Ulster management criticised

17th May 1996 at 01:00
Poor management is holding back efforts to improve some of Northern Ireland's weakest schools, a confidential report on the first year of a school improvement project has found.

The Raising School Standards initiative began in September 1994 in two Catholic and two Protestant secondary schools in West Belfast and 10 feeder primary schools.

The report shows schools have done little to tackle poor standards, even though most have good practice to draw on.

Few of the participating primary schools had clear objectives for staff development or effective strategies to improve the quality of teaching and learning, while the leadership of key staff in the two secondary schools varied considerably, according to a leaked report by the schools inspectorate.

"In nearly all the (primary) schools, there is some excellent teaching which provides the pupils with rich and stimulating learning opportunities; such high-quality work is often in marked contrast to the mediocre or dull teaching evident elsewhere, sometimes in adjacent classrooms," it says.

Despite some excellent English teaching, most of the primaries have significant weaknesses in the subject. They are criticised for over stressing grammar and punctuation through repetitive textbook or worksheet tasks, which the report calls of little value in developing pupils' reading and writing ability.

Although most primary schools have useful whole-school guidance for English and maths "teachers' own planning is often superficial and does not identify clearly the learning objectives; it is usually inadequate to assist the monitoring of the pupils' experiences across the school".

In a small minority of lessons secondary pupils are provided with a wide range of interesting activities.

In other cases their learning is too narrow, and frequent dull and routine tasks fail to motivate them.

"In many instances there are weaknesses in the planning for lessons, and teaching strategies to ameliorate the effects of poor attendance are not well developed in any of the schools. Insufficient thought is given to the appropriateness of learning experiences offered to the pupils. Consequently some pupils are not suitably challenged, while others are making little progress."

Secondary teachers' expectations of what pupils can achieve are generally too low, as seen in the trivial or over-structured tasks they set, which provide pupils with little scope for taking initiatives or giving an extended response.

The report concludes that there is growing evidence that involvement in the RSS project is beginning to have a beneficial effect.

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