandemic.

“Undoubtedly, therefore pupils are going to be severely disadvantaged compared to previous years,” they said.

“CCEA’s response is to make no changes or reductions to the workload in Irish, Gaeilge or other languages across the examinations framework.”


The statement said CCEA “had ignored” concerns previously expressed by Irish language teachers.

“An Gréasán would like to know what caused this total failure to accurately reflect the considered opinions of experienced Irish language teachers,” it said.

“The same proposals will affect all language learners throughout the north.

“Students have lost out on a quarter of their actual language teaching/learning time and An Gréasán believes that the amount you should be expected to know should, as per CCEA’s own suggestion, ‘reflect the experience to date’.

“CCEA’s current proposals lack clarity and are already having a negative impact on pupils and staff wellbeing and are unfair to all language students.”

An Gréasán called on CCEA to reduce the number of assessments pupils will have to take in GCSE, AS and A-level Irish in 2021.

A number of French teachers have also contacted BBC News NI to express concerns about the fact there are no proposed reductions to courses in the language.

“The languages issue is major in that it already exacerbates what is already perceived to be a difficult subject,” one said.

CCEA is already investigating whether GCSE and A-level languages are marked too severely.

That review was in response to concerns from schools in Northern Ireland that it was harder to receive high marks in language exams and followed a similar review carried out by Qfqual in England.


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