1989 has a lot to answer for – it was the year the Berlin Wall collapsed, China had its famous Tiananmen Square protests, and, of course, it was the start of Advanced Subsidiary, or AS Levels.

At the time, the theory behind it was that pupils would study half an A-Level but over two years, ordinarily in a subject they wouldn’t be doing for A-Level.

This way, they could broaden their curriculum and British educational theorists could start to make peace with the world trend of doing a larger number of subjects for post-16 study – broadly similar to the Irish Leaving Certificate, or Scottish Highers.

This baccalaureate-style system, as it is now known, allows pupils to take more subjects than the contemporaneous model of a detailed study of three subjects at A-Level – a movement, which and at the time, was gaining traction and was seen as a way to introduce some reform into the slightly tired A-Level system – a smoother and less invasive way of starting something entirely new.

After a few fledgling years, the slightly tweaked current AS Level model didn’t start its life until 1999-2000 when it became linked directly to the new modular A-Level.

This system lasted until first teaching 2015, when English boards reverted to the linear system – albeit with a few adjustments.

Up until this point, pupils did AS Levels in Year 13 and said ‘adieu’ to any topic that was examined up to this point; a ‘tick box’ culture that was starting to irk many people.

In Northern Ireland (NI) – and Wales – we opted to stay with this modular system, and just when we were starting to get our heads around coping with these changes, along came our Covid-19 visitor...

Of course, it’s hard to sum up in just in a few sentences why linear A-Levels became popular again, but the primary factors were concerns about coursework honesty, inexorably rising grades, controlled assessment variants, a lack of a holistic teaching approach and university complaints about the then current A Levels not preparing students adequately for tertiary study.

Like everything in life, politics and money played their parts – but that’s for another thesis.

Linear A-Levels mean you do the syllabus, sit the exams and bye-bye – no dip-in, dip-out, shake-it-all-about modules.

In simple terms, English boards do linear A-Levels. In NI, we mostly do CCEA exams and they’re modular, whereas in a linear system, all is examined at the end – the subjects a student starts in Sixth Form are the subjects they get examined in two years later.

There are opportunities to study AS Levels in the linear system, but let’s not muddy the waters too much.

In a modular system, you can resit some of your units or ‘modules’ and build up to your final mark through re-sits and by doing your subject in chunks.

In short, sections of the course are studied individually, and when they’re assessed they’re deposited in the Bank of A-Level.

With CCEA’s modular system, AS Levels total 40 per cent, and A2 – the name given to the second part of the A-Level – 60 per cent.

In summary, schools in NI offer a selection box of qualifications: modular A-Levels, linear A-Levels and BTEC Level 3s, but let’s set the last of these, BTECs, aside for now.

The question on your lips may now be, ‘Why can’t all schools in NI just offer CCEA qualifications?’

For starters, they simply don’t examine all subjects. This includes Media Studies, Photography, Classics and Italian, but there are other good reasons.

Some teachers prefer the structure of their old familiar chosen board; they may have built up resources before they went linear, they may well be familiar with the expectations of the exam board, or they may just see the topics being offered as more appropriate to their students’s needs.

What examination board a school uses for each subject is a professional decision for the individual department to make in conjunction with the school’s senior management.

Speaking from experience, it takes a few years to get used to a new examination board and moving to a new one is not something schools or subject departments take lightly.

Let’s go back to March last year when the world changed forever. The onslaught of the pandemic meant examination boards had to do something as 2020 went down as the year of the algorithm.

Not wishing to be faced with the same criticism, Minister Weir decided that, for 2021, teachers in NI would be responsible for the actual grades.

This decision has meant a massive increase in teacher workload, and was met with a justifiably large groan from staffrooms when it was announced.

The sheer weight of responsibility of ‘getting it right’ for students is causing many teachers sleepless nights and, at least in my lifetime, I’ve never seen this weighty situation as bad for teachers as right now – it’s that serious.

This ripple effect is that many teachers who were on the verge of taking early retirement are now upping sticks and leaving, or else going to a three- or four-day week.

This is going to present its own headaches in the immediate years as schools will have to manage a very real skill shortage in their middle-management tier.

The big news of course are the injuries that were caused by the shrapnel from this educational infantry charge.

For these current summer examinations, AS Levels will not count for anything – de nada!

To quote the Minister’s statement: “A-Level awards in 2022 will be made on the basis of candidates’s performance in their A2 examinations only”. A simple sentence which has profound effects.

Year 13s are everybody’s biggest worry. Through no fault of their own, these students who may have banked the odd subject module in Year 11, and who may or may not have done the ‘11+’, will experience the gut-wrenching feeling of walking into an exam hall for the first time when they’re 18 and about to leave school.

The ironic twist in the tale, of course, is that at least for one year, and thanks to Covid-19, all pupils in NI are effectively doing linear assessments, just with diluted content.