Pupil assessments missing because of teachers' dispute
Teachers have been accused of failing hundreds of pupils and parents after it emerged that a quarter of Northern Ireland's post-primary schools did not submit the results of crucial assessments to a leading exams body.
Teachers in an estimated 32 post-primary schools have refused to send the results of their pupils' Key Stage 3 numeracy and literacy assessments because of ongoing industrial action.
Meanwhile, teachers in another 30 post-primary schools have returned incomplete Key Stage 3 results to the Council for the Curriculum Examinations & Assessment (CCEA) – data which cannot be used to form a clear picture of pupils' performance in 2012-13.
All post-primary schools here had until March 15 to return their pupils' Key Stage 3 results to CCEA – the body which runs the assessment process on behalf of the Department of Education.
That means that one in four post-primary schools in Northern Ireland either did not return the crucial results or returned incomplete results.
Schools are legally obliged to carry out the teacher-based formal assessments and return the results to the department.
Key Stage 3 assessments measure pupils' numeracy and literacy skills through teacher assessments of pupils' classroom work in Year 10 (pupils aged 14) .
The assessments are used as a crucial measuring stick of how the post-primary education system is delivering for pupils aged 14 – two years before they sit GCSE English and maths.
Earlier this year, a Stormont report found that 40% of pupils do not reach the expected standard in literacy and numeracy by the time they turn 16.
Key Stage 3 assessments are also the only indication of how a pupil will perform in a formal assessment (outside of class tests) over the five years between Key Stage 2 assessments (taken by pupils aged 11) and GCSEs.
North Antrim DUP Mervyn Storey (left), who chairs the Assembly's education committee, said pupils would be disadvantaged without the results.
"I do not think it's a very acceptable situation. We are having to make decisions on the basis of partial information," he said.
But he laid the blame with the department, which he said is ultimately responsible for ensuring all results are received.
CCEA estimates that 87% of Northern Ireland's schools submitted pupils' Key Stage 3 results.
"But some of these were incomplete, due to industrial action," a spokeswoman confirmed.
She said: "75% of schools sent us complete pupil returns.
"Based on the previous two years returns (2010-11 and 2011-12), we estimate that we have received 75-80% of pupil returns."
It is understood incomplete results refer to a school where some of the teachers returned their pupils' Key Stage 3 results but other teachers who belong to a union involved in industrial action over the controversial assessments refused to submit results.
The department could not confirm if it will be chasing schools who have not returned Key Stage 3 results or whether those that have failed to do so have effectively broken the law.
The Education Minister said he remains disappointed.
"The assessment arrangements are statutory, however I appreciate that teachers, principals and boards of governors felt that, because of the industrial action, they were unable to fulfil these statutory duties," John O'Dowd said, pointing to ongoing consultation with teachers and unions.
Northern Ireland's largest unions, NASUWT, UTU and INTO, are all involved in the action.
"No child will be left disadvantaged by this," Avril Hall Callaghan, general secretary of the UTU, Northern Ireland's biggest locally-based union, said.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Q What are Key Stage 3 assessments?
A Key Stage 3 Assessments – or Communication and Using Mathematics as they are formally known – are based on teacher assessment of pupils' classroom work in numeracy and literacy skills. Unlike their predecessors, these assessments are not sit-down tests. But they have a more robust level of moderation, according to CCEA which runs the Key Stage 3 assessment process on behalf of the Department of Education. In Key Stage 3, CCEA says the skills assessed are "essential for life, work and further and higher education".
Q Do pupils get a result from Key Stage 3 assessments?
A Yes, pupils get a level. The expected level for pupils at the end of Key Stage 3 is level 5. But critics of the assessments claim the levels mean nothing to pupils and parents and are little more than jargon. They claim internal school tests are much more effective.
Q What is the industrial action all about?
A Teaching union NASUWT, which has around 12,500 members in Northern Ireland, has been involved in industrial action in relation to Key Stage 3 assessments since September last year. Unions Into (Irish National Teachers' Organisation) and UTU (Ulster Teachers Union) joined the industrial action this year. The unions advised their members not to return their pupils' Key Stage results. Union chiefs described the assessments as flawed and claim the results are of no value.