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The assembly was not due to return from summer recess until 7 September

The Stormont Assembly will meet on Tuesday to discuss the ongoing dispute over exam results in Northern Ireland.

The SDLP had proposed the move via a recall motion, which needed at least 30 signatures in order to be successful.

It was supported by members of all parties in the assembly apart from the DUP, which holds the education brief in the executive.

In a letter to MLAs on Monday, Speaker Alex Maskey confirmed they will meet ahead of the end of the summer recess.

The SDLP had proposed the meeting take place in order for assembly members (MLAs) to put on record their concerns about how results for A-levels had been determined by the exam board, CCEA.

The parties will debate a motion that calls on Education Minister Peter Weir to “award students the highest of their AS, teacher-predicted or CCEA grade for A-levels, AS-levels and GCSEs due to exceptional Covid-19 circumstances”.

However, it will not be binding and cannot compel the minister to act.

Calls for A-level u-turn

While the motion refers to concerns about GCSE results, since it was proposed, the Department of Education has done a u-turn over how GCSE results in Northern Ireland will be determined.

For students due to receive these grades on Thursday, their marks will now be solely based on predictions provided by teachers.

That is instead of using the process of standardisation, which aims to prevent a situation where a school could give all of its pupils unrealistically high marks.

The minister said he had taken the decision because the exam board did not have “system-level prior performance data for this group of young people”.

However, some political parties are still urging the minister to follow suit and change the process regarding how A-level and AS-level students received their results last week, which saw more than a third of results for students in Northern Ireland downgraded as a result of the criteria used this year.

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Education Minister Peter Weir has been called on to take action over grades

Following the cancellation of exams in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, CCEA was instructed by Mr Weir to ensure the calculated results in 2020 were broadly in line with performance in recent years.

CCEA asked teachers to give a predicted grade for their pupils and then rank them in order within their class.

It then used other data to standardise the results. For A-levels, the model used pupils’ AS-level results and resit data.

According to CCEA, in 37% of cases this year teachers were overly optimistic in their prediction, affecting about 11,000 grades.

In about 5% of tests, teachers underestimated the result, meaning that about 1,500 grades rose as a result of standardisation.

CCEA said if teacher judgement had been used on its own, results would have risen “considerably”.

‘Duty to put this right’

Mr Weir has insisted that a “robust” appeals system is the best way for A and AS-level students to resolve their issues with grades.

By Sunday night, representatives from all parties had signed the SDLP motion, representing Sinn Féin, the Ulster Unionists, Alliance, People Before Profit, the Green Party, Traditional Unionist Voice and independent MLAs Claire Sugden, Trevor Lunn and Jim Wells, who no longer holds the DUP whip.

The wording of the SDLP’s initial motion was amended in order to gain the support of more political parties in the assembly.

The party’s education spokesperson, Daniel McCrossan, told BBC News NI that Tuesday’s debate was “important”.

“It will ensure that the minister is clear of each party’s position in the chamber,” he said.

“He has a duty to put this right and not make young people pay the price for a system that is flawed.

“I would like the minister to budge, but if he does not then there will be questions about his future.”

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