Tuesday 6 December 2016

Teacher fury over FG plan to publish exam results

Published 02/03/2011 | 05:00

Roisin Ryan and Gabrielle O'Donoghue, students at Loreto Secondary School, Fermoy, Co Cork, both received 8 A1s in their Leaving Cert
Roisin Ryan and Gabrielle O'Donoghue, students at Loreto Secondary School, Fermoy, Co Cork, both received 8 A1s in their Leaving Cert

Parents could soon be able to check the Leaving Cert grades of each school

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The new Fine Gael-led Government is set to find itself on a collision course with teachers over its plan to publish the Leaving Cert results for each school.

The plan to enable parents to check a school's performance in the Junior and Leaving Certs will be met with furious resistance from teachers and others in the educational establishment.

The TUI has already issued a circular to its branches warning of the threat in the FG election manifesto. The ASTI has also issued a statement opposing publication of the results.

Under the party's plan each school will have to publish an annual report showing exam performance.

As well as exam results the document will detail extra- curricular activities, special needs education, music, drama and learning support.

Under the present system, parents have no right to check the exam results of an individual school.

The Department of Education and teachers can obviously see the results, but it is up to schools to decide whether they publish the figures.

Parents can check the number of pupils from a school going on to third level using tables published in newspapers. But advocates of a more open policy say there is a need for more comprehensive information.

There is no doubt that much of the opposition to publication of results amounts to special pleading on behalf vested interests.

Teachers and their departments will be exposed to scrutiny like never before, and few professions enjoy that.

There are also genuine concerns among teachers and principals that more comprehensive school league tables would distort education and increase the obsession with exams.

In Britain, school exam results have been published since the early 1990s.

Criticism has not only come from headteachers in the state system, but also from teachers in some of the best-known public schools.

Dr Anthony Seldon, headmaster of the English public school Wellington College, said the publication of school results has had both positive and negative effects.

He told the Irish Independent: "On the positive side, they have cast a spotlight on poorly performing schools which have been failing children, and, within those schools, on poor departments and teachers.

"On the negative side, they have skewed the whole of education towards exam passes, meaning that teachers rarely teach pure subjects any more, but just how to maximise marks and exams.

"They are also deplorable because government and newspapers say that the 'best schools' are the ones that come top of the raw league tables, which take no account of 'value added'."

When he talks of "value added'', Dr Seldon means that a sophisticated system of assessment would take into account the background of pupils entering the school. Good schools may be providing excellent teaching to pupils of mixed abilities, children with special needs and those from poor backgrounds. But these do not necessarily show up in league tables, which are based purely on exam results.

Fine Gael argues that the present system is flawed and does not work to the benefit of either schools or parents.

"Fine Gael believes schools should move to a system of self-evaluation, backed up by a targeted department inspection process.

"Schools would evaluate their own progress year on year and wouldn't just be compared in terms of the number of students going on to third level, which is the case at the moment with the league tables published annually."

Opponents of publication argue that league tables distort the priorities of schools. They will be inclined to drop aspects of education that do not boost their position in the tables.

There are also concerns that schools will be encouraged to exclude pupils of lesser ability, according to Peter MacMenamin, General Secretary of TUI.

'There are already some schools that exclude certain pupils through covert selection techniques. Parents may be advised that they would be better off sending their child to a school down the road.''

The teachers' unions argue that there is currently a wealth of information available to parents, including Department of Education inspection reports.

The inspection reports are available on the department's website. However, the presentation of the inspection reports on the internet is cumbersome. And supporters of transparency in schools argue that without exam results the reports are incomplete.

Irish Independent

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