The independent review, commissioned by the Minister and led by Dr Keir Bloomer, is perhaps best understood as an educational equivalent to the ‘Bengoa’ report on health. It will be a fundamental review, it is important work, and it is long overdue.

Please send any comments or feedback you have to NEU Northern Ireland office

Things we could try – Our 10 demands.

  1. Within the limited funds available, we must front-load investment to favour our youngest people. The more we invest, the earlier, the better. We cannot continue with the early years sector as the worst funded segment of our system.
  2. Institute a central, cross-departmental educational research unit to establish a bias towards evidence-based policy. This may help reduce political contestability in education and help grow the professional ‘space’ in developing pedagogic practice and grounded policy -making.
  3. Currently, we socially engineer a highly segregated system. Instead, we could socially engineer a different, more balanced, social mix in all schools and settings. This would help the well-off somewhat and help the poorest a lot. Everybody wins. Socially balanced intakes works and costs nothing, other than political capital. It is much better than compensatory funding (like targeting social need).
  4. If academic selection is to remain at aged 10 or 11, grammar school intake should reduce exponentially (it currently sits at around 46%, traditionally it was between a quarter and a third of post-primary intakes). Secondary schools must have a better social mix. Alternatively, the 2008 ‘compromise’ of selection/election at 14 could be tried.
  5. Remove the GCSE exam point, it is largely pointless. Children do not leave education at 16 anymore. Even Lord Kenneth Baker, who introduced the GCSE in 1988, does not comprehend why we still do it!
  6. Try the successful Republic of Ireland “Transition Year” between the Junior and Senior Certificate cycles (broadly, our GCSE and ‘A’ level cycles).
  7. These two measures (ending GCSE’s and instituting a Transition Year) will create more space for 21st century skills (inquiry, individual and team research, teamwork, communications, presentation, persuasion skills, technological skills etc) and begin to meet the expressed desires of industry and the economy.
  8. The 20-point plan of the General Teaching Council’s 2013 blueprint for Accountability should be revisited and implemented (General Teaching Council: Striking the Right Balance, 2013 – presentation to the NI Assembly Education Committee Inquiry into Inspection).
  9. The Pasi Sahlberg Report, ‘Aspiring to Excellence’,2014, should be revisited as the basis for future teacher education/training (Aspiring to Excellence Final Review Panel Report - Aspiring to Excellence Final Review Panel Report.
  10. The provision of vocational education in schools needs a sharply focussed review so that more learners are encouraged to attend well-equipped, modern FE Colleges with better trained staff to deliver vocational qualifications. Perverse funding incentives (schools vs FE Colleges) must be examined to create a level ‘playing field’, in order to stop the unnecessary retention of pupils at school who would otherwise be better off attending an FE College. In this context, free, accessible, independent careers advice would help, too.
    Northern Ireland
    NEU Submission to Ind-Review-Education November 2021

    Our system is too contested, politically and ideologically. We need more evidence-based policy, actions and ideas that demonstrably work.