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‘This is young people’s’ lives’: Co Armagh mum hits out at son’s ‘soul-destroying’ A Level results

'I just couldn't believe it because he was doing so well. This is young people's lives. My son most certainly won't be getting into university now'

A Co Armagh mum has hit out at the grading system for this year’s A Level exams as she described the results received by her son as “soul destroying”.

Thousands of pupils across Northern Ireland received their A Level and AS results this morning (Thursday).

As schools shut early as a result of the pandemic, the 25,000 students due to sit exams in May and June have now received predicted results instead.

This, the Northern Ireland exams board Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) admitted, would see “anomalies” according to an email to principals on Wednesday.

Vicky Forsyth’s son, Luke, was just one of many young people who have been left in despair after the results they received.

Luke, a student at Lurgan College, had been predicted by his teachers to achieve three B’s, but instead got news this morning of two C’s and a D.

Speaking to Armagh I, Vicky said: “He got two C’s and a D at AS but he had pulled up his work. He was all psyched up to do it then lockdown hit.

“He got three B’s in his mocks at Christmas, he has done two sets of coursework which he got B’s in and he was told to expect to get three B’s in his exams. This was before lockdown and they thought that he may have even been able to push for two As.”

She said: “I just couldn’t believe it because he was doing so well. It is soul-destroying and there are young kids down there that got a hell of a lot worse than he did and are not getting on to their courses.

“This is young people’s lives. My son most certainly won’t be getting into university now but he is not so bad that he won’t make it into the Belfast Met hopefully.”

Vicky said she has filled in a form to appeal her son’s results but is unsure as to how much of a difference it will make.

“Luke had applied to go to Ulster University but his only saving grace is the Belfast Met. He hopes to go to do a two year HND in construction engineering there.”

Meanwhile, Madden-born teacher, Mairead Comiskey, who now works in Dubai, has also spoken out saying she is “beyond gutted” for those who have not received the grades they deserve.

She told Armagh I: “Young people have enough pressure on them mentally at the best of times, never mind an unprecedented global pandemic, never mind their futures being toyed around with by politicians who know nothing about how talented they are or are not.”

Explaining how teachers come to predicted grades, Mairead said: “Part of our job is to collect a range of formative data such as termly assessments, mock exams, coursework, homework, students’ general attitude towards learning, students’ attendance for our specific subject, from each individual student across the two years of their course and we then use it to make accurate grade predictions.

“This happens every single year – not just during a global pandemic. In some schools this happens every term in Sixth Form and in others maybe every few terms.”

She explained that these grades are then moderated, scrutinised and questioned by the leadership of each individual school.

“They simply are so important to get right”, said Mairead. “We know our individual students. The leadership of each school knows their students as well. Our students’ future, exam motivation and university applications depend on these grades.

“It’s a process that is carried out with integrity and honesty over the A Level course. These same grades are sent off to exam boards before the summer exams and each school is actually partly judged on the accuracy of their teacher’s predicted grades once official results are released every August.”

Mairead accepted that it is not realistic for a teacher to maintain 100% accuracy with predictions, but they are best placed to make “an informed decision about students’ strengths in our subjects using our professional judgement”.

“I taught for four years in Liverpool and, in terms of education, the current Tory government has always been data driven and assessment led,” said Mairead.

“They made changes to the GCSE and A Level curriculums two years ago, making the exams more difficult than they ever have been in the history of each course.

“Why they have decided to further punish our young people in the midst of a global pandemic is truly baffling. I wish I had an answer, but simply don’t.”

Offering advice she said:  “For students who aren’t happy – remember grades and numbers don’t define you as a person or your worth. However, please do shout out and complain about how you’ve been treated. You deserve fairer treatment than this.

“Luckily I’ve a niece who received results today and she gained entry to the course she wanted. So it’s not all doom and gloom, but I feel for the many for whom this is not the case.”

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