Northern Ireland has an education system that likes to test its children. Not only do we have a majority of schools segregated by denomination, but the post primary schools are often selective, choosing pupils based on optional testing. Obviously, not all selective schools use the same test- why would the ‘catholic’ and ‘protestant’ schools use the same system? Others are better placed to talk about the transfer/ selection process and the impact on 10 and 11 year olds, but it’s not all good.
After the wee folk have done a few years at secondary level, its time for more testing, similar to the system in England and Wales. There are GCSEs at 16 and A levels at 18. GCSEs allow schools another chance at selection, and A levels are the selection tool of universities. Both GCSE and A-levels are 2 year courses, with testing half way through. The children are tested by state bodies at 15, 16, 17 and 18.
The pandemic brought change. Last year a hugely discredited algorithm gave way to school produced predicted grades. There was to be no such confusion this time. Oh no. We were on top of things now, normal testing would resume, don’t even think of the alternative. *fingers in ears* lalalala, testing is good, testing is normal, make no preparations.
Until it was announced that there were going to be no exams. Schools should continue with virtual learning, and lots of assessment, because we haven’t worked out the alternative.
The alternative turned out to be assessments. No, not those ones. New exciting assessments, done in ‘high quality situations’. These assessments would be school created, but the exam board would issue a sample paper which might be useful. Yes, of course, you’ll need 3 examples of work done in these high quality situations. Probably best to do them with all the classes at once, maybe in a big hall, with a supervisor. Perhaps you could issue guidance on Malpractice in Assessment before hand. But no, these are not exams, you understand, just assessing what the children know.
Of course these are exams, sat in exam conditions. Instead of the local exam board setting and marking the papers, the school is doing it. And all will be completed by the end of next week- before the original exams were due to start.
It’s a mess. Children are stressed out. The communication from the school suggests that the principal has had more than enough of this shit, but doesn’t quite say that. Guidance and info updates for schools were released on a Friday evening, via social media. Teachers had no time to get their heads round requirements before trying to explain to the children. The schools have had a huge amount of extra work.
Goodness only knows what results will look like in August. For Girl 2, the predicted grade she got last year counts for nothing, rather than the 40% of her final grade it was designed to do. Her result will be based on 1 term virtual teaching only, one term face to face with four weeks out for isolation, and the current term of assessments.
Remember, this chaos applies to 4 year groups at secondary level. Across the region, thousands of pupils in years 11, 12, 13 and 14 are dealing with this nonsense. That’s more than half of the secondary school cohort. (I can’t find precise figures, but the cohort has 145,000 pupils. It’s not as simple as divide by 7 and multiply by 4, but it could be in the region of 75,000- 80,000 children. Many thousands.) Because they’ve had nothing else to worry about for the past year, because our Education Minister thrives on testing, because our children are being failed by the system every day.