Background and Context

Review Background

Minister for Education, Mr John O'Dowd MLA, made a statement to the Assembly on 1 October 2012 announcing his decision for a review to be undertaken of GCSE and A level qualifications.

In light of the discussions on qualifications in England and Wales and the work of the Department of Education to date, the Minister noted:

'there is now a pressing need to consider what assessment or qualifications we want to provide to young people leaving school at 16 and 18 and to question if the current suite of GCSEs and A levels is the most appropriate system.

I am asking CCEA to take forward this review. I have asked CCEA to provide two interim reports, the first in January 2013 and the second in March 2013. I will receive the final report in June 2013, following which I will consider the findings and recommendations and update the Assembly on the way forward.'

A copy of the Ministerial Statement and the Terms of Reference for the Review are available for download.


  • GCSEs and A levels 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).
  • In Northern Ireland qualifications are taken by learners at 16 and at 18. In the main these are GCSEs and A levels. Whilst some differences in GCSE and A level 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.
  • The last 12 months have seen great change in 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.
  • The government in England is in the process of introducing changes to GCSEs and A levels for first teaching in September 2015. The Welsh Government has recently completed a review of 14–19 qualifications in Wales and is currently acting upon the recommendations made. 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 GCSEs to be available.
  • The Entitlement Framework (EF) in Northern Ireland will become statutory from September 2013. The EF is designed to ensure that all 14–18 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.


Statement to the Assembly
60.3 KB - uploaded 21-01-2014
Terms of Reference
79.47 KB - uploaded 21-01-2014