Post-primary education changes announced

NIO Minister with responsibility for Education, Angela Smith, has announced the proposed changes to the post-primary education system, more information at the Department of Education website, and detailed in the draft legislation here[pdf file] – draft legislation that makes the supposed consultation period somewhat redundant. There’s also a Ministerial annoucment booklet[pdf file] They are sweeping proposals, but I’ll focus on the most controversial – the new selection procedure to replace the 11 plus. From the Department of Eductaion statement

Academic selection will end with the last Transfer Tests held in autumn 2008. Future transfer arrangements will be based on informed parental and pupil choice. Parents will have a range of valuable information to help them make informed choices, including a Pupil Profile which will provide a fuller picture of a child’s aptitudes, interests and needs. Parents will choose from a range of schools which could include:

– schools with an academic style of curriculum or a vocational style;
– a mixture of both; or
– a specialist approach.

The specialist approach has not yet reached the Pilot stage, btw, and the shortlist for that Pilot Scheme, due to run for 4 years does not afford the same level of choice across Northern Ireland.

The post-primary schools, on the other hand, are expected to use a completely different set of criteria when it comes to selecting pupils.. not exactly joined up thinking – from the Minister’s press release.

The new admissions arrangements will come into effect from 2009. There will be a menu of criteria for schools to choose from, and sufficient flexibility to take account of different circumstances, for example, schools and pupils in urban and rural areas. The main elements of the menu will be:

– siblings currently at the school;
– a range of community/geographical criteria – feeder primary schools, parish, child-centred catchment and school-centred catchment; and
– tie-breakers – to be used only where other criteria are not capable of allocating places to remaining applicants. Random selection or measured distance from the school will both be included in the menu.

As the Ministerial announcement booklet points out, Page 10 of 16 –

The use of community/geographical criteria are likely to impact on the pattern of admissions. The details of these – and the other criteria – will be set out in regulations and we will be consulting on this in detail at a later stage. In preparing the regulations in relation to the community/geographical criteria, the guiding principles will be:
• to retain as much flexibility as possible, so that schools can reflect their local circumstances; and
• to ensure that the combined effect of the criteria does not result in postcode selection or social exclusion, and that it does not
disadvantage pupils living in particular areas e.g. rural areas or pupils attending feeder primary schools that are not given an appropriate
degree of priority for admission.

How exactly that postcode selection will be prevented remains to be seen.. I’m not aware that it’s an issue that has been successfully tackled anywhere else and the issue of demand for primary school places, in those feeder schools, driving up house prices in the catchment area for the more popular post-primary schools does not seem to have been factored in either.

But one thing puzzles me more than any other. The Minister claims that the Pupil Profiles [which will provide a fuller picture of a child’s aptitudes, interests and needs] are to be used by parents in consultation with primary schools to select the appropriate post-primary school.. however, in keeping with the mantra of ‘no academic selection’, the post-primary schools are specifically prevented from using those same Pupil Profiles to select pupils.. which makes that process, and the profiles, rather less useful than it could, and should, be.

Update I should have added the relevant quote relating to preventing post-primary schools from using the Pupil Profiles to select pupils – from Page 6 [or p8 of 16] of the Booklet

Each year, teachers will complete a Pupil Profile for each of theirpupils, based on pupils’ work over the year – in a similar way as they do now with pupils’ annual reports. During the year, teachers will be able to use different assessment methods, including some computerbased tasks, to inform and support their professional judgement. These will include the key areas of literacy and numeracy. These
assessment tasks can also help teachers to identify high and low levels of performance and to tailor their teaching to individual pupils’
The Pupil Profile will not be used to select pupils for post-primary schools. The draft Education Order we are publishing today will prevent academic selection – in any form – after the 2008 Transfer Tests.[emphasis added]

  • cynical

    “The use of community/geographical criteria are likely to impact on the pattern of admissions. The details of these – and the other criteria – will be set out in regulations and we will be consulting on this in detail at a later stage.”

    selection by postcode eh? Because thats so much fairer than academic selection?!?!?!

  • slug

    The middle class will be ok: fee paying status for most of the Voluntary Grammars HERE WE COME.

  • willis

    Two aspects of the detail may be worthy of further investigation.

    The first is the Pupil Profile, which we will be introducing for all pupils
    over the next 5 years. It will provide a range of information about a
    pupil’s progress and capabilities throughout their education. It will help
    pupils and parents make choices and it will help teachers to plan their
    teaching for individual pupils.
    • CCEA has been developing, testing and refining the Pupil Profile over
    the last two years. The pilot work has, so far, received a positive
    reaction from parents.
    • Further testing and development will continue this year and we will
    involve more parents and schools in this process. Our key aim is to
    ensure that pupils, parents and teachers have confidence in the Pupil

    (Page 6 of announcement booklet)

    Anyone know anything about these pilots?


    Up to age 14, all pupils will have studied a broad and general curriculum.
    Age 14 will be a key decision point for pupils, when they will begin two-year
    examination courses. Pupils will choose from a range of courses to meet their future career plans and interests. The Department of Education and
    the Department for Employment and Learning are working together to
    ensure that pupils will be supported with high quality careers advice and
    guidance within the school, and with independent advice and guidance from
    the Careers Service.
    ■ Pupils should be able to see the range of different routes leading to different
    careers. People are familiar with the ‘A’ level route to higher education, but
    we need to show young people other routes, for example through modern
    apprenticeships or foundation degrees. Some examples of different routes
    are included at the end of the statement.

    Is this a final triumph for the Dixon Plan?

  • Alan

    Dixon victory – possibly, but who cares, as Dixon was rendered pointless by kids traveling to Grammars without the area.

    Postcode selection is already here – for instance one school provides up to one quarter of entrants to Methodist College on an average year, and it’s not Fullerton.

    This, like all changes will take time to bed in, but it is the right thing to do at the right time.

    The Grammar lobby speaking to the NI Affairs Committee last week were all over the place, suggesting that we introduce a computer software based academic selection system and that we start to close Grammars in order to maintain academic standards and keep out the middle classes ! Oh . . . and that there was no stigma to failing the 11+ before the new curriculum came in in 1989 – really !

    It is time to bite the bullet and work this system for the sake of our children. If we need to focus sdditional funding on exceptionally bright children, then let’s do it. But don’t forget, some of the next 11+ cohort will be heading to the private tutors’ already

  • In reponse to:
    “If we need to focus sdditional funding on exceptionally bright children, then let’s do it.”

    Selection is only ok as long as the less able get more resources, there should be less funding for exceptionally bright children, surely given time to themselves they can both:

    1/Club together with other exceptionally bright children (The Internet has not gone away you know)
    2/Use their intelligence to aid children who do not get it, spreading their intellectual capital around and gaining social capital.

    I know someone who’s education in Eastern Europe was based on the practice of mixing the able and less able in order to, obviously, raise the average.

  • Elvis Parker

    New Labour surpass themselves with their contempt for the wishes of the people of NI.
    We are merely trotting down the road every sane educationalist has long abandoned

  • Cahal

    “New Labour surpass themselves with their contempt for the wishes of the people of NI”

    Not exactly a vote losing tactic for them is it?

  • willis

    Thanks Alan

    I don’t know if I found the same things as you in Hansard, and it is a heavy read, but worth it.

  • slug

    Methody can easily go private – they have the reputation to charge fees. I’d say most of the Voluntaries could survive as private schools although possibly not all. It depends a bit on how new system can be “got around”.

  • Maeve

    I’m not sure if things have changed much over the past few years but when I was a primary school governor I had research quoted to me stating that economically Northern Ireland could only sustain one independent school which would have to be in Belfast. Methody was mentioned as the obvious candidate.

    The grammar school with which I’m most familiar has 22% of its students on free school meals and 50% of its sixth-form eligible for some level of EMA.

  • Animus

    Parents pay fees to Methody at present, I think around £500 per year. It is not the same as private fees, admittedly, but £500 is out of the reach of many families.

  • willowfield

    The pupil profile won’t be used to select pupils for grammar schools. What’s the point in it, then? Like, parents are really going to decide not to apply to send their kid to Methody because the pupil profile says they’d be better off at Balmoral High.

    Selection by postcode instead of by exam.

    Great. Really fair, that.

  • dev32

    Interesting debate on the rights and wrongs of academic selection. The reality is this, do away with the 11plus and the higher earners will self-select. Take a trip to Scotland or England to witness the effects of “fair” schooling. An elitist private education system with school fees rising well above the rate of inflation coupled with house price selection for those who persist in the state sector. Academic selection substituted for economic selection. A fair outcome for all?

  • G.M.C.

    It does seem an awful lot more promising than the simple comprehensive system. Especially considering that as perhaps was inevitable after the wise dismantling of the Eleven Plus, the government would most likely cease to provide fees to very large numbers of students for private school education.

    I’ve highlighted anyway before on this site how some private schools anyway have easily been able to offer pretty low level education wihthout change because they are all cottoned up, and hidden up hills with the money for each hard working and intelligent pupil ready for each year until it is to stop. The only solution which makes sense, hence, would be to put private limited companies firmly in the marketplace with other private limited companies where competition exists. Some have been hiding from this.

    The new system is very, very different, and I can easily see, in its student centredness and potential adaptability to individual wants, really very promising. (I am still taking it in, some of it is quite difficult being so fresh.) Add to this, one supposes, some partial scholarships for partial education at private schools, as well, and the result should be that a resultant system would be likely to meet the needs of most students.

    It is quite exciting.

  • Alan

    I heard recently that schools that turn private after being part of the public system will have to repay up to 3/4 of the cost of their establishment. Seems reasonable considering the millions of public investment each year since 1948. Does anyone have any detail on this?

    Apparently Campbell are the only school that has anticipated this and is small enough to switch. To my mind, however, private schooling is not definitively academic, but, rather, comprehensive schooling for the well heeled. So what are the grammar lobby doing arguing for privatisation?

  • willis


    The biggest problem is that the new system requires a fresh start from everyone involved. I have not seen any evidence about the effectiveness of pupil profiles. That system might work, but where? I would have thought if the Minister thought it would have helped her case she would have been telling everyone.

  • G.M.C.

    Regarding pupil profiles, willis, the system to come, beyond the fact of its apparent distance of vision which I am taking time in taking in, seems suggestive that the pupil profiles are for individual centred schooling to begin at the new school. It seems final that the practice of selecting for new schools will not be able to include these at all. What does this leave? I suppose the relevance of the profiles this does include measures which equate or are akin in part at least to “streaming”, and that individual orientated teaching and learning facility with the aid of such profiles may extend beyond this. It seems to indicate a starting point at least for new schools, as well as a solid apprecation of how a pupil has performed when there are no standards for selection.

    No-one, I believe, is really against the inclusion of streaming to some effect where there is good provision for manouverability and just reward and proper incentives.

    It is a fresh start for every school. For those schools staying private and moving firmly to market-place independent schools taking customers rather than semi-customers, semi-bewildered guests who are apt to just stay, the only necessary change would be in the recognition of this. Perhaps this can also be a phenomenon which just occurs.

    Many such schools could take advantage of this line of timeliness and such natural alteration in their existence by examining themselves and asking what it is to be such an independent, economic product offering school today, and asking who they are and who they might be. I expect naturally this would happen, though schools may be all clued up already in these respects. Really there are no absolute new elements which come with the new intake.

    Perhaps the size of these schools will decrease noticeably, perhaps at the beginning where novelty and optimism may attract relatively affluent and intelligent primary school leavers and their parents however things continue. Or perhaps this same phenomenon would occur after some time, if the normal system after a while attracts many pupils who would naturally consider private education. These are two possible situations within, made from guesswork. It is of course conceivable that it may not be possible to make any real remotely general conclusions from real data in the years to come, and possibly even any conclusions from sizable numbers. As things move to become student specific as well as area specific, both the imagined benefit of such statistical tasks and also their conceived distraction if not also pointlessness might be well appreciated.

    The other possibility regarding subscription to independent schools and their changing sizes is that we may become in time “a reasonably aspiring” society, “going private” often. I apologise in part for these in part inappropriate descriptions though we read descriptions like them in the newspapers a lot. Certainly, the attractiveness of the freely provided system to come suggests normal and healthy aspiration in itself, independent schools aside, at a crucial time in the development of this region.

    In any case, the old and rather discrepant two tier system for this country vanishing now, that there is to be a social move seems to me if undesirable per se in itself as an aim, to a good extent inevitable. This is how societies manifest themselves all over the world.

    I like to think, guessing into the future, that the choice would limit the effect of such an assumption, with the kind of choice than there seems now to exist in randomn parts of England, and further choice than this. There is the consideration that maybe our society won’t be as limiting or as blinkered by the new system for all. Free movement between types of schools may hence become a more popular phenomenon here than elsewhere. This in itself surely can be a healthy ideal.

    I don’t understand the point about the place for pupil profiles, willis, unless it just wasn’t clear that they are in fact to be used by the new schools, but only after selection. Personally I don’t understand what any fuss could be about this element, as it is what teachers do for school leavers anyway. The system isn’t advanced in the transferral procedure nor, does it suggest, it seems, that this needs to be more advanced.

  • G.M.C.

    If you think you have seen this or a similar reply before, proposals amounting to or at least very similar to the new changes have been proposed a number times before the recent final decision.

    Regarding repeated items and replies, see here (reply number 10, second half):