General Teaching Council Northern Ireland

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Testing Times as new term begins


Testing times as new term begins

3rd September 2007

By Philip Bradfield

PUPILS and teachers across the Province start back at school today amid uncertainty over key planks of education policy, including the future of academic selection.
Problems facing schools on the first day of term include confusion over scrapping of the education boards and hundreds of planned school closures.

Further challenges for the education establishment include the roll-out of a new curriculum, introduction of pupil progress profiles and a substantial broadening of the number of courses which must be offered after Key Stage 4.

The Review of Public Administration and Bain Report require swingeing administration and education staffing cuts, with 600 teachers made redundant in the last three years, according to the teaching union the NASUWT.

And there is further debate over the future of the integrated sector and of Catholic schools, Irish medium, and Irish language schools.
Many of these schools feel threatened by the growing need to slash costs by cutting the number of schools and level of administration.

With arguments developing that the State sector can provide one type of school for all - and meet the needs of all faiths in the process - many believe other schools will have to come up with convincing reasons for their existence.

It was claimed last night that schools are heading into a "massive crisis" in finance, ideology and administration.

Chairman of the Assembly Education Committee Sammy Wilson of the DUP said that problems range from introduction of "modern left- wing teaching methods that focus on play rather than the three Rs", an "excessive" number of education sectors and funding shortages for
individual schools.

"Unfortunately it is the teachers and principals who are having to hold it all together," said the former grammar school teacher of 23 years.
"We are heading into a massive crisis."

"Schools and teachers are facing unprecedented change and in
meetings with unions, the Secondary Heads' Association, Governing Bodies' Association and primary principals all agree that they
cannot absorb all this change at once."

AMONG a plethora of deadlines and major changes facing education are the following:

1. The new Education and Skills Authority will replace the existing education boards in 2008/9 but there is confusion over the proposed structure.

2. Many schools are facing the axe because of lower pupil numbers, with some 50,000 surplus desks across the Province.

3. The Revised Curriculum will begin rolling out this month beginning with years 5,8 and 11. This requires teaching plans tailored to pupils rather than a single plan per class.

4. Pupil Profiles begin today for P5 pupils. These replace annual reports, with a much more detailed report with objective information about a child's progress and aptitudes.

5. Preparation must begin on the new Entitlement Framework for 2009. This requires schools to collaborate to provide 24 different courses at Key Stage 4 and 27 courses at post-16. At least a third of courses must be vocational.

6. The future of academic selection remains in political limbo, yet the final transfer test to be held in autumn 2008 and the replcement is not settled.



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