8th May 2009 at 01:00
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Northern Ireland

Transfer tests worry heads

Catholic primary school principals in counties Tyrone, Londonderry and Armagh have expressed concerns about the proposed tests for pupils transfering to secondary schools.

Most grammar schools in Northern Ireland are intending to use an entrance exam, but this goes against guidance from the department of education.

In a letter to parents last week, 35 principals said that the proposed test is not based on the NI curriculum and plans to use it are fundamentally unfair.

"The tests in format and structure are alien to work carried out in our school. Sample test material presented to us is completely inappropriate in terms of content, structure and format," the letter read.

"It is impossible for our children to be accurately tested for selection purposes using two 50-minute multiple-choice tests in English and mathematics in November of their Primary 7 year. This is seven months before all aspects of the literacy and numeracy programmes of study for key stage two can be expected to have been delivered."

The principals also said that the proposed arrangements "are not based on good practice" and could present problems for pupils with special educational needs.

Only days after the letter was sent, Anne Bell, principal of Coleraine High, announced that the school would be the first grammar to reject entrance exams. "Demographic trends in the area have not provided us with enough children to be purely academic," she said. mr


Finances under closer scrutiny

Teacher numbers, pay and pensions will come under closer scrutiny than ever after a series of relentlessly gloomy forecasts on the state of public finances last week.

Early signs of teacher unrest have also emerged, with a threat of industrial action if the new curriculum is not properly funded.

This coincided with a warning from the head of HM Inspectorate of Education that teachers would have to "think creatively" about how to implement the reforms in the absence of new resources.

The developing crisis was top of the agenda when Fiona Hyslop, the Education Secretary, met the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland at their annual get-together behind closed doors in Dunkeld last week.

A string of presentations to Holyrood's finance committee pointed to the inescapable conclusion that the "boom years" of funding for education and other services were over. The general view was that things could not go on as before and this could mean starting to charge for services or sharing functions. nm


English and maths staffing drive

Hull City Council wants to pay teachers of non-core secondary subjects to retrain as English and maths teachers in a drive to move off the bottom of the GCSE league table by improving pupils' performance in these subjects.

Already a cohort of 25 teachers has been recruited for an 18-month maths conversion course at Hull University. A plan for an English course in the next academic year is dependent on finding funds.

The small unitary authority has struggled in the GCSE league table ever since it was created. Its efforts to climb off the bottom were scuppered two years ago when a requirement to achieve grade C or above in English and maths was added to the table indicators.

Sue Johnson, a senior school effectiveness officer, said the council was also responding to a countrywide problem.

"The national shortage of English and maths teachers means that forward-looking authorities like Hull are taking steps to secure their supply in future," she said. ws



Under-eights do the business

Liverpool City Council aims to teach primary pupils as young as five the skills to run businesses.

The local authority has launched "Enterprising kids? Let's do business", a toolkit which it hopes will make five to eight-year-olds capable of marketing a product or being generally entrepreneurial.

"The toolkit is to encourage the children to think business and put something back into their community by developing innovative, simple, business-led projects," said Gary Millar, the council's executive member for enterprise and tourism.

He believes the programme will instil greater community cohesion.

"Using the toolkit they will develop ideas and relationships, working with other schools, businesses, community groups, friends and families," he said.

"It will provide step-by-step guidance and examples to help give children the skills to run a mini-business or a charity fundraising event, market a product and become entrepreneurial." rv


Estyn looks for lay inspectors

The Welsh Inspectorate is looking to recruit people with no management links to schools to join its inspection teams.

Estyn said it wants to find "fresh talent, wisdom and insight", and hopes to attract 30 people from outside education in two months. School governors or volunteers can apply for the lay inspector posts.

Radical changes to school inspections will take place next year under Estyn's proposals, including less notice for schools and an in-house inspection team, in a move to make schools more accountable to the public. The idea of bringing in outside judgments of schools' performance has been part of the consultation process.

Alun Morgan, the inspector leading the recruitment drive, said the role is a great opportunity for the public to become more involved in raising educational standards in Wales. de


Help for special needs cut

Pupils with special educational needs can expect less class help following a budget cut for teaching assistants. The county council says it is reducing their hourly rate from Pounds 7.45 to Pounds 6.65.

Richard Bates, the head of Dorset's accountancy support, said the council was set to breach the central expenditure limit for this academic year, despite officers reducing spending. School budgets will rise by 2.9 per cent next year but, against the national trend, the level of school debt has also risen: 36 out of 179 schools have a budget deficit, totaling Pounds 3.5 million. The council blames this on its relatively high number of small rural secondary schools. km


Meet the parents - at the shops

Corby Business Academy, in Northamptonshire, plans to set up areas in supermarkets to communicate with more parents.

The scheme will start at the local Morrisons, where senior teachers will be available for six hours so parents can discuss their children's academic performance. An area will be set up the following week at Asda. Parents will have to bring a swipe card for identification.

Andrew Campbell, the principal, said: "We thought this would be an innovative way for parents to visit senior staff on an informal basis and engage with their children's learning.

"As a business and enterprise academy, we are not only putting our academy and staff in the heart of the community but supporting the parents and local businesses too." gl.

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