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OECD Reviews of Evaluation and Assessment in Education: Northern Ireland, United Kingdom

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This book finds that, in many ways, Northern Ireland stands out internationally with its thoughtfully designed evaluation and assessment framework. The major components are well developed, in particular policies for student assessment, school evaluation and school system evaluation. It has been developed using the majority of key design principles recommended by the OECD. The approach to evaluation and assessment combines: central control over policy development and standard setting; transparency over procedures and reporting of results; an increasing responsibility for the implementation of evaluation and assessment among teachers and schools; and central mechanisms to monitor the effectiveness of implementation. For example, while schools and their Boards of Governors are accountable for their educational quality and are accountable to their communities, school development planning processes are also monitored as part of external school evaluation by a central inspectorate. Teachers play a central role in student assessment and their assessment of pupil progress against central standards is moderated by a central agency which engages working teachers in the process. Teachers in primary schools are offered central diagnostic tests to support their assessment of pupil progress. Only teacher appraisal remains entirely school based, but there is a set of common competence standards for teachers.

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Executive summary

Compared internationally, pupils in Northern Ireland perform very well in assessments at the primary level, and around average at the post-primary level. However, compared to the OECD average, differences in pupil performance at age 15 are more strongly associated with their schools’ socio-economic intake. Social deprivation varies significantly among local government districts, as shown by the proportion of pupils entitled to free school meals. Children follow 12 years of compulsory schooling from age 4 to 16, transferring to post-primary school at age 11. Some 43% of pupils are enrolled in academically selective post-primary schools and these, on average, have a more advantaged socio-economic intake. In some non-selective post-primary schools, there are high concentrations of pupils entitled to free school meals.

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