School leaders urge rethink over how students are assessed in Northern Ireland


Secondary school leaders in Northern Ireland, who are urging a radical rethink of how pupils are assessed, are proposing the creation of a new assessment range.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) wants to see new standardised assessments at the end of both primary school and year 11, to benchmark pupils’ progress.

The group has presented its plans to Northern Ireland’s education minister John O’Dowd.

ASCL says post-primary schools need to be better held to account for the success of their pupils. It wants to see a move to an average GCSE point score to shift the emphasis away from the C/D borderline.

The group, which represents leaders of the North’s largest post-primary schools, also says that changes to GCSEs in England will potentially weaken the currency of some subjects in the North.

While the shake-up will only apply to papers set by examinations boards in England, it will affect thousands of pupils from Northern Ireland.

“Changes to examinations in England and Wales have created a dilemma here,” said ASCL Northern Ireland secretary Frank Cassidy.

“Given that both university entrance and school performance will be judged by GCSE results, this raises serious questions as to whether Northern Ireland can avoid going down the same route as England.”

Mr Cassidy adds that existing measures of performance and comparisons in secondary school inspections do not always reflect the true value added to pupils’ attainment by schools.

The quality of education provided by schools, he says, should be evaluated on the breadth of what they do and not just on examination results.

England is proposing a fairer points score system for GCSE outcomes to replace the current five grade A* to C measures, he adds.

The benchmarking of five A* to C grades and seven A* to C (including English and mathematics) at GCSE and the three A* to C at A level, are imprecise tools for school performance comparison, ASCL argues.

Such projections do not consider a school’s intake or the progress made by pupils, it claims.

“School leaders have always been aware of their responsibility to achieve the very best outcomes for all students and an average points score is an improvement on the existing five A* to C measure which caused an over-emphasis on the C/D borderline,” Mr Cassidy said.



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