Unions are wrong to penalise pupils
Outside of healthcare, education is probably the most important service that government delivers. Yet it is a sector which is bedevilled by problems. Now another has emerged because of industrial action by three of the main teaching unions who are refusing to cooperate on important assessment tests to measure pupils' numeracy and literacy skills in advance of GCSEs.
Given that 40% of post-primary pupils don't reach the required level on these skills by the age of 16, the assessment tests are obviously of significant value in giving advance warning of potential problems.
These are the only tests – outside of classroom examinations – which evaluate pupils' performance from starting secondary level education until they sit GCSEs. But instead of having a valuable pointer on how pupils are coping with two of the essential life skills, the situation is a shambles with one in four post-primary schools either not returning assessment results or sending through incomplete results.
It is shameful that the teachers' unions are hindering assessment of pupils through industrial action. No matter how they try to excuse their behaviour or to downgrade the importance of the assessments, they have a legal obligation to carry out this task and are not doing it in some instances. Some pupils are being assessed while others aren't.
The response from the Department of Education is weak. Having made it a legal obligation for schools to return assessment results, the department could not even confirm if it considered failure to do so as breaking the law or if it was pursuing schools who had not returned results. Education Minister John O'Dowd said he was disappointed by the industrial action.
A sterner response would have been more appropriate. The unions should have found another way to voice their disquiet over the assessment tests instead of potentially penalising pupils.