Belfast Telegraph

Another teaching union set to join industrial action over assessments

Anna Maguire

A union which represents thousands of teachers and lecturers is set to join industrial action in a row over controversial pupil assessments.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) – with 3,000-plus members here – will start balloting schools next month over the prospect of non co-operation with Key Stage 3 assessments.

Union's chiefs say if the vote goes their way they expect industrial action to start in October.

It would mean teachers in post-primary schools refusing to submit their pupils' Key Stage 3 results to CCEA (the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessments), which runs the assessment process on behalf of the Department of Education.

Teachers have been accused of failing hundreds of pupils after the Belfast Telegraph revealed that a quarter of Northern Ireland's post-primary schools failed to submit the results of the Key Stage 3 assessments this year because of the ongoing industrial action.

An estimated 13% of schools did not send pupils' Key Stage 3 results.

West Tyrone Sinn Fein MLA Michaela Boyle (right), who sits on the Assembly's education committee, said: "If schools are not returning their results... they are failing the system; surely it's up to everyone involved."

That was refuted by ATL, which described the contentious assessments as "anti educational" and not fit for purpose.

ATL will join Northern Ireland's largest unions, NASUWT, UTU and INTO which, with a combined membership of around 25,500, are all currently involved in industrial action over the assessments.

"We will start the new term undertaking school-by-school ballots for industrial action," Mark Langhammer, director of ATL Northern Ireland revealed.

"It will be a rolling ballot of schools.

"We expect (members to vote for) industrial action. It could be as soon as October.

"CCEA and the Department of Education are just not getting it."

The body, which describes itself as a "traditionally moderate and reflective association", claims the Key Stage 3 assessments drive forward a "one-size-fits-all, target culture" which pressurises teachers into "teaching to the assessment".

"Pupils are in danger of being turned off by too much drill and a lack of creativity in education," Mr Langhammer said. The Key Stage 3 assessments have been our biggest caseload for four or five months – bigger than redundancies and pensions," he added.

"We have had teachers on the phone in tears, at the end of their tether.

"They could not physically do the workload (associated with Key Stage 3 assessments) with everything else as well. These are professionals."

He claimed the "ultra-bureaucratic" assessments – which measure pupils' numeracy and literacy skills two years before their GCSEs – have lost credibility.

"I have been told by senior school inspectors that it (Key Stage 3 assessments) is of limited value to them. They do not rate it," he said.

The Department of Education did not respond.

BACKGROUND

Key Stage 3 assessments are based on teacher assessment of pupils' classroom work in numeracy and literacy skills in Year 10 (third form). The assessments are not sit-down tests. Schools are legally obliged to carry out the teacher-based formal assessments and return the results to the department, under legislation introduced by Education Minister John O'Dowd on January 10.

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