Education Minister, John O’Dowd, discussed the 2014-15 GCSE and A-level results during today’s Question Time. The Minister described the results as “a very strong performance by pupils here”. At GCSE level, grades A-C increased to 78.7% and at A-level 83% of entries achieved grades A* to C. Mr O’Dowd is particularly pleased at the increased performance of young men at GCSE level and the upward trend in the proportion of pupils studying STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths). The Minister also added that, while results are encouraging, “we cannot become complacent. There remains unacceptable achievement gaps at all levels in our system, and I intend to do all that I can to tackle them.” When Sandra Overend MLA expressed concern about the differing education systems in the different legislations in Britain and the portability of Northern Irish qualifications, Mr O’Dowd remained positive in affirming “many universities in Britain take students from across the globe, and they are perfectly capable of comparing international exams with their local exams. So, I have no concerns in relation to ensuring that our young people will have portable, respected qualifications moving forward. ”
John Dallat MLA then asked the Minister what action he is taking to address the worrying levels of teacher absences through stress. Mr O’Dowd acknowledged that the level of absences through stress is higher than he would like to see and an issue that he takes extremely seriously, working with employing authorities and the teaching unions to tackle the issue. Actions include a strategy for teacher health and well-being; a policy statement on tackling violence and abuse against teachers; a workload agreement; a teacher attendance procedure, which includes a new provision for the recording of incidences of work-related stress; a flexible working scheme; a job-share scheme; a career-break scheme; a temporary variation of contract; and a policy statement on planning, preparation and assessment time. The Minister has also endorsed the reinvigoration of the teachers' health and well-being working group, where work-related stress absence is the prime issue.
During Question Time the Minister also answered questions on free school meals, school capacity, minor works schemes and attendance costs. In the period for topical questions Mr O’Dowd also answered queries on shared and integrated education, professional development of teachers and technology investment in schools.