Published Tuesday, 11 March 2014
The education minister's decisions come after an extensive review. (© Getty)
A review of the education system last year found "no case" to replace the GCSE and A-Level systems, but did make 49 recommendations, all of which have now been accepted by the Sinn Féin minister.
Among the key plans for the future is the decision to continue to allow schools to deliver courses in either linear or modular form - despite that choice being scrapped in England and Wales.
"I do not intend to restrict schools here to qualifications offered by CCEA or WJEC," Mr O'Dowd said.
"Schools will continue to be free to choose exam specifications from other awarding organisations, provided those organisations can satisfy us that they meet the requirements of our curriculum.
"The one exception to this will be qualifications in English at GCSE which will only be considered valid if they include, as an integral part of the award, the assessment of speaking and listening."
The education minister has also decided that there will be no move in Northern Ireland towards the grading bands 1-9 system proposed in England, with the current A*-G system being retained.
"Nevertheless, I intend to keep this under review to ensure that no pupil is disadvantaged," Mr O'Dowd added.
Concerns have previously been raised about the potential impact of qualifications achieved in Northern Ireland appearing to differ from those gained in England and Wales, especially when it comes to university applications.
My decisions are based on extensive work and consultation and represent a direction of travel that is in the best interests of our children and young people.
Education Minister John O'Dowd
In the primary sector, Computer Based Assessment will continue at the start of the academic year - but uptake by schools will remain voluntary in the short-term.
According to Mr O'Dowd, the benefits of such a system have been noted in the review by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
But he added: "Until I am absolutely satisfied that the system works for schools, I will not be 'specifying' the current NILA and NINA tools. In other words, schools will not be legally obliged to use them.
"However I do hope that they will choose voluntarily to use them - and to continue to share their experiences so that CCEA, C2k and others can continually improve the service they offer to schools."
On assessment at the end of Key Stages 1 to 3, the education minister called for further engagement between officials, teachers and teaching unions "within the context of agreed Levels of Progression".
He therefore asked that unions would reconsider industrial action in opposition to what he called "assessment arrangements that have been acknowledged at an international level as being 'sound and congruent with European practice'."
The minister has further asked officials from his department to look at more ways to measure the performances of school and the education system as a whole - beyond just exam results.
"The challenge of measuring the wider value of schooling is one that is being grappled with in many countries - and with varying degrees of success," Mr O'Dowd said.
"However, we have already shown ourselves to be capable of coming up with approaches to assessment and school improvement that are among the best in the world and I think we are up to that challenge."
© UTV News