Northern Ireland to review contentious key stage 3 assessments

Written by: Simon Doyle | Published:

Contentious secondary school assessments that Northern Ireland teachers say have no value are to be reviewed.

Education minister Peter Weir says his officials are to take forward an examination of key stage 3 statutory assessment arrangements.

Post-primary schools must assess and report on communication, using mathematics and using ICT. They also should give insight into how well pupils are progressing in thinking skills and personal capabilities.

Exams chiefs say assessment is “the cornerstone of good learning and teaching” and can give a deeper appreciation of what pupils know and understand. However, teachers have been boycotting the assessments for eight years. They maintain they are “ultra-bureaucratic” and get in the way of learning.

In 2018/19, approximately 16 per cent of post-primary schools completed the assessments, down from 32 per cent the previous year. No-one, therefore, has any real idea of how well, or otherwise, secondary pupils are performing at key stage 3.

Gerry Murphy of the Irish National Teachers Association says that it is not just academic progress that is important: “Social skills, the so-called soft skills are just as important yet these are not currently measured. We do them a disservice by assessing their worth on their academic ability alone.

“I am not advocating we measure them but we need to find a mechanism which allows us to determine how our children and young people are developing as people.”

Mr Weir says the current position on implementing statutory assessments in many schools is concerning: “There have been significant challenges to their implementation with teaching unions including industrial action in respect of assessment arrangements, as part of the wider dispute linked to changes to pensions, pay, workload and conditions of service.

“My officials will be taking forward a review of key stage assessment arrangements as part of the Transformation Programme, which will review aspects of the local education system, identifying where improvements can be made and delivering a managed programme of transformation for the benefit of children and young people.”


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