An IT glitch that led to the suspension of the new £2.5m computer-based assessments in primary schools has finally been identified almost two months after the first problems were reported, it can be revealed.
A major investigation ordered by Education Minister John O’Dowd has discovered the Northern Ireland Literacy Assessment (NILA) is incompatible with the IT system (C2K) used in schools.
It has taken experts seven weeks — the same amount time as the Ulster Bank crisis — to get to the bottom of the fault and put interim measures in place to remedy the technical difficulties, including screens freezing, faced by more than 200 schools and thousands of Year 4 to 7 pupils.
A department spokesman said: “CCEA and C2K, working with the technical suppliers involved, identified a problem in the interface between the literacy assessment and the network. Whilst
the problem has been addressed, work is continuing to identify the root cause, given the fact no issues have been found with either the network or the individual assessment packages themselves.”
The minister last week advised the 800 primary schools to resume testing — although he did not reveal the cause of the problem — and so far around 76,000 pupils (86%) have completed Nila and the Northern Ireland Numeracy Assessment (NINA).
Those outstanding schools — just under a quarter — have until Christmas to carry out the computer-based assessments, which are a statutory requirement.
However, Stormont's education committee has called on the department to “bin” the assessments, which have been criticised by the teaching profession.
Danny Kinahan, UUP education spokesman said: “No one is listening to the teachers. We are all getting the same message, Nina and Nila do not do what they were meant to do.”
Committee chairman Mervyn Storey said: “There needs to be a root and branch look at this... I do think we have got it right.”
SDLP education spokesman Sean Rogers, a former principal, said: “This system is actually damaging our pupils... this actually shatters them.”
David Hughes from the department admitted schools will have to be cautious with the findings.
The NILA and the NINA are computer assessments undertaken by pupils in Years 4 to 7. They are a statutory requirement and every pupil must undertake them in the autumn term. However, schools and parents will have to wait until January — until all schools have completed the tests — before they receive results.