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]

reasons to be cheerful