As we approach the summer months, many students across Northern Ireland might be looking forward to a well-deserved break from school, college or university. That said, many will still be unsure about what the 2021/2022 term has in store for them and when things will begin to return to some sort of normal.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has been unpredictable, and there could still be changes to the rules in the future, the government have begun to set out a roadmap for the education system next year.
Below, we’re going to take a look at what students of all ages across Northern Ireland can expect from the next school year.
Just be aware that this could be subject to change should there be another huge wave or breakthrough related to the pandemic. But as it stands, students can expect:
1. Significantly fewer exams for each subject
Most summer exams were cancelled for the school year 2020/2021 as a result of the pandemic and the disruption that students faced over the last one to two years. However, GCSE, AS and A-Level exams all look set to return in the next educational year.
That being said, the Educational Minister for Northern Ireland has already said that pupils taking those qualifications through the CCEA exams board will sit significantly fewer exams for each subject.
This decision has been made primarily to reduce the stress on students and those whose education has suffered during the pandemic. This also reduces the amount of time spent sitting closely together in exam halls.
2. Cancellation of oral exams
There is one type of exam that will be omitted altogether in the next school year, and that is oral language exams (or oral exams of any kind, for that matter).
This means that pupils taking French, Irish, German, or any other language for their GCSEs, AS-Levels or A-Levels will not be tested on how well they can speak the language.
Instead, students can expect to be examined on listening to, reading and writing the language they are studying.
This is, of course, a direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic and is a precaution being used to mitigate the risks of spreading the virus through oral exams.
3. A difference in how grades are determined
Another thing that GCSE, AS-Level and A-Level students need to prepare for is the different grading systems. In lots of cases between 2020 and 2021, students were given their predicted grades rather than having to sit exams.
Although exams are returning, because of the disruption to their education up to this point, AS-Level grades calculated by schools and received by pupils in the summer of 2021 will not count towards their A-level grades in 2022.
Again, this can help to reduce the stress for students who may have had a particularly stressful time adjusting over the last year or whose given grades might not have been as high as they’d like.
4. A return to campus
As we said above, all new rules and regulations could still change as the pandemic does. However, plans are already being put in place to welcome students back to campus, in particular, university students that so far have not been able to return to lectures.
In some cases, these lectures may be reduced with some of the learning still taking place online. Plus, practical subjects that require face-to-face learning will get priority over time on campus as online learning can be almost impossible for students.
So, if you’ve been at home over the last year eagerly waiting to find out if you can pack your bags and ship off to university in September, right now, it’s looking like this is going to be possible! With a return to campus looking pretty good for the 2021/2022 term.
5. The chance to apply for COVID-19 disruption payments
For some students, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t just on their learning, with many also struggling financially. For those from lower-income households, there is some good news.
As we move into the next school year, you can expect to be given the chance to apply for additional COVID disruption payments, with as many as 9,000 students across the nation eligible for this extra support.
And this figure is on top of the £500 COVID-19 bursary that over 40,000 students have already received earlier this year.
6. The possibility of being offered the COVID-19 vaccine
As the vaccine rollout continues across Northern Ireland, it’s likely that lots of university students (those aged over 18) will have already been given or offered their COVID-19 vaccination. This is likely to be an important step for those hoping to move into university halls and housing, as well as those returning to campus.
But as we move into the new school year, we are likely to see more and more younger students being offered the vaccine as well, whether that is done through schools or privately.
So hopefully, by the time the 2021/2022 school term is up, vaccines will be more readily available to younger pupils to help reduce the risk of spreading the virus in schools.
7. A step towards normality but not a complete transformation
And finally, as we resume some of our ‘normal’ behaviour once again, it can be too easy to get complacent. However, just because schools have reopened, exams are back and university students can return to campus, it doesn’t mean we are out of the woods yet.
Students of all ages must expect there to still be lots of COVID-19 rules and regulations in place, even as we move into 2022.
This means that masks, social distancing, isolating, regular hand washing and other important rules we’ve become so familiar with, will still apply in a lot of cases and can be re-implemented at any time.
Some schools may also continue using lateral flow tests where required.