Tests at 14 axed in Ulster
From next year, the curriculum will be changed to put more emphasis on pupils' personal development, cross-curricular work and skills such as critical and creative thinking.
The curriculum is being slimmed down drastically at key stages 3 and 4, although citizenship will be introduced for these pupils for the first time. At KS4, pupils will no longer have to study English, maths or science, as in England, as schools are given more freedom to tailor learning to individuals' needs.
KS3 tests and teacher assessment are being replaced by highly detailed annual reports of each child's achievements to parents. Such reports will also be introduced at KS1 and 2.
In primaries, the curriculum will be organised into five main areas: the arts, language and literacy, mathematics and numeracy, personal development and "the world around us". At all ages, the changes are being designed to encourage cross-curricular work and help youngsters make connections between subjects.
Carmel Gallacher, of the Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment, said: "We are promoting connected learning because we believe that is the way children learn. Subject boundaries have been too constraining."
The changes follow extensive consultation, including a seven-year study following 60 pupils through secondary school and a 3,000-pupil questionnaire.
Ms Gallacher said that pupils had complained the curriculum was irrelevant to them. However, she said that maths and science teachers were concerned the plans would reduce the ground pupils cover in their subjects.
The plans were also criticised at the Irish National Teachers' Organisation annual conference last month, which said the new primary assessment arrangements would be unwieldy and bureaucratic.
But Fern Turner, Northern Ireland regional officer of the National Association of Head Teachers, said many supported the changes. It was vital, however, that they were properly funded and that teachers were well-trained before they were brought in, she said.
* The chief executives of two Ulster education boards have been heavily criticised by a Government investigation following multi-million pound budget overspends. David Cargo, of the Belfast board, and Jackie Fitzsimons of the South Eastern board, have been put on probation following overspends estimated at pound;11 million and pound;21m respectively.
Meanwhile, Barry Gardiner, the Northern Ireland education minister, has been accused by a teachers' leader of ruthlessly imposing school budget cuts to demonstrate his "hard man" credentials to the Prime Minister.