Northern Ireland Assembly Executive forced into schools exams retreat 

Sometimes the political representatives of the capitalist class, such as the Assembly, overstep the mark in a clumsy and stupid manner that is so obviously unjust that their actions threaten not only to fully reveal the true class structure of society but even provoke the possibility of an open rebellion of working class people. The truly brutal decision to openly discriminate against working class young people in the allocation of A Level/AS Level and GCSE results across Scotland, England and Northern Ireland was just such a move.

‘A’ Levels are the exams young people have to take to decide their suitability for a university education.  In normal times A Levels are decided by tests at the end of the school year. This year, due to the Covid-19 closure of schools, the allocation of results could not be based on final exams. Naturally students, their parents and teachers expected the decision to be based on a school assessment of previous work and likely exam outcomes. Instead the decision was taken out of the hands of educators and the exam results for schools in working class areas were marked down and those for elite schools marked up.

A second set of exams results, GCSEs, are due to be announced on Thursday.  GCSEs are the stepping stone to A Levels. They are universally taken by school pupils at the age of 16 and effect a much wider layer of the population than A Levels. The same process of end of year exams is the normal approach to deciding results. But just like the A Levels Covid-19 made this impossible this year so the government decided to impose their anti-working class selection process instead.

The announcement of the A Level results and the impending GCSE results has provoked a wave of visceral anger in society. Parents seeing their hopes and dreams for their children shattered, and young people receiving a sharp lesson in the nature of a society run in the interests of the ruling class, has unleashed real explosive anger. Social media and street protests have begun to break out. The politicians are now retreating as they try to head off an explosion in society. The first government to retreat was the SNP in Scotland but now the NI Assembly has been forced to follow suit.

The NI Assembly Minister for Education has announced that he is abandoning his previous position and has stated that children taking GCSEs ‘will now receive results based solely on the estimates provided by schools and colleges’. Even with this massive concession there is no guarantee that the Assembly parties have the situation under control.

The issue of A Levels and AS Levels grades remains unresolved and the fundamentally anti working-class bias of the education system is exposed. Young people from working class communities do not have the same access to facilities and a learning environment as the children of wealthy families.  In ordinary times these inequalities are carefully concealed behind a smoke screen of fairness, but these are extraordinary times and the representatives of capitalism are no longer as sure footed as they were.  When working class people already labour under the burden of a world pandemic, that sits cheek by jowl with years of grinding austerity, then these acts of open and brutal class bias can be too much to bear.

Fight for

  • Justice for A Level and AS Level students;
  • End anti working-class bias in the education system;
  • Scrapping of elite schools for the rich;
  • Full and equal funding for all schools;
  • University education or alternative third level education and training available for all who wish to avail of it;
  • Equal access to third level education by abolishing all fees and charges;
  • A democratic education system under the control of students, parents, educators and education trade unions.

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