Inquiry into Successful Post-Primary Schools Serving Disadvantaged Communities Vol 1

Together with the Minutes of Proceedings and Minutes of Evidence Relating to the Report

Ordered by The Committee for Education to be printed 14 March 2011
Report: NIA 57/10/11R The Committee for Education

Membership and Powers

The Committee for Education is a Statutory Departmental Committee established in accordance with paragraphs 8 and 9 of the Belfast Agreement, section 29 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and under Standing Order 46.

The Committee has power to:

  • Consider and advise on Departmental budgets and annual plans in the context of the overall budget allocation;
  • Consider relevant secondary legislation and take the Committee stage of primary legislation
  • Call for persons and papers;
  • Initiate inquiries and make reports; and
  • Consider and advise on any matters brought to the Committee by the Minister for Education.

The Committee has 11 members including a Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson and a quorum of 5.

The membership of the Committee is as follows:

Mr Mervyn Storey (Chairperson)[1]
Mr Dominic Bradley (Deputy Chairperson)
Mrs Mary Bradley
Mr Jonathan Craig[2] [3]
Mr Trevor Lunn
Mr John McCallister[4]
Mr Basil McCrea
Miss Michelle McIlveen
Mr John O’Dowd

Powers

The Committee for Education is a Statutory Departmental Committee established in accordance with paragraphs 8 and 9 of the Belfast Agreement, Section 29 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and under Assembly Standing Order 46. The Committee has a scrutiny, policy development and consultation role with respect to the Minister of Education and has a role in the initiation of legislation.

The Committee has power to:

  • Consider and advise on Departmental budgets and Annual Plans in the context of the overall budget allocation;
  • Approve relevant secondary legislation and take the Committee Stage of primary legislation;
  • Call for persons and papers;
  • Initiation inquiries and makes reports; and
  • Consider and advise on any matters brought to the Committee by the Minister for Education.

Membership

The Committee has 11 members including a Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson with a quorum of five. The membership of the Committee since the commencement of the Inquiry on 11 November 2010 is as follows:

Mr Mervyn Storey (Chairperson)
Mr David Hilditch (Deputy Chairperson)

Mr Dominic Bradley
Mrs Mary Bradley
Mr Jonathan Craig
Lord Empey[1]
Mr Trevor Lunn
Mr Basil McCrea
Miss Michelle McIlveen
Mr John O'Dowd
Mrs Michelle O'Neill

[1] With effect from 8th November 2010 Sir Reg Empey replaced Mr John McCallister.

Table of Contents

Volume One

Executive Summary

Summary of Recommendations

Introduction

Effective School Leadership

School Engagement with Parents and the Wider Community

Addressing Underachievement in Disadvantaged Communities

Department of Education School Improvement Policy

Appendix 1

Minutes of Proceedings

Appendix 2

Minutes of Evidence

List of Abbreviations and Acronyms Used in the Report

BELB - Belfast Education and Library Board

BoG - Board of Governors

CASS - Curriculum Advisory and Support Service

CBI - Confederation of British Industry

CCEA - Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment

CCMS - Council for Catholic Maintained Schools

CnaG - Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta

DE/the Department - Department of Education

DEL - Department of Employment and Learning

E&LBs - Education and Library Boards

ESaGS - Every School a Good School

ETI - Education and Training Inspectorate

FE - Further Education

FSME - Free School Meal Entitlement

GBA - Governing Bodies Association

GCSE - General Certificate of Secondary Education

GTC - General Teaching Council

ICT - Information and Communication Technology

IEP - Individual Education Plan

InCAS - Interactive Computerised Assessment System

LAC - Looked After Children

MidYIS - Middle Years Information System

NICIE - Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education

NEELB - North Eastern Education and Library Board

OECD - Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

OFMDFM - Office of the First and deputy First Minister

PGCE - Postgraduate Certificate in Education

PISA - Programme for International Student Assessment

PQH - Professional Qualification for Headship

PwC - PricewaterhouseCoopers

RTU - Regional Training Unit

SEELB - South Eastern Education and Library Board

SELB - Southern Education and Library Board

SENCo - Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator

SMT - Senior Management Team

STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics

TRC - Transferors Representatives' Council

WELB - Western Education and Library Board

YELLIS - Year 11 Information System

Executive Summary

1. Over the period of this Assembly's mandate the Committee has received a number of briefings which have highlighted the significant challenge of addressing underachievement in some schools in Northern Ireland. These included briefings by senior DE officials on Every School a Good School – A Policy for School Improvement' and the draft Revised Numeracy & Literacy Strategy; briefings from the Chief Inspector and ETI senior colleagues on the Chief Inspector's Reports, and briefings from the Chairperson and Members of the Literacy & Numeracy Taskforce. In some schools the challenge is greater than others, as it is widely recognised that schools serving disadvantaged communities need much greater levels of support. It was against this background and the Department bringing forward substantial policy development over a raft of interconnected areas under ESaGS to improve outcomes for young people that the Committee decided to commission Assembly Research & Library Service to examine underachievement in post-primary schools. This led to a follow-up briefing paper which scoped a possible Committee Inquiry into 'Successful Secondary Schools – which have succeeded in raising standards and/or maintaining good standards in the face of social and/or economic deprivation'. The Committee, to complete its scoping of this Inquiry, received submissions and oral briefings from senior DE officials, the Chief Inspector and senior colleagues from ETI and the Director of the RTU.

2. The Committee launched its Inquiry with the aim –

"To consider examples of successful post-primary schools serving economically and socially disadvantaged communities, identify the key characteristics/factors which contribute to their success and consider how they can be reproduced in schools where they are lacking."

3. With Terms of Reference in four discrete but interconnected areas:

  • Effective School Leadership;
  • School Engagement with Parents and the Wider Community;
  • Addressing Underachievement in Disadvantaged Communities; and
  • DE School Improvement Policy

4. The Committee invited submissions specifically to address its Terms of Reference through Newspaper Public Notices, seeking views from 44 key education stakeholders and asking 37 post-primary schools to complete response forms by briefly describing their top three practical actions on the first three areas of the Terms of Reference and commenting briefly on the fourth area. The 37 schools represented a sectoral and geographical spread of post-primary schools and were selected from DE data of schools with 20%+ Free School Meal Entitlement (FSME) enrolment, and subsequently prioritised on academic attainment (5+ GCSEs A*-C) including and excluding English and Maths. A cross-section of 10 schools were selected to provide oral evidence to the Committee and answer Members' questions – with three of the ten schools also acting as host schools for the Committee's meetings (in North Belfast, Magherafelt and Omagh). Finally, the Committee received oral evidence from the Chief Executives of the E&LBs, the Deputy Chief Executive and senior colleagues from CCMS, and further oral evidence from senior DE officials. The Committee received 59 submissions to its Inquiry, three Assembly Research Papers, and considered a range of policy documents, reports, evaluations, guidance etc from DE, ETI, RTU and E&LBS.

5. The Committee, in recognising that there has been considerable research and study into what makes a school successful, focussed its efforts on identifying the top characteristics/factors which contribute to the success of post-primary schools serving economically and socially disadvantaged communities, by asking School Principals, senior teachers, Members of Boards of Governors, senior educationalists the question,

'What are your top three practical actions in your school [schools] which makes your school [schools] successful under the three discrete areas of the Inquiry's Terms of Reference?

The Committee also asked witnesses for their views on the Department's ESaGS – A Policy for School Improvement and other relevant DE policies.

6. From the evidence received, the Committee made sixteen recommendations to the Department of Education:

7. Under Effective School Leadership, the focus of the Committee's recommendations centres on the process of selecting all-important school leaders and managing underperforming school leaders, and the key role of Boards of Governors – particularly the Chairperson in this regard.

8. Under School Engagement with Parents and the Wider Community, the Committee's key recommendations focussed on the need to review and maximise the potential through existing and new programmes/ initiatives to build integrated holistic services which would include services targeted on learner support, early years, youth justice, social development and mental health services. The Committee also made recommendations to establish good practice guidelines on positive engagement and sharing between local/feeder primary schools and post-primary schools; and the use of ICT between schools (pupils), parents, and the Community.

9. Under Addressing Underachievement in Disadvantaged Communities, the Committee's key recommendations focussed on the need to urgently review DE's policy on collection and analysis of e-data on pupil attainment, particularly the use of diagnostic assessment tools for the purpose of meeting individual pupil needs. Another key recommendation focussed on the need to review the Entitlement Framework in the context of the practice of tailoring the curriculum to meet the needs of pupils, in particular at Key Stages 4 and 5, and with boys. Finally, in this area, the Committee wishes to see DE issuing good practice guidance to schools on a range of mentoring options and also on merit/reward systems.

10. With regard to the Department's ESaGS – A Policy for School Improvement etc, the Committee made a number of recommendations – including the need to review arrangements for education policy formation in relation to the operation of integrated services for children, DE leading on information sharing across all departments in relation to services for children's education needs and in developing an effective measure of social and economic disadvantage.

11. It is important to emphasise that the Committee considers that the implementation of its recommendations should produce benefits across all school phases and sectors, not only post-primary schools serving economically and socially disadvantaged communities. However, the focus of the Committee's Inquiry has been post-primary schools serving disadvantaged communities, therefore the Committee would ask the Department to bear in mind those schools where the key characteristics of successful schools are currently lacking and, in addressing the Committee's recommendations, consider how the Department could maximise the benefits for such schools and the pupils, parents and communities they serve.

12. Finally, the Committee would like to thank all those who contributed to its Inquiry through written and oral evidence – particularly the ten schools, three of which kindly hosted the Committee's meetings, who provided extensive oral evidence.

13. Readers will be interested to note that the Committee has submitted a Committee Motion for debate in the Assembly on its Inquiry Report, as follows:

'That this Assembly approves the Report of the Committee for Education on its Inquiry into Successful Post-Primary Schools Serving Disadvantaged Communities NIA 57/10/11R; and calls on the Minister of Education, in conjunction with her Executive colleagues and relevant bodies, to implement, as applicable, the recommendations.'

This has been scheduled in the Provisional Order Paper for 21 March 2011 and the Hansard record of the debate will be available in due course.

Summary of Recommendations

The Committee considers that the implementation of its recommendations should produce benefits across all school phases and sectors, not only post-primary schools serving economically and socially disadvantaged communities. However, the focus of the Committee's Inquiry has been post-primary schools serving disadvantaged communities. The Committee would therefore ask the Department in addressing these recommendations to bear in mind those schools where the key characteristics of successful schools are currently lacking and, in addressing the Committee's recommendations, consider how the Department could maximise the benefits for such schools and the pupils, parents and communities they serve.

Effective School Leadership (Recommendations 1-3)

1. The Committee recommends that the Department review existing processes for selecting school leaders, having due regard to the role of the Principal as the key driver for school improvement, and bring forward, as appropriate, recommendations for robust selection procedures which require candidates to demonstrate, across a range of relevant tasks, the key leadership characteristics as well as the necessary passion for education.

2. The Committee recommends that the Department of Education review the effectiveness of the procedure for managing underperforming school leaders, including the workability of the process in light of the time and resources available to Chairpersons/Board of Governors and the autonomy inherent in the role of the Principal. The Committee also recommends that the Department in its review, and in taking action to improve the process, considers:

a. The impact on the affected pupils of the length of time it takes to address and resolve issues of underperformance, and how the process could more proportionately reflect the respective rights of the pupils whose education and future prospects are probably being damaged, and the rights of their parents, on the one hand, and the employment rights of the alleged underperforming Principal on the other; and

b. How to address circumstances where relationships between the Principal and a significant proportion of the Board of Governors, the school staff or community served by the school, has, for whatever reason, broken down – again in a way which more proportionately reflects the respective rights of the pupils whose education and future prospects are probably being damaged, and the rights of their parents, on the one hand, and the employment rights of the alleged underperforming Principal on the other.

3. The Committee recommends that the Department of Education review its arrangements for attracting and selecting School Governors and its training arrangements for School Governors to ensure that governors have the confidence and the knowledge to:

a. Identify and select candidates for leadership positions, in particular School Principals, who demonstrate (in a multi-task based selection process) the key characteristics of effective school leaders, including those particular characteristics needed for individual schools; and

b. Fulfil their key challenge function and hold the Principal and senior management team to account.

School Engagement with Parents and the Wider Community (Recommendations 4-6)

4. The Committee recommends that the Department urgently review, in consultation with the ETI and the School Sector Bodies, the potential through existing and new programmes and initiatives to focus on building integrated holistic services which would include services targeted on learner support, early years, youth justice, social development and mental health services. The review would be undertaken in conjunction with and/or in consultation with the relevant services within the Department of Health, Social Service and Public Safety; the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister; Department of Justice and Department for Social Development. The Committee would emphasise that integrated services must be focused and targeted to create clear and quantifiable outcomes which directly benefit young people.

5. The Committee recommends that the current practice of positive engagement and sharing between local/feeder primary schools and local post-primary schools, and the benefits to both parties, should be examined by the Department in consultation with School Sector Bodies and schools with a view to establishing good practice guidelines for schools which would seek to build on and maximise the benefits to all parties.

6. The Committee recommends that the Department reviews the potential to expand and broaden the use of ICT between Schools (Pupils), Parents and the Community to maximise the benefits to pupil learning. The review would be undertaken in consultation with the Schools Sectors Bodies and schools with a view to establishing good practice guidelines for schools.

Addressing Underachievement in Disadvantaged Communities (Recommendations 7-10)

7. The Committee recommends that the Department should urgently review its policy with regards to the collection and analysis of e -data on pupil attainment, particularly the use of diagnostic assessment tools for the purposes of meeting individual pupils needs; a practice which has been identified as being extensively in use by a number of successful schools. The Committee believes that the Department should coordinate the development/use of a standard diagnostic assessment tool which should be available for use by all schools in line with developments on the new e-Schools data warehouse and levels of progression assessment arrangements. An option may be to seek to centrally procure the necessary software for future use by all schools.

8. The Committee recommends that the Department review the Entitlement Framework and the practice of tailoring the curriculum to meet the needs of pupils, in particular at Key Stage 4 and 5, and with boys, with a view to requiring schools to periodically consult with pupils, parents, feeder primary schools and the wider community served by the school regarding the range and mix of general and applied courses which the school should offer, and provide schools with the flexibility to tailor their offering to reflect the outcome of that consultation.

9. The Committee recommends that the Department of Education issues good practice guidance to schools on a range of mentoring options. The use of peer mentoring to assist with pupils who have recently made the transition to post-primary school should be considered as an effective means by which to raise the aspirations of younger students, and may help pupils talk openly about the challenges they face, which might otherwise go undetected. Role models in the form of past pupils and members of the local community can also help create in older pupils the aspiration to continue in full time education, and see the full value in engaging in school life.

10. The Committee recommends that the Department issue good practice guidance to schools to highlight the benefits of merit/reward systems and encourage their use, highlighting appropriate case studies and encouraging the sharing of good practice in this area, particularly among schools serving disadvantaged communities.

Department of Education School Improvement Policy (Recommendations 11-16)

11. The Committee noted the comments above in relation to the targeting etc of inspections and recommends that the Department and ETI consider these comments when reviewing their policy and practice on inspections, particularly with oncoming budget constraints.

12. The Committee recommends that the Department of Education review its arrangements for education policy formulation in relation to the operation of integrated services for children. This review should ensure that, where appropriate, policy is developed on a fully integrated basis across relevant departments which fosters cooperation and joined up delivery of front line services for children, young people and their parents/guardians.

13. The Committee recommends that the Department of Education take the lead in the development of a policy on information sharing across all departments in relation to services for children's education needs.

14. The Committee recommends that the Department, in its annual review of its policy on school funding, ensure that proportionate resources are effectively and efficiently targeted for the benefit of pupils from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

15. The Committee recommends that the Department take the lead in developing, in conjunction with other relevant government departments, an effective measure of social and economic disadvantage which includes FSM as one of a 'bundle' of indicators.

16. In anticipation of a standard value added measure being established (as recommended in paragraph 104), the Committee recommends that the Department reviews its policy on publicising school (and pupil) success to ensure that the Department celebrates both success as measured by the "five GCSEs at A*-C" and success as measured by pupil progress and the value added for pupils by schools.

Introduction

Background

1. The Committee first raised the subject of this Inquiry by commissioning an initial scoping paper from the Assembly Research and Library Service in April 2010, which examined underachievement in post-primary schools. The Committee subsequently commissioned this as a follow-up briefing paper which scoped a possible Inquiry into 'Successful Secondary Schools – which have succeeded in raising standards and/or maintaining good standards in the face of social and/or economic deprivation' (available at Appendix 5). The Committee, as part of its scoping exercise for this Inquiry, invited and received briefing papers and oral briefings from:

Mr Robson Davidson, Deputy Secretary and senior colleagues from the DE;
Mr Stanley Goudie, Chief Inspector and senior colleagues from ETI; and
Mr Tom Hesketh, Director, RTU.

2. At its meeting on 13 October 2010 the Committee agreed – subject to agreeing final Terms of Reference – to launch its Inquiry, which it did so on 11 November 2010.

Aim

3. The aim of the Committee Inquiry was –

'To consider examples of successful post-primary schools serving economically and socially disadvantaged communities, identify the key characteristics/factors which contribute to their success and consider how they can be reproduced in schools where they are lacking.'

Terms of Reference

4. The Terms of Reference agreed for the Inquiry were –

  • Effective School Leadership

To identify the key school leadership qualities necessary for the success of schools serving disadvantaged communities.

  • School Engagement with Parents and the Wider Community

To consider how successful schools serving disadvantaged communities have engaged with parents/guardians and the wider community, the extent to which this engagement has contributed to such schools' success and how this has benefited the wider community.

  • Addressing Underachievement in Disadvantaged Communities

To consider how successful schools serving disadvantaged communities address the causes of underachievement, including higher levels of underachievement of boys (reference DE Report by PWC No.49, 2008), and potential measures to address this.

  • Department of Education School Improvement Policy

To consider the Department's Policy 'Every School a Good School – A Policy for School Improvement' and other relevant Departmental policies in light of the evidence received in the course of the Inquiry and make any relevant recommendations to the Department.

The Committee's Approach

5. The Committee placed Public Notices in the Belfast Telegraph, Irish News and News Letter on 17 November 2010 inviting written submissions to address the Terms of Reference of its Inquiry.

6. The Committee also wrote to 44 key education stakeholders including DE, DEL, E&LBs, CCMS, NICIE, CnaG, GBA, Teachers' Unions, etc., seeking their views in the form of written submissions addressing the Terms of Reference of the Inquiry.

7. The Committee identified a sectoral and geographic spread of post-primary schools from which it would seek written and oral evidence, by cross-referencing data supplied by the Department of Education, which listed the five year average for Free School Meal Entitlement (FSME) for schools for 2004-2009 against the proportion its pupils attaining 5+ GCSEs A*-C (both including and excluding Maths and English). Schools with 20%+ FSME were considered 'as serving an economically and socially disadvantaged community' for the purpose of the Inquiry, with subsequent prioritisation based on academic attainment.

Thirty seven selected schools were sent a questionnaire-style form requesting their 'top three practical actions' to address each of the four aspects of the Inquiry's Terms of Reference. A cross-section of ten schools representing different school sectors and geographical locations were subsequently selected to provide oral briefings to the Committee and to answer Members' questions (see Hansard records of oral briefings, and questions and answers sessions in Appendix 2). Three of the ten selected schools kindly agreed to host the Committee's meetings taking oral evidence directly from School Principals, senior staff and Chairpersons and Members of Boards of Governors. Committee Members also spoke informally to young people from each of the ten selected schools and others who attended the Committee's meetings.

8. The Committee also received oral evidence sessions with senior representatives from the Department, ETI, RTU, E&LBs and CCMS. Accumulatively, the Committee received 59 submissions to its Inquiry.

9. The Committee requested a number of Assembly Research Papers during the course of its Inquiry, 'Scoping a Possible Inquiry into Successful Secondary Schools', 'Free Schools Meal Entitlement as a Measure of Deprivation', 'Value Added Measures', which can be found in Appendix 5. Finally, the Committee also scrutinised a wide range of policy documents, reports, evaluations, guidance circulars, etc produced by the Department, ETI, RTU, E&LBs which relate to aspects of the Terms of Reference of the Inquiry.

Acknowledgements

10. The Committee would like to thank all those who contributed to its Inquiry through written and oral evidence, in particular the three schools which hosted Committee meetings during the investigative phase of the Inquiry – Belfast Model School for Girls; St Pius X College, Magherafelt; and Drumragh Integrated College, Omagh. This participation enabled the Committee to identify good practice, to look in some detail at certain aspects of concern raised where improvements could be made and to hear a wide range of views.

11. The Committee would also like to thank the Committee Clerk and his team, together with Assembly Research, Assembly Broadcasting, Hansard and Printed Paper Office staff, for their support and assistance to the Committee throughout the Inquiry and in preparation of this Inquiry Report.

Effective School Leadership

To identify the key school leadership qualities necessary for the success of schools serving disadvantaged communities.

12. At the scoping stage of this Inquiry the Committee took evidence in June 2009 from senior Department of Education officials. They were asked which one of the four key characteristics of a good school identified in the School Improvement Policy they would prioritise - if they were to find themselves a newly appointed governor of an underperforming school serving a disadvantaged community. While emphasising the need to view the four together they said:

'The key is leadership supported by quality teaching and a focus on pupils' needs, as well as the work on a school's connections to its community.'

13. During the same meeting, the Chief Inspector discussing the challenges of promoting those characteristics in less successful post-primary schools, said:

'… inspection evidence shows that the most significant in those circumstances is the quality of leadership and management …'

14. In describing a case study another Education & Training Inspectorate (ETI) witness commented on the key role of the Principal:

'I remember saying to myself when I took over that district and walked into that school, "Wow, there are real difficulties here." It would be amazing if one could bottle the change in atmosphere there. The improvement was down to the principal and how he engaged others and grew those traits in them. Importantly, they engaged and connected with the pupils and their interests, and when that was done, the curriculum was built up around the pupils and they started to engage in the learning. It is phenomenal.' [Committee emphasis]

15. The Committee also noted that the Chief Inspector's Report for 2006-08, commenting on the quality of leadership and management in post-primary schools, commented:

'… In just over one-quarter of post-primary schools the leadership and management need to improve; it is inadequate or unsatisfactory in just over one-tenth of the schools inspected.'

16. The Chief Inspector's Report for 2008-10 stated:

'The quality of the leadership and management was evaluated as inadequate or unsatisfactory in around one-fifth of the schools inspected.'

Research & Policy

17. The Regional Training Unit (2005) National Standards for Headteachers Northern Ireland Edition Belfast: RTU sets out a framework for professional development to inform, challenge and enthuse serving and aspiring principals.

18. The Standards are set out across six key areas (each of these sets out the knowledge, professional qualities and actions required for that area):

  • Shaping the future
  • Leading teaching and learning
  • Developing self and working with others
  • Managing the organisation
  • Securing accountability
  • Strengthening community

19. In the report for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation entitled 'Tackling low educational achievement', the authors state

'Schools do make a difference to outcomes. While students' social and economic circumstances are the most important factors explaining their educational results, we ?nd that about 14 per cent of the incidence of low achievement is attributable to school quality. …'

20. However, it continues:

'We are only able to account for a share of what it is about schools that makes for reductions in low achievement; the rest is due to things we are unable to measure in our data. These could be factors such as school ethos and leadership, or the effectiveness of teaching….'

21. An Assembly Research Paper for the Inquiry highlighted that:

'School leadership is second only to classroom teaching in terms of its influence on outcomes for students: it is therefore essential that school principals have the appropriate skills and qualities'

and

'there is a strong link between leaders' personal qualities and leadership success'

22. A review of the relevant research suggested that effective principals, in schools in challenging circumstances in particular, shared the following attributes:

  • "Passion and risk-taking;
  • Personal humility;
  • Emotional intelligence;
  • Tenacity and resilience in advocacy;
  • Respect for others; and
  • Personal conviction."
  • "Leaders of schools in disadvantaged contexts share many of the same traits as principals of other schools; being driven by core values that are people-centred, with a moral focus and an emphasis on equality and respect."

23. ESaGS A Policy for School Improvement identifies school leadership as one of the four key characteristics of a successful school.

Evidence to the Committee

24. The submissions and responses to the Committee on this term of reference highlighted a range of the qualities which respondents considered necessary in an effective school leader. The submission from the Department of Education's Literacy and Numeracy Taskforce encapsulated many of these in its written submission on effective school leadership:

'i A passionate belief and commitment on the part of the school leader that improvement is possible. A clear vision with precise timescales about how this will be achieved. An enthusiastic, resilient and inventive personality who has the ability to motivate and inspire the school and wider community.

ii Concentration on improving what happens in the classroom and an emphasis on teaching and learning. Clear systems of assessment for all staff and all students and a rigorous analysis of data to establish performance.

iii Confidence to take the tough decisions and confront poor practice.'

25. The Regional Training Unit's evidence included commentary specifically on leadership in a school serving a disadvantaged/urban community:

'There is something distinctive about being an urban school leader or a school leader working in the context of socio-economic deprivation; it is about pace, complexity and the day-to-day challenges in a community context that are demanding and volatile. In order to make a long-term difference, school leaders in those contexts need to have an intimate knowledge of their community as well as an emotional attachment to it. They have to have aspirations to share power and a passion for their work; if half-hearted, they will not be able to sustain the pace or the pressures.'

and on

'the need for headship to be redesigned and refocused on the core business of school. In other words, the need for head teachers to get much closer to learning, to be the lead learners and the lead professionals, and to lead their staff, particularly their teaching staff, in the pedagogic and classroom practice improvement that is required to advance the quality of provision in schools.'

26. Other key characteristics from the evidence to the Committee included:

  • leading by example and being visible, hands on, having a physical presence around the school;
  • the ability to observe and assess the quality of classroom teaching;
  • the ability to create a culture of high expectations for pupils among pupils, parents, staff and the wider community;
  • high emotional intelligence/empathy with pupils/parents drawn from disadvantaged communities and ability to manage pastoral needs effectively;
  • the ability to develop meaningful links with, and win the support of, the community served by the school, particularly in areas of high social deprivation
  • the ability to distribute leadership effectively through the school;
  • effective school development planning;
  • Knowledgeable and supportive governors;

27. In light of the substantial work already done in this area in identifying the characteristics of effective school leaders, the Committee has focussed on three areas with particular potential for improvement:

  • selection of school leaders;
  • the effectiveness of the arrangements for managing underperforming school leaders, and:
  • the role of school governors.

Selection of School Leaders

28. CCEA's submission cited the McKinsey & Company's 2007 study entitled: 'How the world's best performing school systems come out on top' which identified a number of fundamental similarities among the top systems;

'They ensure that the right people are selected to become teachers "the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers".

They develop these people to be effective teachers; "the only way to improve outcomes is to improve instruction".'

… These principles apply to school leadership, ensuring that the right people are selected to become leaders ...'

29. Sam McGuinness, Lecturer in Educational Leadership and Management at the University of Ulster, suggested recommendations included 'Improved Recruitment supported by continuing skill development'. He stated:

'In the top-performing school systems, e.g. Finland and Singapore, the mechanisms for selecting people for teaching are extremely effective.'

and,

'Selection to teacher training courses ensures that the academic calibre of teachers is in the top 10% of the cohort of graduates.'

30. The Transferors Representatives' Council (TRC) emphasised the need to attract enthusiastic leaders to school serving disadvantaged communities:

'Schools in disadvantaged areas need high quality and enthusiastic leaders, however, those best placed to give effective leadership are not always attracted to these posts. There is a need for positive encouragement to prospective leaders to undertake these roles'.

31. ESaGS - A Policy for School Improvement has relatively little to say on the how to select effective school leaders, focussing rather on the indicators of the key characteristics of effective leadership.

32. However, one of the goals within ESaGS is to make school leadership an attractive career option and it states:

'The McKinsey study highlighted not just the importance of teacher quality but of getting the right teachers to become principals… we need to look closely at the route to principalship and at the programmes available to prepare aspiring principals …'

33. ESaGS Policy goes on to discuss the Professional Qualification for Headship, but postpones a decision on whether this should be made a requirement for candidates for principalship pending 'a more thorough review of the current PQH qualification that addresses some of the concerns expressed during consultation…' (RTU's evidence to the Committee confirmed that PQH had been refocused purely on candidates for Principalship). However, while stringent criteria for entry to and graduation from the PQH (or alternative programmes) would produce better qualified candidates for schools to choose among, it would not remove the need for effective selection processes to identify the best candidate for a particular school. At present the PQH is not a mandatory requirement for applicants for principalship posts.

34. Witnesses from the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) provided the Committee with a very compelling case study showing a dramatic turnaround in the attainment levels in a non-selective boys' school following a change in leadership. Discussing the new Principal's approach to recruitment an ETI witness commented:

'The principal has a very interesting philosophy on the appointment of teachers. His view is that most people who come to interviews will have the requisite professional qualification; i.e. a degree and postgraduate certificate of education (PGCE). Therefore, the weighting in the interview is more on people skills and the ability to interact and communicate with people. The principal deliberately focuses on that in the interview process, which I find very interesting.'

35. The selection of school teachers and leaders was discussed at the Committee meeting in Drumragh Integrated College in Omagh, where the Committee was interested to hear about the school's 'all day' selection process used for teacher recruitment. A follow up paper from the College stated:

'The recruitment process must involve much more than an interview. Interviews are limited in their effectiveness, easy to misread and in fact may show most clearly who is best at interview performances; in fact we want the best teacher or member of staff.'

36. The Drumragh approach is based on the belief that assessment against a range of tasks and situations will lead to the strongest and best decisions. This includes assessment of:

  • candidates teaching an observed lesson ('a powerful indicator of both their personal and their professional qualities');
  • A presentation to the interview panel;
  • Student 'interview panel' discussion group;
  • Formal interview;
  • Application form information; and
  • References.

37. The range of recruitment activities for senior leadership positions, 'especially VP or principal posts, expands to include, for example:

  • Taking an assembly
  • A time-limited "In-Tray" exercise;
  • Role-play;
  • Leading a Student Council meeting;
  • An unseen, timed task after which a presentation is given to the interview panel.'

38. The Association of Chief Executives of the Education and Library Boards stated that:

'Teachers should not be appointed until their teaching has been seen.'

'From a professional development point of view, we see it as a good practice that needs to be explored and developed.'

and

'Leadership needs to be demonstrated at all levels in the school. Appointment of effective leaders is critical.'

39. While the key characteristics/conditions for effective school leadership in disadvantaged communities have been examined before in research commissioned by the Department of Education and elsewhere, the Committee has not noted any review of the effectiveness of the selection processes used to identify school leaders.

40. The Committee did note that the Department of Education commissioned report on school governors (PricewaterhouseCoopers (2010) School Governors: The Guardians of Our Schools Bangor: Department of Education) stated:

"Our recent research into the attractiveness of school principalship has identified gaps in the training and support provided to governors, leading to some concerns about their capacity to fully discharge their responsibilities; particularly with regard to the recruitment and employment of school principals."

41. When governors were asked to what extent they feel equipped to effectively discharge their duties with regard to recruitment, 47% answered 'to some extent', 31% to a great extent, 12% to a limited extent or not at all. The report states that many governors would like additional training in areas including recruitment.

Selection of School Leaders - Conclusion

42. The Committee is mindful that, as a number of submissions highlighted, the school principal's influence on outcomes for pupils is second only to that of the quality of the teaching. However, once a school leader is appointed, the impact of that selection decision on the prospects of the pupils will be significantly increased by the successful candidate's ability to influence factors such as ethos and the quality of teaching and the following listed below:

  • to put in place robust selection processes to identify high quality teachers;
  • to monitor the quality of classroom teaching (directly and through heads of department);
  • to develop the school's senior management team (SMT), department heads and staff and to distribute leadership through the school;
  • to articulate effectively 'an agreed and shared vision for the school which full recognises the characteristics of the school, including the social profile of the intake, the place of the school within its community and the disposition of the pupils towards achievement' matched to an 'Evidentially Supported School Development Plan based on a thorough analysis of relevant data and contextual information…'[CCMS];
  • to create a culture of high expectations among pupils, parents, staff and the wider community; and
  • to develop meaningful links with, and to assume a leadership role in, the community served by the school to harness their support for the school and for the value of education among that community.

Selection of School Leaders - Recommendation

43. The Committee recommends that the Department review existing processes for selecting school leaders, having due regard to the role of the Principal as the key driver for school improvement, and bring forward, as appropriate, recommendations for robust selection procedures which require candidates to demonstrate, across a range of relevant tasks, the key leadership characteristics as well as the necessary passion for education.

Management of Underperforming School Leaders

44. The obvious corollary of attracting and selecting the right candidates to become school leaders is the management of underperforming school leaders.

Policy

45. The Department's submission to the Inquiry drew the Committee's attention to the Formal Intervention Process introduced in 2009 under the auspices of ESaGS School Improvement Policy. Following ETI assessment, this provides tailored support via the relevant E&LB Curriculum Advisory and Support Service (CASS) and (other than for the Controlled sector) the relevant sectoral body. The school must then commit to an agreed action plan, quality assured by the ETI. The Department's June 2010 Implementation Plan Progress Report highlights a great deal of work still in progress.

Evidence to the Committee

46. The issue of delay in dealing with either underperforming school leaders or impasses where key school relationships and confidence have broken down, was raised by the Chairperson of the Committee with the Chief Executives of the Education and Library Boards:

Chairperson:

'… One of the chief executives will know of a school, which I will not name, at which issues have been ongoing for six or seven years because of a dispute about a principal. The numbers at that school went from around 160 to 70. There are all sorts of reasons why that happened, but the school suffered.

I think that those two elements of the system need a radical change. What needs to be changed so that we can effectively and efficiently deal with the problem, with the result that it does not impact on the school or hinder the rights of the individual? It is not that we are trying to take rights away from individual teachers, but it is a scandal that the dispute has been ongoing, and the public perception is such that parents do not want to send their children to that school. During the time that that process was going on, numbers kept falling.

… are the processes and systems adequate to deal effectively and efficiently with a problem that may arise? Those two elements have adverse effects on the good governance and good running of a school.'

47. The Confederation of British Industry's (CBI) submission stated:

'It takes too long to address underperforming or "coasting" schools – intervention is just not quick enough, at governors' level and with teachers. It is extremely difficult to get rid of poor teachers (taking up to 3-4 years). Greater focus on management standards is also necessary.'

48. The Literacy and Numeracy Taskforce stated:

'More rigour in challenging (and if necessary removing) inneffective leaders.'

49. Glengormley High School's submission said:

'Principals need to be given the power to act quickly to assess standards of teaching and learning in the classroom and to address underperformance in a relatively short time span ie. 18 months'

Management of Underperforming School Leaders – Conclusion

50. Although this issue was raised during the Committee's Inquiry, it was not an issue on which the Committee had specifically requested stakeholders to comment. However, a number of Committee Members, some of whom had experience as School Governors, shared the concern of the Chairperson, and the stakeholders referred to above, about the effectiveness of the current process either to deal with underperforming school leaders/teachers or those situations where the relationship/confidence between the Principal on the one hand and a significant proportion the Board of Governors, the staff or community served by the school, on the other, has, for whatever reason, broken down.

Management of Underperforming School Leaders – Recommendation

51. The Committee recommends that the Department of Education review the effectiveness of the procedure for managing underperforming school leaders, including the workability of the process in light of the time and resources available to Chairpersons/Board of Governors and the autonomy inherent in the role of the Principal. The Committee also recommends that the Department in its review, and in taking action to improve the process, considers:

a. the impact on the affected pupils of the length of time it takes to address and resolve issues of underperformance, and how the process could more proportionately reflect the respective rights of the pupils whose education and future prospects are probably being damaged, and the rights of their parents, on the one hand, and the employment rights of the alleged underperforming Principal on the other;

and

b. how to address circumstances where relationships between the Principal and a significant proportion of the Board of Governors, the school staff or community served by the school, has, for whatever reason, broken down – again in a way which more proportionately reflects the respective rights of the pupils whose education and future prospects are probably being damaged, and the rights of their parents, on the one hand, and the employment rights of the alleged underperforming Principal on the other.

The Role of School Governors

Evidence to the Committee

52. The Department of Education's (2010) Every School a Good School: The Governors' Role. A Guide for School Governors Bangor highlights the employment functions of the BoG and states that 'decisions about staffing are important as they can affect the quality of the school's education provision. Staffing issues can be complex and Boards of Governors should make use of the training and support services available.' Governors' roles in relation to school staff include:

  • Recruit and select staff for appointment to the school;
  • Determine the school's staffing complement;
  • Regulate staff conduct and discipline as required by law;
  • Take decisions on payments relating to staff dismissals or resignations; and
  • Exercise other employment functions, such as the management of the performance of the Principal, staff attendance, staff training and development.

53. The Association of Chief Executives of the E&LBs evidence to the Committee included the following comment on the importance of the role of Boards of Governors:

'Whenever we talk about leadership, we are not just talking about staff. Boards of Governors must also have the necessary vision, expectations and aspirations, and they must work very closely with the senior management team in the school. Therefore, I am highlighting the importance of leadership in bringing about positive outcomes for pupils in disadvantaged communities. It has a more significant impact on schools that operate in disadvantaged areas.'

54. CCMS written submission commented that

'The span of leadership should extend to Governors'

and CCMS senior representatives emphasised this in their oral evidence session with the Committee:

'Chairperson, you posed a question about how we achieve change. That is a complex area, but a few basic truths lie at the bottom of all this. One is the tolerance of underperformance and underachievement, and where we are with that at individual, school, community and system level, which brings us back to Paul's point about challenge. In the system, there is not enough challenging of people to be better. We talk a lot about supporting schools, teachers and leaders, which is fine and important, but we also need that element of challenge.

Importantly, governors have a role to challenge. The capacity of governors to challenge their schools to be better is underdeveloped. Many schools do not challenge themselves enough to be better. I would like schools to be challenged more from within their own communities about how they can be better. We could do more to challenge schools.' [Committee Emphasis]

55. The Transferors Representatives Council stated:

'School leadership also includes governance; transferor governors, present in most controlled schools, believe that underachievement should be a vital area addressed by each school board. Governor awareness raising and training in this area is essential.'

56. Oakgrove Integrated stated:

'The Board of Governors is very involved in the school. The governors do a lot of staff training and student leadership mock interviews, because we feel that the pupils benefit hugely from seeing people from a range of life experiences working together to better the community.'

57. North Eastern Education and Library Board emphasised the need for:

'A knowledgeable and committed Board of Governors who is aware of their responsibilities, is a factor towards effective school leadership.'

58. The Education and Training Inspectorate's evidence to the Committee emphasised the challenge role of the Board of Governors:

'The school development planning regulations were used as a structure to engage in the planning process. …and the regulations helped the principal to structure the process in his head. They also helped the school's governors with their challenge function. The principal was presenting to the governors what he was doing, and he put them in the position of having to challenge him. He asked them to tell him whether he was going the right way.'

and

'The issue for us is that schools should not wait for an inspection to come along. There is an onus on the employing authority and on the school's governors to fulfil that challenge function. When we come along and point to leadership issues, people often say, "Yes, we know". The issue for us is what was done in the intervening period, because there is a responsibility on the governing body and the employing authority to prevent that situation reaching a certain point. The school also has the opportunity to call in the inspectorate. However, rather than simply accept and respond immediately, before I accede to such a demand, I ask what has been done in the intervening period to improve performance.' [Committee emphasis]

The Role of School Governors – Conclusion

59. It is clear to the Committee that Governors, in addition to the vital roles highlighted above, Boards of Governors, and in particular the Chairpersons of Boards of Governors, have key roles to play in:

  • the selection of the Principal - the key leadership role in the school – and the senior management team.
  • holding the Principal and senior management team to account

The Role of School Governors – Recommendation

60. The Committee recommends that the Department of Education review its arrangements for attracting and selecting School Governors and its training arrangements for School Governors to ensure that governors have the confidence and the knowledge to:

a. identify and select candidates for leadership positions, in particular School Principals, who demonstrate (in a multi-task based selection process) the key characteristics of effective school leaders, including those particular characteristics needed for individual schools; and

b. fulfil their key challenge function and hold the Principal and senior management team to account.

School Engagement with Parents and the Wider Community

To consider how successful schools serving disadvantaged communities have engaged with parents/guardians and the wider community, the extent to which this engagement has contributed to the school's success and how this has benefited the wider community.

61. The Committee noted early in its Inquiry the BELB point that

'research broadly agrees that all things being equal approximately only 14% of the incidence of low educational achievement is attributable to school quality'.

62. The DE submission states

'research shows the powerful influence that effective engagement with parents, and the community served by the school, can have on the outcome achieved by its pupils'.

63. Senior Department of Education officials highlighted in their evidence to the Committee that

'it is recognized that the challenge may be greater for schools who are struggling with the effects of socio-economic deprivation or serving communities where the value placed on education is not as high as it might be',

and the ESaGS – A Policy for School Improvement in setting out action in six key policy areas in its implementation plan identifies the sixth as

'increasing engagement between schools, parents and families, recognising the powerful influence they and local communities exercise on educational outcomes'.

64. ESaGS, in emphasising greater focus on engagement with schools or between schools, families and communities they serve, cites increased use of school premises by their local communities, School Councils, the Extended Schools Programme, Health Promoting Schools and the piloting of the Full Service Extended Schools concept in three Belfast Schools. During this Inquiry the Committee visited two Full Service Schools and took oral evidence from Belfast Model School for Girls. The Committee noted during the Inquiry a number of positive references to ETI's 'Together Towards Improvement', which lists generic indicators to evaluate links and partnerships with parents, the wider community etc.

Evidence to the Committee

65. The Committee, in both the written and oral evidence from schools, noted many excellent examples of school engagement with parents and the wider community under the types of engagement referenced in ESaGS, including:

  • The Principal of Ashfield Boy's High School provided many examples of his wide participation on Community Groups etc in spreading the 'school message.'
  • The Principal of Belfast Model School for Girls informed the Committee of extensive extra-curricular activities after school and provision of transport to take pupils home and practical support for home work, revision etc.
  • Coláiste Feirste stated 'we see parents as playing a key role as motivators, organizers and mentors for our children', having appointed a full time Extended School Coordinator to actively develop opportunities for pupils to engage in community work.
  • During the Committee's visit to Drumragh Integrated College, Members witnessed a Parent's Consultation Day rather than the traditional parent's evenings.
  • Hazelwood Integrated College in its submission set out ten points on how it involves parents at every stage of their child's development and cited a number of examples of the valuable role the school plays in the wider community through its Specialist School Community Programme, its Extended Schools Programme and other key programmes.
  • St Louise's Comprehensive College also referred to its Specialist School Initiative strengthening its partnership with local community organizations and other schools, the employment of a Parent Support Officer using Extended Schools funding and its 'warm relationships with parents.'

66. The Committee received and noted several documents from the Department of Education providing guidance and examples of good practice of school engagement with parents and the wider community – an ETI evaluation and a DE Circular on Extended Schools, plus evaluation reports on Full Service Schools and Achieving Belfast and Achieving Derry/Bright Futures Programmes. The Committee welcomes and acknowledges some excellent work in this area and noted the Department's statement that future decisions on some of these programmes cannot be taken until after the final Budget (2011-2015) has been agreed by the Executive. The BELB highlighted that some successful initiatives within the Board e.g. School Liaison Groups, Communities in Schools, Parent Support Programmes including Looked After Children (LAC), Integrated Services for Children and Young People plus Extended Schools, Full Service Community Schools

'have all suffered from fragmented and short term funding in initiatives where long-term planning, maintaining partnerships with other agencies and meeting shared targets proved difficult.'

67. In this regard, the Chief Executives of the Education and Library Boards (E&LBs) cited research by Professor Alan Dyson stating,

'it is clear from his research and a number of other pieces that schooling plays a minority role in the overall impact on children's learning and development. However, if we get it right, education has the capacity to punch above its weight.'

and highlighted the 'effective use of the Extended Schools Programme' plus 'Parent Support Programmes'.

68. A comprehensive submission from BELB (See Appendix 3) provided information on the very positive outcomes of many of these programmes/initiatives and the Committee noted, in particular, the results of partnership working with statutory services in the health, youth sector and local voluntary and community organisation –building integrated services focusing on learner support, early years, parent support and health and well-being for communities; linking health, education, youth justice and mental health services. The Committee also noted the BELB recommendation to extend/roll out the model of partnership with Amey and the North Belfast Full Service Community Network.

69. The CCMS submission to the Inquiry also emphasised the

'shared role of the parent and the teacher in the education of the child', 'exploiting the links established through the cluster of 'Extended Schools' to raise standards' and 'the critical importance of early intervention and prevention.'

70. The CCMS senior representatives in their discussion with the Committee, while emphasising the successful strong links between maintained schools and parishes, said the next Programme for Government should replace the Department of Education with a Department for Children and Young People, and expressed fears that if we as a society here fail to meet the socio-economic challenges facing us and are unable to offer young people a motivating vision through our schools we could see some turn to violence and criminality.

71. The GTC NI submission to the Inquiry, in highlighting the importance of school's parental engagement, stated:

'the need for education to contribute not just to personal well-being and economic prosperity but also broader social cohesion.'

72. The Literacy and Numeracy Taskforce said in its submission that:

'there needs to be a fundamental 'culture of change' in terms of communications, use of facilities, day to day involvement of parents' and 'the establishments of working links with other agencies ... industry and commerce.'

73. NICIE's submission said

'a successful engagement with parents from disadvantaged areas is critical to the success for their children in school, if the cycle of educational deprivation is to be broken'. 'Successful initiatives such as Extended Schools should be protected and maintained e.g. Families and Schools Together Project.'

74. The Committee welcomes the substantial work undertaken in recent years to advance school engagement with parents and the wider community. Based on the evidence received, some of which is reflected in the above paragraphs, the Committee, in seeking to build on existing work and practice, has focused on three areas where it considers there is potential for improvement:

  • Building integrated services linking health, education, youth justice, social development and mental health services;
  • Closer links with feeder primary schools and local post-primary schools; and
  • Greater use of ICT between schools (pupils), parents and community.

Building Integrated Services

75. As set out in paragraphs 68 to 69 above, which reflect key points in the BELB and CCMS submissions on this subject area, plus other evidence received, the Committee considers there is considerable potential to improve the integration of services linking health, education, youth justice, social development and mental health services, and improving these particular services. The CCEA submission said that:

'Extended Schools Policy is intended to support those schools that draw pupils from some of the most disadvantaged communities to provide a range of services and programmes outside the traditional day to help meet the needs of pupils, their families, and wider communities. O-3 are critical years and much could be gained by supporting parents, providing motivation and building confidence working in communities.'

76. The ETI Evaluation of Extended Schools July 2010 found that:

'… in almost 90% of cases where Extended Schools are serving disadvantaged communities effectively, significant improvements are evident in the educational outcomes and the personal and social well-being of pupils. Extended Schools activities are frequently improving the lives of parents and helping them re-engage with education following their own, often poor experiences and perceptions of school.'

77. Many schools in their responses referred to benefits and potential of the Extended Schools Programme and the Full Service Schools approach:

78. Hazelwood Integrated College 'look forward to the establishment of effective partnerships with Health and Social Services so that together we can meet the needs of students with mental health problems and behavioural difficulties. We believe that placing a Family Liaison Officer in each school could be advantageous, but only if schools are fully supported by external agencies. The 'team around the child' and Full Service Schools approach sounds good, again only if these are given appropriate funding, staffing and time to work together.'

79. St Louise's Comprehensive College employs a Parent Support Officer using Extended Schools funding who 'provides an invaluable link with families through home visits and quality targeted support in the Pastoral Support Centre'

80. Belfast Model School for Girls stated 'Extended School funding is vital for Homework Club, Easter Revision Classes, Coursework Clinic etc'

81. Coláiste Feirste appointed a full-time Extended Schools Coordinator and funds its own Learning Support Manager/SENCO

82. Drumragh Integrated College employs a non-teaching Learning Mentor (Social worker with a nursing background) who can coach children with their social skills. 'She makes home visits and builds relationships with parents' and Integrated Services for Children and Young People (West Belfast Partnership) highlighted 'Multidisciplinary approaches eg health agencies, support services, youth and community workers' and 'External Agencies and organisations should be encouraged to become part of the school community'.

Building Integrated Services – Recommendation

83. The Committee recommends that the Department urgently review, in consultation with the ETI and the School Sector Bodies, the potential through existing and new programmes and initiatives to focus on building integrated holistic services which would include services targeted on learner support, early years, youth justice, social development and mental health services. The review would be undertaken in conjunction with and/or in consultation with the relevant services within the Department of Health, Social Service and Public Safety; the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister; Department of Justice and Department for Social Development. The Committee would emphasise that integrated services must be focused and targeted to create clear and quantifiable outcomes which directly benefit young people.

84. The Committee in putting forward this recommendation recognises that 'one size does not fit all' and with the current budget constraints any refreshed or new services must clearly demonstrate value for money. The element of this recommendation to enhance integrated 'holistic' early years services is fully in line with the Committee's formal response to the DE draft Early Years (0-6) Strategy in relation to the 'absence of cross-Departmental approach to Early Years'- see http://archive.niassembly.gov.uk/education/2007mandate/early_years/Agreed_Ctte_Response.pdf.

85. The Committee, having proposed a motion on this subject which received the Assembly's support, welcomed the Minister of Education's expressed intention at the time to meet with OFMDFM Junior Ministers and the Minister for Health to consider the implications of a broader cross-Departmental approach to Early Years.

Closer Links with Feeder Primary Schools and Local Post-Primary Schools

86. Numerous schools in their submissions to the Inquiry and within their oral evidence to the Committee, emphasised the importance of strong links with their feeder/local primary schools and highlighting the benefits – for example:

  • Dean Maguirc College spoke of 'establishing a profile of every student transferring to us';
  • Castlederg High School referred to '100+ [attending] after school clubs in sports' from their feeder Primary Schools;
  • Ashfield Boys referred to encouraging the use of school facilities during and after school e.g. science labs, ICT, 3G soccer pitch;
  • Belfast Model School for Girls referred to the importance of transition activities and sharing resources; and
  • St Mary's High School Newry pointed to their 'year 13 Mentors working in 6 local primary schools'

87. The Literacy and Numeracy Taskforce's submission to the Inquiry referred to the importance of close liaison with Primary schools. St Pius X College has appointed a Primary School Coordinator. The Committee was impressed by the positive engagement and sharing activities with primary schools and the practical benefits to primary school pupils in easing their important and sometimes stressful transition to post-primary school. In addition there were clear benefits to post-primary schools, for example, by establishing an early profile of pupils transferring. The Committee considers that active encouragement to schools to increase and broaden this engagement has the potential to bring great benefits for all within the school community – with minimal extra expenditure.

Closer Links with Feeder Primary Schools and Local Post-Primary Schools – Recommendation

88. The Committee recommends that the current practice of positive engagement and sharing between local/feeder primary schools and local post-primary schools, and the benefits to both parties, should be examined by the Department in consultation with School Sector Bodies and schools with a view to establishing good practice guidelines for schools which would seek to build on and maximise the benefits to all parties.

Greater Use of ICT between Schools (Pupils), Parents and the Community

89. The Committee noted a number of schools in their submissions to the Inquiry highlighted their use of the school website as 'part of their regular means of communication and contact between home and school' (Ballymoney High School).

90. Glengormley High School – who successfully organised a recent video-link discussion with the Committee – highlighted:

'the engagement of pupils, parents and the community through the school website, virtual learning environment and related innovations which allow 24/7 access to support and information'. 'Our data shows that 300 pupils per weekend access learning material and an average of 90% of pupils access outside the school day'.

91. Newry High School highlighted their:

'use of multimedia and ICT to focus attention and stimulus and interest, especially for boys' saying that it is 'vital any ICT is pupil led, active and hands on...'.

92. The Committee noted North Coast Integrated College have an ICT Club facilitating homework activities using ICT; and parent courses in ICT. Also, St Pius X College have an E-Learning Coordinator, who having recently attended a BECTA conference on engagement with parents, has some innovative ideas to action on this subject. The SEELB recommended in its submission to the Inquiry that there should be:

'targeted provision to help parents to support learning in 'the home' with a focus to include ICT'.

93. The Committee considers that use of ICT between schools and parents and the community must be an important efficient and effective means of communication in 2011 and in the years to come.

Greater use of ICT between Schools (Pupils), Parents and the Community – Recommendation

94. The Committee recommends that the Department reviews the potential to expand and broaden the use of ICT between Schools (Pupils), Parents and the Community to maximise the benefits to pupil learning. The review would be undertaken in consultation with the Schools Sectors Bodies and schools with a view to establishing good practice guidelines for schools.

Addressing Underachievement in Disadvantaged Communities

To consider how successful schools serving disadvantaged communities address the causes of underachievement, including higher levels of underachievement of boys (reference DE Report by PWC No.49, 2008), and potential measures to address this.

Pupil Attainment Data: Collection and Analysis

95. The DE Report No. 49 by PWC (2008) made reference to the benefit that the effective use of data could have on addressing underachievement, citing it as an area for improvement in schools, based on ETI reports. Written and oral evidence submitted to the Inquiry endorses the view that the retention and use of data on student attainment has a number of benefits for schools, such as a trigger for early intervention and measuring in terms of pupil attainment value added. The Department states in ESaGS – A Policy for School Improvement that its goal in relation to self-evaluation is,

"To provide the support systems needed to help all schools to engage positively in robust self-evaluation and to use the findings from self-assessment and performance and other data to determine priorities and to plan for continuing improvement" (Page 27)

96. In ESaGS, the Department makes a number of references to the use of data for the purposes of self-evaluation and self-improvement. The 'e-schools system' which the Department aspires to in the policy however, tends to suggest the use of whole-school data for the purposes of benchmarking performance against other schools of a similar nature.

97. During the course of the Inquiry, the Committee has learnt that the use of diagnostic assessment tools for the purposes of assessing individual pupils is in widespread use, and was referred to as a key strategic measure in addressing underachievement by a number of schools in both oral and written submissions:

"Our effective use and analysis of data yielded by standardised tests, diagnostic tests and the Northern Ireland cohort data promotes improvement. The monitoring of pupils and the early identification of underachievers results in appropriate intervention and informs planning, which, for the relevant pupil, may take the form of setting short-term targets, drawing up an IEP or mentoring." (Mr James Warnock, Principal – Dean Maguirc College)

'Extensive analysis of data to identify underaspirers largely of whom are boys' and 'The absence of a set of value added measures is a grave cause for concern' (Oakgrove Integrated College}.

"Data analysis, target setting and value added are used to promote improvement in all aspects of a pupil's development. We have high expectations of pupil performance and use a range of testing mechanisms including MidYIS, YELLIS and Assessment Manager." (Mrs Edwina Toner , Vice-Principal – St Pius X College)

'the school [St Paul's HS, Bessbrook] tracks progress at Key Stage 4 using Assessment Manager and uses this process for identifying under performance and setting appropriate targets'. (SELB)

98. Further enquiries by the Committee indicate that 52% of post-primary schools in Northern Ireland are using the diagnostic assessment packages Yellis and/or MidYIS for the purposes of measuring pupil aptitude and ability and assessing the value added by the school. Despite the widespread use amongst many successful schools, no particular software package or packages have been recommended by the Department with a view to standardising practice at post-primary level. The Committee considers this to be of utmost importance, the benefits of which is acknowledged by the E&LBs,

'There is need for a more robust, regional management information system to compare and monitor pupil performance while considering measures related to a pupil's home circumstances eg super output data. If correctly populated the new e-schools data warehouse has the potential to deliver a more sophisticated analysis of pupil progress and to provide more accurate information on initiatives worthy of replication across the region.' (E&LBs Inquiry Submission)

'The Department of Education needs to urgently establish a standard value added measure which is particularly relevant to schools operating in socially deprived areas' (E&LBs Briefing Paper)

99. The policy as outlined in ESaGS suggests that there may be an intention by the Department to address these outstanding issues,

'If we are serious about wanting to engage parents and others more fully in the education of their children and the life and work of the school, we also need to recognise the importance of sharing information on these measures with parents. We believe that parents should have ready access to information on the performance of their children and on the overall performance of the school and we are making changes to reporting arrangements to ensure that the outcomes of diagnostic assessments such as InCAS and end of Key Stage assessments are reported to parents. (Page 26)

100. The Committee also notes ESaGS, when referring to self-evaluation and self-assessment and access to data and other information on how schools compare with their counterparts, states that,

'We need therefore to make sure that this information includes an agreed set of benchmarked and value-added indicators that allow for meaningful comparison between schools. We will develop these indicators but we also need to recognise that there is already a significant volume of information at the disposal of school leaders'. (Page 26)

101. The growing emphasis on retaining and using data for individual pupils' development was acknowledged by Departmental officials during their evidence session to the Inquiry where its use for measuring value added was outlined,

"You may recall when we came to talk to you about the new assessment arrangements that were coming in it was a particular feature of the assessment arrangements that we were bringing in support of the cross-curricular skills of communication, using mathematics and using ICT because we were conscious that if we got the Key Stage 1 assessments robust teacher moderated with a level of confidence and consistency and approach that they would themselves provide one element of a baseline from which value added could be measured. Additionally we took the view that rather than simply just setting targets for the percentage of young people reaching the expected level at the end of every Key Stage, we would also set a target that every pupil be expected - unless there were very good reasons why not - progress at least one level, and that way we thought it would be a useful way of actually capturing those pupils who maybe leave primary school with a very high level of attainment and why wouldn't we set them a stretching target for the first year of post-primary or indeed those young people who maybe are achieving at a Level 1 at a Key Stage 1 and at a Level 3 at Key Stage 2 and thereby not at the expected level at either Key Stage, but making a significant amount of progress that we think should be captured." (Senior DE Official)

Pupil Attainment Data – Conclusion

102. Whilst the Committee acknowledges that whole school data is important for benchmarking within and between schools, there should be emphasis on tracking the individual pupil to maximise the benefits that data analysis can have for the purposes of measuring value added, and the early intervention process, the importance of which was emphasised to the Committee by the E&LBs,

"With young people, and young boys in particular, early intervention is important, especially in key skills such as literacy and numeracy." (Stanton Sloan, Chief Executive – SEELB)

The Chief Executives of E&LBs in their submission highlighted: 'need for early intervention addresses needs for boys'.

103. There were also words of caution about school statistical targets,

'A growing emphasis on statistical targets is in danger of being overplayed, providing easy but not necessarily useful measurement. The best targets have words in them, not numbers' (Drumragh Integrated College)

Pupil Attainment Data – Recommendation

104. The Committee recommends that the Department should urgently review its policy with regards to the collection and analysis of e-data on pupil attainment, particularly the use of diagnostic assessment tools for the purposes of meeting individual pupil needs; a practice which has been identified as being extensively in use by a number of successful schools. The Committee believes that the Department should coordinate the development/use of a standard diagnostic assessment tool which should be available for use by all schools in line with developments on the new e-Schools data warehouse and levels of progression assessment arrangements. An option may be to seek to centrally procure the necessary software for future use by all schools.

Tailoring Curriculum/Curriculum Flexibility

105. The Committee notes the ESaGS – A Policy for School Improvement indicator under 'Child-centred provision' that 'a commitment exists to ensuring that all children follow an educational pathway which is appropriate for them in a school through a collaborative arrangement with another school, FE College or other provider'.

106. The Committee also notes the ETI Chief Inspector's Report 2008-2010, which sets out as an area for improvement that schools,

'need to identify teaching and learning strategies which match the specific needs of individual learners and which will lead to sustained improvement in their standards and skills.' (Page 37)

107. In evidence submitted to the Inquiry, a number of schools emphasised the importance of being able to tailor the curriculum to suit the potential and the aspirations of their learners, particularly in order to motivate boys.

"At KS4 and KS5 the college tailors the curriculum to the needs of our mixed ability intake...Access to a wide range of academic and vocational courses that interest [pupils] and provide them with future career pathways motivates our young people to succeed." (Hazelwood Integrated College)

"At Key Stage 3, our curriculum is infused with thinking skills, personal capabilities and the cross-curriculum skills of communication, using mathematics and ICT. At Key Stages 4 and 5, our broadly-based, balanced and flexible curriculum is tailored to meet the needs of individual pupils and ensures appropriate curriculum progression routes. It is important to stress that we promote a socially inclusive curriculum that ensures participation in education for all our pupils." (St Pius X College)

"We also tried to tailor our curriculum to meet the needs of the boys. At [the commencement of the Boys' Learning Project], a lot of the boys were leaving shortly after Christmas and did not complete their years. We introduced an alternative education provision, which suited their needs better. We looked at courses such as construction and joinery, plumbing, motor vehicle studies, and so on. Slowly but surely, we began to evolve occupational studies and, as our curriculum developed over the years, we found that the boys were studying subjects that they want to study. Obviously, they have still to work on English, maths and science, but they are much more engaged in the curriculum." (Castlederg High School)

Tailoring Curriculum/Curriculum Flexibility – Conclusion

108. The evidence presented to the Committee, particularly in oral evidence sessions suggests that by tailoring the curriculum on offer and adapting to pupils needs for different styles of learning – particularly boys – pupils will be more willing to engage in learning, particularly in STEM subjects. A number of schools emphasised that when tailoring the curriculum to suit the needs of a broad range of learners – particularly for those less likely to pursue a wholly academic route – consideration must be given to needs of the local labour market, particularly in rural areas. BELB's evidence to the Committee suggested that some flexibility in terms of the age at which pupils take GCSEs would be beneficial – some pupils simply require an additional year or two at school to reach a particular level of attainment, for example 16 year old boys with little to no qualifications.

109. The Committee received positive evidence from the Derg Mourne Learning Community of the benefits for boys of accessing courses through collaboration, including the way in which career pathways are being developed (see Appendix 4).

Tailoring Curriculum/Curriculum Flexibility – Recommendation

110. The Committee recommends that the Department review the Entitlement Framework and the practice of tailoring the curriculum to meet the needs of pupils, in particular at Key Stage 4 and 5, and with boys, with a view to requiring schools to periodically consult with pupils, parents, feeder primary schools and the wider community served by the school regarding the range and mix of general and applied courses which the school should offer, and provide schools with the flexibility to tailor their offering to reflect the outcome of that consultation.

Mentoring

111. Mentoring was highlighted as a pupil level policy adopted in Britain along with a number of other measures for raising academic attainment in the PWC Report (No. 50, 2008) to the Department, Good Practice in Literacy and Numeracy in British and Irish Cities where the level of Social Deprivation is comparable to, or worse than, Belfast. A policy with regards to mentoring was also raised in a Research Briefing prepared by the Department' (RB 3/2008) Literacy and Numeracy of Pupils in Northern Ireland – Good Practice in Literacy and Numeracy in British and Irish Cities, which recommended that,

"Consideration should be given to best practice in flexing teaching to the needs of individual pupils, or groups of pupils, such as boys, and establishing schemes such as target-setting and mentoring and involving role-models for pupils at risk of underperforming." (Page 17)

112. In ESaGS – A Policy for School Improvement however, references to mentoring are only made in relation to the development of newly appointed principals, with no expressed intent to adopt a specific mentoring policy as an action for tackling the barriers to learning.

113. During the course of the Inquiry, the Committee heard evidence about a range of pastoral schemes being undertaken by schools aimed at providing support and encouragement for pupils through mentoring support schemes. These schemes fell into three broad categories –mentoring by a member of staff; peer mentoring by a senior pupil; and more broadly mentoring role models drawn from the local community/former pupils. A number of successful post-primary schools regarded the pastoral support that they provide for their pupils to be integral to addressing the barriers to learning which may otherwise encumber progress and success. Furthermore, the Committee noted evidence which highlighted that by having an effective pastoral system in place, teaching time can be used most effectively for the benefit of all learners, for example, disruption due to discipline issues is minimised.

"We have also been involved in community-based mentoring. We have brought in past students of the college who have gone on to become social workers and community workers in Magherafelt. Quite often, we find that some of the boys who do not necessarily engage with academic tutoring will open up more to community mentors because they see them out and about. They may be people in Gaelic or those in the community who run their own businesses, and the children aspire to be like them. As a result, it breaks down the pupil/teacher barrier. Those people tell the pupils that they got to their position through hard work and discipline." (St Pius X College)

'A number of boys will engage much more happily with an older student than they do with a member of staff, so we are meeting their needs.' 'Mentoring by staff of underachieving Year 11 pupils, largely boys, followed up with support by senior pupils' (Oakgrove Integrated College)

'Successful Schools have mentoring programmes in place to support pupils at risk of underachievement' (NEELB)

'Whole-school pupil mentoring from Year 8 after baseline abilities and underachievement' (Belfast Model School for Girls).

'A strong mentoring scheme which identifies early underachievement but more importantly puts in place remedial action. This scheme runs from year 8-12 with strong parental input. The full time School Counsellor has a massive role to play (funded through Neighbourhood Renewals). Early identification of problems which could affect academic performance.' (Ashfield Boys' School)

114. Evidence presented to the Inquiry suggests that there are clear potential benefits from a range of mentoring strategies. Whilst professional support should be available for young people in need of it, more informal support systems, such as peer and role-model mentoring, may be more effective in motivating and increasing the aspirations of pupils, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds where little value is attached to educational attainment. Mentoring by successful past pupils and local community leaders also helps build community links and while maximising teaching time for teaching staff.

Mentoring – Recommendation

115. The Committee recommends that the Department of Education issues good practice guidance to schools on a range of mentoring options. The use of peer mentoring to assist with pupils who have recently made the transition to post-primary school should be considered as an effective means by which to raise the aspirations of younger students, and may help pupils talk openly about the challenges they face, which might otherwise go undetected. Role models in the form of past pupils and members of the local community can also help create in older pupils the aspiration to continue in full time education, and see the full value in engaging in school life.

Rewarding Progress

116. The Committee notes the ESaGS – A Policy for School Improvement indicator under 'Child-centred provision' that 'a school culture of achievement exists – with clear expectations that all pupils can and will achieve to the very best of their ability.'

117. The Committee heard evidence regarding a range of reward/incentive schemes which had proven effective in engaging and motivating pupils. Different schemes were tailored to different age groups, and there were examples of schemes designed to reward pupils for academic attainment or attainment of individual progress goals, whilst others focused on raising the self-esteem of pupils in a broader sense.

"The second element is a system of behaviour management that includes high standards of discipline, which we unashamedly maintain. At the same time, we complement that with a reward system and structure that is very much alive and active. Our younger students in particular buy into a system of reward merits, which are extremely popular. There are rewards for good work and particularly outstanding effort. The students love to get those merits, because they give them a sense of achievement, and they are a way for us to say that we appreciate who they are and what they have achieved." (Drumragh Integrated College)

"We have a very strong rewards system in the school. It starts with trips, and includes teaching staff and my office staff. We went to the World Cup in South Africa and we are about to go to New York. The kids raise the money themselves; we do not just sign a cheque. We reward what the good kids do…We have found that the rewards system increases the self-esteem of the kids. They have to reach a certain percentage of achievement before they can go on those trips." (Ashfield Boys' School)

'The development of a Merit System for Attendance and another one for Behaviour enabled the school to communicate positive messages on a regular basis to parents. Children were bringing home Bronze, Silver and Gold certificates as evidence of an improving school and this "feel good" factor transmitted itself to parents' (J Allen OBE, ex Principal)

Rewarding Progress – Conclusion

118. The Committee considers that adoption of a merit/reward scheme tailored to pupil age and needs may be an effective means of motivating and engaging pupils at risk of underachieving, particularly those from a family and community background where little or no value is placed on education.

Rewarding Progress - Recommendation

119. The Committee recommends that the Department issue good practice guidance to schools to highlight the benefits of merit/reward systems and encourage their use, highlighting appropriate case studies and encouraging the sharing of good practice in this area, particularly among schools serving disadvantaged communities.

Addressing Poor Attendance

120. The Committee sought a written briefing paper from the Department on poor attendance at school on 1 July 2010, and were informed that one would be made available in early 2011 in order to incorporate the most recent statistical data on pupil attendance (still awaited).

121. The Committee welcomes the commitment by the Minister, who in concluding her response to an Assembly debate on school attendance, stated that,

"I am very aware that children and young people experience stress in their lives, as has been mentioned. There are very high levels of violence against women and children at all different levels — physical, emotional and sexual. That can impact negatively on their capacity to learn and their desire to participate in school. That is why we are now focusing on barriers to learning and developing a pupil's emotional health and well-being programme in partnership with the education sector, the health sector and the voluntary sector. In conclusion, I reassure Members that we take the problem of poor attendance very seriously and we look at all the underlying reasons. I thank our officials, who have worked very hard in that area. Go raibh maith agat." (Minister of Education, 28 June 2010)

122. The Committee notes the findings in the DE Report No. 50 by PWC (2008), which highlights poor attendance as a factor impacting on attainment in Great Britain and Ireland, and more specifically as an indicator of a pupil's attitude to education,

'In Ireland, school leaders highlighted the impact of a lack of confidence and self-esteem (particularly related to early perceived failure) on future attainment and stated that attendance, particularly in disadvantaged post-primary schools, was a problem.

If children don't feel they can achieve, it trickles through everything.' (Page 23)

123. The Committee notes also the guidance of 'Education Support for Northern Ireland' on behalf of the E&LBs, which outlines the importance of good attendance of pupils at school for the purposes of employment prospects in later life, whilst also highlighting the risk of poor attendance exposing pupils to crime and abuse.[1]

124. During the course of the Inquiry the Committee learnt of a number of initiatives and approaches being taken by schools to ensure that attendance problems are addressed.

"Not only have we implemented programmes and strategies through the full service programme, we have been fortunate in being able to employ staff. We have employed a family link attendance officer. That officer works with young people who have an attendance rate between 80% and 90%. We are careful not to impinge on the role of the educational welfare officer, and we are working in partnership with those officers." (Belfast Model School for Girls)

"There is also contact as we monitor learning. For example, in year 12, when pupils are being mentored toward GCSEs, we look to the head of year 12 to identify pupils with attendance difficulties. If we see patterns of a dip in attendance, we try to intervene. The head of year and an education welfare officer will visit a pupil's parents to address any issues and to try to motivate them to maintain that pupil's attendance, with a view to achieving better progress in the months prior to GCSEs." (Castlederg High School)

"For some children, even just improving their attendance rate is a major feat. I am actually involved in a situation at the moment where we have managed to get a particular young person in, which is an absolutely phenomenal success in itself, and now they are now starting to learn. However, we are not teaching that individual any academic subjects. Believe it or not, their real interest is in woodwork, and they are coming to school because we have built that in for them." (SEELB)

'Early intervention systems are used to address poor attendance'. (NEELB)

Addressing Poor Attendance – Conclusion

125. A high level of pupil attendance is a pre-requisite for effective learning and is also a barometer of pupils' motivation, aspirations and engagement with school.

Addressing Poor Attendance - Recommendation

126. The Committee recommends that the Department issue good practice guidance on attendance to highlight the importance of good attendance, its significance as an indicator of problems requiring early intervention, identifying good practice in managing attendance and encouraging the sharing of good practice in attendance management among schools serving disadvantaged communities.

Department of Education School Improvement Policy

127. To consider the Department's Policy 'Every School a Good School – A Policy for School Improvement' and other relevant Departmental policies in light of the evidence received in the course of the Inquiry and make any relevant recommendations to the Department.

128. The Committee noted many favourable submissions on ESaGS and Together Towards Improvement, including the following:

129. The ETI publication Together Towards Improvement was commented on by Ballycastle High School:

'The "Every School a Good School" policy and "Together Towards Improvement" – especially the latter – are good publications since they spell out what good practice looks like on the ground.'

130. Castlederg High School's submission noted:

'We are particularly pleased that the new Together Towards Improvement document matches the ideals of ESaGS and provides excellent quality indicators on which we can measure our success. The policy document is clear and concise and provides a clear route map to allow schools to improve their performance'

and 'Promoting Positive Behaviour – Pastoral care in Schools …..invaluable'

131. Drumragh Integrated College commented:

'The most recent version of 'Together Towards Improvement' offers a tool for this [self-evaluation], although it feels a little rough at the edges and was not even proofread accurately.'

132. The Integrated College Dungannon commented favourably on the emphasis on self-evaluation and the supporting materials:

'Staff found time spent using the "Evaluating Series" to self-evaluate and reflect very useful. This helped them decide the areas for development within their departments. I intend to use Staff Development Days to facilitate self-evaluation against the new Together Towards Improvement document.'

133. D J Killough stated:

'Every School a Good School gave me the confidence to approach the staff and parents with positive outlooks for the pupils of the school.'

134. St Louise's Comprehensive College stated:

'I would like to commend the Department on two particular policies, namely Every School a Good School and Together Towards Improvement.'

135. However, some submissions expressed qualified support for the policy, including:

136. Oakgrove Integrated College's submission stated:

'I think that "Every School a Good School" is largely an excellent policy for school improvement. …The absence of a set of "value added measures" is a grave cause for concern … '

137. Ballymoney High School's submission stated:

'Our chief concern about DE policy is that it can appear remote and theoretical'

138. Mr John Allen, former Principal of St Colm's, Twinbrook, and Our Lady and St Patrick's College, Knock, commented on benefits of the 'critical friend' relationship he enjoyed with the ETI District Inspector:

'By meeting frequently we grew to trust and respect one another with the result that I never felt threatened or worried when Dr Shevlin would ask probing questions. I knew he was doing what any good professional should do. The fact that he felt comfortable doing so is further evidence of this shared respect.'

However, in relation to School Improvement Policy he commented:

'The School Improvement Policy document says all the right things and could certainly be used by schools as a means of evaluating progress but if The Inspectorate want to be a catalyst for change then its members have to be closely and more regularly involved in individual schools. Otherwise I fear that the policy will remain the property of DE and the schools will not come to shape the vision and make it theirs. I am convinced that Inspectors would find frequent contact with a cohort of schools much more rewarding than the present system of inspecting.'

139. The Principal of Ashfied Boys' High School echoed this sentiment when he stated:

'The Policy of 'Every School a Good School' was my blueprint for school improvement when I was appointed 12 years ago yet the document has only recently surfaced. …

Could a rationalisation of the Inspectorate not have a part to play? Do we need to inspect 'good' schools?'

140. The Principal of Belfast Model School for Girls also commented:

'I will talk about the role of the schools inspectorate in the area of school improvement. We went through an inspection in 2008 and I felt that it was user-friendly. We learned a lot from it 60 and we came out with an excellent report. The staff got together beforehand, and the positives that came after the inspection were very good. However, I do not see why money has to be spent inspecting good schools.'

141. The Literacy and Numeracy Taskforce also advocated:

'Inspection aimed primarily at underperforming schools'

142. CCMS commented on what it saw as a:

'Lack of Policy Coherence: CCMS believes that ESaGS should be DE core policy with all other policies aligned to it. This is not currently the case.'

143. CCMS submission also commented on the need for:

'Broader Policy Alignment: Education needs to sit at the centre of Executive thinking particularly on the economy …There needs to be a long term strategy to re-balance the economy throught education from early years (0-3) to the range of economically focused, applied courses…'

144. BELB's submission stated:

'We would reinforce the need for relevant departments to have a consistent approach to devising policy and for an integrated approach to be planned, implemented and monitored at government, administration and front-line levels. Any initiatives to raise achievement should be undertaken from birth. Pre-school education, parenting help, income support and everything which improves the homed learning environment are essential components of what needs to be done if real change is to be made.'

A government led policy on information sharing across all services in issues relating to children's needs is also required if we are to avoid delay and duplication in the system. Streamlined, seamless and timely support is particularly relevant in addressing the learning needs of boys who reside in areas of high social deprivation …' [Committee emphasis]

BELB's submission also referred to an example of joined-up service provision:

'Parent support programmes are facilitated for schools by the board's parenting officer and at the moment at an individual family level through Integrated Services for Children and Young People (ISCYP) in the Shankill and West Belfast. Schools involved have reported improved relationships with parents and improved attendance at events in the school. With parental attitudes to education considered fundamental to educational achievement, initiatives needs to be long term - to build up a community's support for education and raise the value placed on the benefits it can bring.'

'BELB with Health Action Zone and the Integrated Services for Children and Young People Project has piloted developing and providing Integrated Services for Children and Young People (ISCYPS). The services focus on learner support, early years, parent support and health and well-being for communities in Shankill and the West. This innovative, bottom-up model, in partnership with community and statutory providers including health, education, youth justice and mental health services is in its third year of delivery. Some positive messages are emerging.'

145. Hazelwood Integrated College in its submission referred to:

'We look forward to the establishment of effective partnerships with Health and Social Services…'

146. In evidence to the Committee the Chief Executive of the SEELB said:

'…we had a situation in which health was based in a school: speech therapy. What we found was that children attended 95% of speech therapy sessions in the school, while another speech therapy session in the local health clinic only had a 17% uptake. The child benefits, but there is also an economy of scale from putting that therapist in there. It means that parents do not have far to travel, you have got the parents in the school and you start to build a relationship. The children benefit because they are there, and the speech therapist can see more children. Therefore, there are a lot of advantages for all the key players. It goes back to what I said earlier; a common, agreed strategic vision about what we want for children would be a major step forward.'

147. The Chief Executives of the E&LBs in their submission concluded:

'There needs to be more joined up cost effective delivery of services for children with shared accountability for improving outcomes'

Conclusion

148. The Committee was impressed by the number of positive comments received from stakeholders on ESaGS and, in particular, Together Towards Improvement. Clearly good work has been done by the Department and the ETI in developing both documents and the Committee wishes to commend that good work.

149. The Committee considers that there is a need for a more coherent system of education policies in relation to the operation of integrated/joined up services for children and that these policies are better aligned across relevant departments supported by a government led policy on information sharing across all services in issues relating to children's needs.

Recommendation

150. The Committee noted the comments above in relation to the targeting etc of inspections and the Committee recommends that the Department and ETI consider these comments when reviewing their policy and practice on inspections, particularly with oncoming budget constraints.

151. The Committee recommends that the Department of Education review its arrangements for education policy formulation in relation to the operation of integrated services for children. This review should ensure that, where appropriate, policy is developed on a fully integrated basis across relevant departments which fosters cooperation and joined up delivery of front line services for children, young people and their parents/guardians.

152. An example of the thrust of this recommendation may be found in the Committee's formal response to the DE draft Early Years (0-6) Strategy in relation to the 'Absence of Cross-Departmental approach to Early Years' where the Minister wrote to request meetings with other Ministers in response to stakeholders concerns, stating:

'During the consultation on the draft Strategy, concerns have been expressed that the draft Strategy needs to be broader based and to provide a cross-cutting overview of the Executive's approach to early years provision. This would cover the social care and educational needs of young children from pre-birth to age six.' [http://archive.niassembly.gov.uk/education/2007mandate/early_years/Agreed_Ctte_Response.pdf.]

Recommendation

153. The Committee recommends that the Department of Education take the lead in the development of a policy on information sharing across all departments in relation to services for children's education needs.

Targeted Funding and School Improvement Policy

154. The Committee noted a number of comments on funding in the context of school improvement policy including:

155. Oakgrove Integrated's submission stated:

As regards funding/awpu the money should be targeted where it is most needed, ie. disadvantaged pupils. This alone would begin to address the issue of underachievement and allow schools to begin to implement vital interventions without having to rely on external funding which is only available for short periods.'

156. Comments in BELB's submission highlighted the link between funding policy and successful outcomes for pupils:

'Many schools have raised concerns about the maturity levels of pupils sitting exams at specified times rather than when they are ready – particularly those who wish to stay post-16 but who do not qualify for AWPU funding due to their low attainments. Research has already demonstrated that disadvantaged young people are much more likely to achieve GCSEs by staying on at school than by accessing further education (FE) elsewhere.'

'The board welcomes the recommendations on community and parental engagement and involvement outlined in ESaGS as they are particularly relevant to schools in the Belfast area. However it should be noted, that as in raising the performance of pupils, for some schools engaging parents and the local community is a very complex task to achieve and it presents additional challenges in the absence of targeted funding.'

'Educational research supports the view that resources make a difference; surveys across the UK sponsored by the Rowntree Foundation confirm a significant reduction in low achievement when there is enhanced funding per pupil and a higher adult to pupil ratio in the school.'

'The funding formula for schools should be reassessed to reflect more accurately the specific needs of children. While helpful as a broad indicator of need, free school meals (FSM) entitlement alone is an inadequate measure of need in calculating funding for schools through LMS. Other indicators of disadvantage such as the neighbourhood unemployment rate, the percentage of single parent households and the proportion of parents with low educational qualifications, are recognised as being statistically associated with low achievement. The current funding formula, based on FSM, is not sufficiently weighted to address the additional workload generated or the resources needed to engage children and young people with high levels of need and/or the costs associated with providing equitable educational opportunities.'

157. The Chief Officers of E&LBs in their submission concluded:

'The funding formula for schools should be revised to more accurately reflect the specific needs of children. There is a need to broaden the parameters particularly around indicators of disadvantage and deprivation.'

Targeted Funding and School Improvement Policy - Conclusion

158. The Committee broadly agrees with the comments above on targeting of funding to schools to address underachievement, but would emphasise the need for clear and quantifiable outcomes which directly benefit young people. The Committee also agrees there is a need for a more effective measure of social and economic disadvantage.

Targeted Funding and School Improvement Policy - Recommendations

159. The Committee recommends that the Department, in its annual review of its policy on school funding, ensures that proportionate resources are effectively and efficiently targeted for the benefit of pupils from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

160. The Committee recommends that the Department take the lead in developing, in conjunction with other relevant government departments, an effective measure of social and economic disadvantage which includes FSM as one of a 'bundle' of indicators.

Measuring Success - the 5 GCSE A*-C benchmark

161. Some schools commented on the measures by which performance is judged within education. These included:

162. St Fanchea's College stated in their submission:

'Longer term targets for improving educational outcomes with "Every School a Good School" document may be aspirational for schools within the secondary [non-selective] sector who realistically will have a significant number of pupils enrolling Year * at levels in Literacy and Numeracy below DE expected/target levels. The long term education outcomes stated provide little detail re the value-added impact of schools in the secondary [non-selective] sector'

163. Ballymoney High School:

'ESaGS is a worthy document, including a rightful inclusion of pastoral and school ethos matters alongside curricular provision …Our chief concern about DE policy is that it can appear remote and theoretical – as do Ministerial calls for ever higher performance figures based upon "bald statistics".'

164. Brownlow Integrated College:

'Concern however on focus on GCSE grades rather than added value and greater recognition of other external awards is required.'

165. During its evidence sessions, the Committee asked witnesses about performance statistics and, in particular, the focus on "five GCSEs at A*-C" as the benchmark by which pupil and school success is measured. (The Committee sought a specific briefing from Department of Education and CCEA officials on the differences in the levels of attainment represented by grade C and grade D and a Hansard record of this is available in Appendix 2)

166. Some members expressed concern that the effect of this focus on "five GCSEs at A*-C" may tend to devalue, in the public perception, the level of achievement which lower grades at GCSE may well represent. The Committee also took evidence on differing perceptions of PISA results and correspondence plus a Hansard record on this is available in Appendices 4 and 2 respectively. Witnesses confirmed that passes at grades D or E would represent a significant achievement for many pupils, indicative of an individual who has made a considerable and sustained effort – a characteristic which employers may well value – and highlighted the importance of measuring pupil and school attainment against both objective benchmarks such as "five GCSEs at A*-C" and also measuring pupil attainment by reference to the improvement in attainment by pupils (and school performance by the value added for the pupils it educates).

Measuring Success - the 5 GCSE A*-C benchmark - Conclusion

167. As noted by the Committee above (see paragraphs 97-98), Yellis and/or MidYIS are in use by many post-primary schools for the purpose of measuring pupil aptitude and ability and value added. This may provide a basis for developing a standard tool available for use across all post-primary schools (in the way that InCAS is used across all primary schools) which could perhaps provide, in conjunction with the moderated key stage assessments (on which Department of Education officials gave evidence), a reliable measure of progress made by each pupil.

168. As the Chief Executives of the E&LBs stated in their submission:

'The Department of Education needs to urgently establish a standard value added measure which is particularly relevant to schools operating in socially deprived areas'

This would in turn enable pupil progress and value added by schools to be celebrated in the same way as success measured by the "five GCSEs at A*-C" is rightly celebrated at present.

Measuring Success - the 5 GCSE A*-C benchmark - Recommendation

169. In anticipation of a standard value added measure being established (as recommended in paragraph 104), the Committee recommends that the Department reviews its policy on publicising school (and pupil) success to ensure that the Department celebrates both success as measured by the "five GCSEs at A*-C" and success as measured by pupil progress and the value added for pupils by schools.

[1]http://www.education-support.org.uk/parents/school-attendance/

Appendix 1

Minutes of Proceedings

Wednesday, 23 June 2010
Room 21, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr M Storey (Chairperson)
Mr D Hilditch (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr D Bradley
Mrs M Bradley
Mr T Lunn
Mr J McCallister
Mr Basil McCrea
Miss M McIlveen
Mr J O'Dowd
Mr A Ross

In Attendance: Mr J Simmons (Assembly Clerk)
Mr A Hicks (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Miss P Best (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs S Young (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Ms M O'Neill

2.02pm The Chairperson opened the meeting in public session.

5. Departmental Briefing on the Key Characteristics of Successful Post-Primary Schools Serving Disadvantaged Communities.

2.35pm Dr Robson Davison, Deputy Secretary, Mrs Katrina Godfrey, Director of Curriculum, Qualifications and Standards, and Dr Chris Hughes, Head of Standards and Improvement Team, joined the meeting.

The officials provided a briefing on the Key Characteristics of Successful Post-Primary Schools Serving Disadvantaged Communities and answered Members questions on a number of issues, including: the quality of the policies in the Department's policy framework and whether they provided a sound foundation; the focus of the School Improvement Policy; which of the Department's four key characteristics would be the first priority; the effectiveness of self-evaluation and where responsibility lies when there is a problem with school leadership; the evidence of improved outcomes from the Achieving Belfast and Achieving Derry-Bright Futures initiatives; actions which build links with parents and communities and how success might be measured; Home-School Liaison Officers; Alternative Education Provision Review; funding for nurture groups; the timetable for publication of the Revised Literacy and Numeracy Strategy; what discussions DE officials have had with DEL regarding the DEL Committee's Inquiry into NEETS.

3.10pm Mr J O'Dowd left the meeting.

4.04pm Mr D Hilditch left the meeting.

4.14pm The Chairperson thanked the witnesses for an informative briefing and they left the meeting.

6. Presentation from Education and Training Inspectorate on the Key Characteristics of Successful Post-Primary Schools Serving Disadvantaged Communities.

4.15pm Stanley Goudie, Chief Inspector, Faustina Graham, Assistant Chief Inspector of Primary and Post Primary Schools, Peter Geoghegan, Inspector of Post-Primary Education joined the meeting.

4.18pm Miss M McIlveen left the meeting.

The witnesses provided a presentation on the Key Characteristics of Successful Post-Primary Schools Serving Disadvantaged Communities and answered Members questions on a number of issues, including; a case-study presented by ETI which showed marked improvement in GCSE (and equivalent) attainment in a post-primary school with 33% Free School Meals entitlement; the frequency and types of ETI inspection, risk based analysis and how schools are prioritised for inspection; whether there is sufficient emphasis on school leadership and what can be done to improve the quality of school leaders including the Professional Qualification for Headship programme; what is involved in rigorous self-evaluation and school development planning and the tools and support which ETI offer schools; the relative importance in terms of raising standards of the Department's policies on the one hand and effective school leaders on the other; whether staff were removed as part of improving attainment in the case study school and prioritising people skills when recruiting staff; the importance of literacy in accessing the rest of the curriculum; ETI District inspector and Associate Inspector liaison with practitioners in developing tools and ensuring ETI advice to schools is practical, including aids to self-evaluation; the paperwork burden on School Principals.

4.50pm Mr D Hilditch rejoined the meeting.

4.53 pm Miss M McIlveen rejoined the meeting.

5.09 pm The Chairperson thanked the witnesses for an informative briefing and they left the meeting.

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 22 September 2010
Room 21, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mrs M Bradley
Mr T Lunn
Mr J McCallister
Miss M McIlveen (Acting Chairperson)
Mr J O'Dowd
Ms M O'Neill

In Attendance: Mr J Simmons (Assembly Clerk)
Mr A Hicks (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Miss P Best (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs S Young (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Mr M Storey (Chairperson)
Mr D Hilditch (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr D Bradley
Mr J Craig

2.03pm In the absence of the Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson the Clerk took the Chair and opened the meeting in public session.

6. Presentation from the Regional Training Unit on the Characteristic's of effective School Leadership

2.11pm Dr Tom Hesketh, Director of the Regional Training Unit joined the meeting.

The witness provided a briefing on the characteristics of effective school leadership in the context of post-primary schools serving disadvantaged communities and answered Members questions on a number of issues, including: what training RTU provides to Boards of Governors, the bodies responsible for selecting school leaders; key/priority leadership practices; who would take the lead responsibility for the redefining or remodelling of the role of headship; the pass/fail rate for those commencing the Professional Qualification for Headship (PQH), the percentage of current Heads holding the PQH and that PQH is non-mandatory; 'distributed' leadership and the 'lead learner' role; the importance of building relationships with the local community and parents as a key leadership characteristic; why the PQH was not held by more school leaders and whether there were any studies comparing the performance of schools led by PQH holders with schools led by non-PQH holders; what factors other than school leadership the Committee should be looking at as having a potentially significant impact on raising standards in struggling schools serving disadvantaged communities; whether the lessons learned in urban settings are applicable in rural schools; whether the PQH is delivered by means of summer schools, on-line study, 'twilight' study etc and related disruption in schools; the gender mix of both the applicants for PQH and those successfully completing the course; the importance of partnership with the wider community in breaking the 'Iron Circle' and expanding the role of mentoring and coaching of new school leaders by established and effective school leaders.

2.40pm Miss M O'Neill left the meeting.

2.53pm Miss M O'Neill rejoined the meeting.

3.00pm Mr J McCallister joined the meeting.

3.14pm Dr Hesketh left the meeting.

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Wednesday, 13 October 2010
Room 21, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr M Storey (Chairperson)
Mr D Bradley
Mrs M Bradley
Mr J Craig
Mr T Lunn
Mr J McCallister
Mr B McCrea
Miss M McIlveen
Mr J O'Dowd
Ms M O'Neill

In Attendance: Mr J Simmons (Assembly Clerk)
Mr A Hicks (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Miss P Best (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs S Young (Clerical Officer)
Mr C Sheils (Bursary Student)

Apologies: Mr David Hilditch (Deputy Chairperson)

2.02pm The Chairperson opened the meeting in closed session.

2.03pm Mrs M Bradley, Mr J O'Dowd and Mrs M O'Neill arrived.

2.15pm The meeting moved into public session.

6. Forward Work Programme

Agreed the Committee, subject to agreeing Terms of Reference, would launch its Inquiry into 'Successful Schools Serving Disadvantaged Communities' on 3 November 2010, to include key themes identified to date, including effective school leadership, school engagement with pupils' parents and the wider community and the higher levels of underachievement among boys in deprived areas, particularly boys from the Protestant community.

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 10 November 2010
Room 21, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr M Storey (Chairperson)
Mr D Hilditch (Deputy Chairperson)
Mrs M Bradley
Mr J Craig
Sir R Empey
Mr T Lunn
Mr B McCrea
Miss M McIlveen
Mr J O'Dowd

In Attendance: Mr J Simmons (Assembly Clerk)
Mr A Hicks (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Miss P Best (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr C Sheils (Bursary Student)

Apologies: Mr D Bradley
Ms M O'Neill

2.01pm The Chairperson opened the meeting in public session.

6. Presentation from the Education Training Inspectorate (ETI) on the Chief Inspector's Report (2008-2010)

2.23 pm Stanley Goudie, Chief Inspector, Maureen Bennett, Assistant Chief Inspector, Paul McAlister, Assistant Chief Inspector and John Anderson, Managing Inspector joined the meeting.

The Chairperson, in light of the Chief Inspector's plans to retire early in 2011, thanked him for his assistance to the Committee for Education.

The witnesses provided a briefing on the Chief Inspector's Report and answered Members' questions on a number of issues including: the challenge of ensuring effective school leadership and how Curriculum Advisory and Support Services (CASS) customise support within the Formal Intervention Process (FIP); the 're-standardisation' of InCAS and its impact in the context of the 'jigsaw of reform' referred to the Chief Inspector's Report; the status of grade 'D' in GCSE in the context of the 'A*-C including Maths and English' benchmark; the proportion of school leaders that still needed to improve their leadership and the effectiveness of the Professional Qualification in Headship NI; whether the diversity of training provision was causing problems; morale among teachers; the ETI input to the development of the draft Early Years (0-6) Strategy; the high proportion of 'Follow Up' inspections in the post-primary sector; what happens when an ETI inspection report states that a school is 'out of control'; pupils being allowed to move from primary to post-primary schools without being able to read properly and whether a 'Hold Back' year would help; ICT education and training providing an opportunity to deliver literacy and numeracy skills to individuals who might otherwise be reluctant to seek help; the use of learning tools such as ALTA; the benefits of pre-primary education in terms of neural development and social behaviour; the different ways in which young boys and girls learn and the lack of male teachers in primary schools; a graduate placement scheme in disadvantaged areas for unemployed teachers; the co-ordination of youth education with work in schools; the Department of Education's formal response to the Chief Inspector's Report and follow up by ETI; and the autonomy and independence of the ETI.

3.10pm Mr J O'Dowd left the meeting

3.25pm Mr B McCrea joined the meeting

7. Inquiry Terms of Reference

Agreed The Committee approved the revised draft terms of reference and draft press release as amended.

The Clerk will request Assembly Research to produce a briefing paper reflecting the Inquiry's terms of reference, including alternative measures of deprivation.

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 19 January 2011
Belfast Model School For Girls

Present: Mr M Storey (Chairperson)
Mr D Hilditch (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr J Craig
Mr T Lunn
Mr B McCrea
Mr J O'Dowd

In Attendance: Mr J Simmons (Assembly Clerk)
Miss P Best (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr J Lamont (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr C Sheils (Bursary Student)

Apologies: Mr D Bradley
Mrs M Bradley
Sir Reg Empey
Miss M McIlveen

10.47am The Chairperson opened the meeting in public session.

2. Presentation from Belfast Model School for Girls on the Committee Inquiry – 'Successful Post-Primary Schools in Disadvantaged Areas'.

10.52am Johnny Graham, Principal, Janice Clarke, Full Service Coordinator and Jacqueline Weir, Chair of Board of Governors joined the meeting.

10.54am Mr J O'Dowd joined the meeting.

11.11am Mr B McCrea joined the meeting.

The witnesses provided a briefing on their school's submission to the Committee Inquiry, 'Successful Post-Primary Schools in Disadvantaged Areas', and answered questions on a number of issues including; Full Service Community Schools; the transition teachers programme; family link co-ordinators; basic literacy and numeracy skills; the relationship between Girls Model and its feeder primary schools and the issue of transporting children to and from the school. Issues around the topic of the future Education Budget were also raised and included, LMS, school budget autonomy, EMA, CASS and budget implications for the loss of Specialist School status.

11.45am The witnesses left the meeting.

6. Presentation from St Louise's Comprehensive on the Committee Inquiry – 'Successful Post-Primary Schools in Disadvantaged Areas'.

11.54am Carmel McCartan, Principal, Ita McVeigh, Assistant Principal, and John O'Rourke, Chair of the Board of Governors joined the meeting.

12.02pm Mr J O'Dowd left the meeting.

The witnesses provided a briefing on their school's submission to the Committee Inquiry, 'Successful Post-Primary Schools in Disadvantaged Areas' and answered questions on a number of issues including; school leadership in terms of a value driven approach; its Pastoral Support Centre; warm relationships with parents based on its value system; the use of Yellis and Midyis to set targets and track pupils performance; single sex schools and the School's ability to empower women in West Belfast. Budget issues were also raised: the loss of funding in relation to Specialist School Status; the School's current deficit in funding; the unfairness of the cap on Extended Schools funding and whether limited funds would be best targeted at early intervention in education and disadvantaged areas.

12.46pm The witnesses left the meeting.

7. Presentation from Ashfield Boys' High School on the Committee Inquiry – 'Successful Post-Primary Schools in Disadvantaged Areas'.

12.47pm Andy McMorran, Principal, Jill Ashenhurst, Vice Principal and William McCullough, Chair of Board of Governors joined the meeting.

The witnesses provided a briefing on their school's submission to the Committee Inquiry, 'Successful Post-Primary Schools in Disadvantaged Areas' and answered questions on a number of issues including; their journey from a 'sink' school to where they are now; the emphasis the school puts on literacy and numeracy; its accelerated reading programme; how much pupils learn in each lesson; the fact that the school has a School Management Team rather than a senior Management Team; the emphasis put on the reward system for pupils and the 'open door' policy for parents; commending of the Extended Schools Programme; whether ETI inspectors are wasting their time by inspecting good schools; the school's ability to have gained funding from a number of sources such as the Neighbourhood Renewal Programme and the Lottery Fund; and the notion that early intervention, dissemination of good practice and on site solutions create a successful school.

1.20pm The witnesses left the meeting.

8. Presentation from Coláiste Feirste on the Committee Inquiry – 'Successful Post-Primary Schools in Disadvantaged Areas'.

1.22pm Micheál Mac Giolla Ghunna, Principal, Diarmuid Ua Bruadaire, Senior Teacher and Emer Mhic an Fhailí, Learning Support Centre Manager joined the meeting.

The witnesses provided a briefing on their school's submission to the Committee Inquiry, 'Successful Post-Primary Schools in Disadvantaged Areas' and answered questions on a number of issues including; the difficulty in raising the standards of the school due to lack of resources; facilities and development support; the re-structuring of the senior leadership team; recommitment to child-centred provision; emphasis on staff development; the importance of the schools ethos in relation to moral, pupil, staff, building relationships with parents and the community; the high calibre of parent interest in the school; the difficulties faced by the school when trying to gain a SEN diagnosis; the Learning Support Centre which adopts a three pronged support approach to academic support, additional needs and nurture pupils needs.

2.02pm The witnesses left the meeting.

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 2 February 2011
St Pius X College, Magherafelt

Present: Mr M Storey (Chairperson)
Mrs M Bradley
Mr J Craig
Mr T Lunn
Miss M McIlveen
Mr J O'Dowd
Mrs M O'Neill

In Attendance: Mr J Simmons (Assembly Clerk)
Miss P Best (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs J GoldenAlexander (Clerical Officer)
Mr C Sheils (Bursary Student)

Apologies: Mr B McCrea
Mr D Bradley

10.40am The Chairperson opened the meeting in public session.

5. Presentation from St Pius X College on the Committee Inquiry – 'Successful Post-Primary Schools in Disadvantaged Areas'.

11.00am Monsignor C O'Byrne, Chair of the Board of Governors, Mary White, Principal, Edwina Toner, Vice-Principal and John Mulholland, Vice Principal joined the meeting.

The witnesses provided a briefing on their school's submission to the Committee's Inquiry and answered questions on a number of issues including; whether drawing pupils from two different E&LBs posed any challenges; the NICCE proposals for schools in the area; links with feeder primary schools and effect on transition; the rural nature of the community served; when the school was rebuilt and the impact of modern facilities on pupil/staff morale; the impact of neighbouring schools on intake and whether St Pius X had any non-Catholic intake; banding of pupils by ability and access to vocational courses from year 12; the benefits of pupil mentoring by staff and former pupils; the proportion of male/female pupils in bottom band; obstacles to collaboration with other schools and whether collaboration delivered any financial savings; how pupils achievements and the value added by the school, other than formal qualifications, can be captured/reflected to prospective employers etc; the significance of parental involvement in pupils' education and the challenges arising from single parent families; the different degrees of parental involvement as between the Controlled and Maintained sectors; the importance of catering to the needs of pupils who are not academically inclined and alternative pathways into further and higher education.

11.45am Mrs M Bradley joined the meeting.

12.15pm The witnesses left the meeting.

6. Presentation from Ballycastle High School on the Committee Inquiry – 'Successful Post-Primary Schools in Disadvantaged Areas'.

12.16pm Ian Williamson, Principal, Carol Stewart, Vice-Principal, The Very Rev. Dr A W G Brown, Governor and Craig Whyte, parent Governor, joined the meeting.

The witnesses provided a briefing on their school's submission to the Committee's Inquiry and answered questions on a number of issues including: the key ingredient when meeting the needs of pupils facing challenges and difficulties; the impact of Ballycastle's relative geographic isolation; the banding of pupils and the relatively small size of the school; how politicians can help school leaders; the necessity of some measures to quantify school success; the role of the Board of Governors and proposed changes to the role of governors; the effect of school infrastructure on what the school could offer pupils; the school's close links with Cross & Passion College in Ballycastle and the positive contribution made to community relations and cohesion.

1.04pm The witnesses left the meeting.

7. Presentation from Oakgrove Integrated College on the Committee Inquiry – 'Successful Post-Primary Schools in Disadvantaged Areas'.

1.05pm Jill Markham, Principal and John Harkin, Vice-Principal joined the meeting.

The witnesses provided a briefing on their school's submission to the Committee's Inquiry and answered questions on a number of issues including; how the College sources its counselling services; whether the school's location has contributed to its success and the possible impact of proposed school development at Ebrington; the relative mix of pupils from urban/rural communities and how the school dealt with the impact on pupils of family breakdown; where the school drew its intake from in terms of school type/area; factors contributing to the school's success/popularity and the contribution of pupils as ambassadors for the school; how the school identifies pupils who are 'underaspiring' on entry and target resources to address this; the 'Anchor Project' in WELB funded by DHSSPS which focussed on boys from single parent familes; relationship with and role of the College's Board of Governors, including whether the Board held school leaders to account.

1.41pm The witnesses left the meeting.

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 16 February 2011
Drumragh Integrated College, Omagh

Present: Mr M Storey (Chairperson)
Mr D Hilditch (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr T Lunn
Mr B McCrea
Mr J O'Dowd

In Attendance: Mr J Simmons (Assembly Clerk)
Mr A Hicks (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Miss P Best (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs J GoldenAlexander (Clerical Officer)
Mr C Sheils (Bursary Student)

Apologies: Mrs M Bradley
Mr J Craig
Miss M McIlveen
Mrs M O'Neill

10.50 am The Chairperson opened the meeting in public session.

2. Presentation from Drumragh Integrated College on the Committee's Inquiry – 'Successful Post-Primary Schools in Disadvantaged Areas'.

10.52 am Nigel Frith, Principal, Nicola Gormley, Learning Mentor, Geraldine McKenna, SENCO and Eric Bullick, Board of Governors joined the meeting.

The witnesses provided a briefing on their school's submission to the Committee's Inquiry and answered questions on a number of issues including: the School's 'reward system' and staff recruitment/selection procedure; classroom observation by the Principal, the dispute with NASUWT and the need for resolution; the nature and extent of disadvantage in the area; the extent of the benefits of schools collaborating to deliver the Entitlement Framework versus the benefits of more resources to deliver the Revised Curriculum; appropriate target setting and the need for an agreed tool to measure the value added by schools in broad terms; the value of a grade D at GCSE and the need educate public about its value; how the school engages with 'hard to reach' families, supports pupils from those familes and joined-up working between social services and education is in this area; how the school encourages pupils to become involved extra-curricular activities; the need for different sorts of intelligence, including emotional intelligence; pupils preferred learning methods in terms of inter- and intra-personal learning and how data on this assists in planning learning strategies.

11.06 am Mr J O'Dowd joined the meeting

11.52 am The witnesses left the meeting.

6. Presentation from Castlederg High School on the Committee Inquiry – 'Successful Post-Primary Schools in Disadvantaged Areas'.

11.57 am Anne Moore, Acting Principal, Simon Mowbray, Acting Vice-Principal, Daphne Watt, Pastoral Coordinator and Sandra Cashel, SENCO joined the meeting.

The witnesses provided a briefing on their school's submission to the Committee's Inquiry and answered questions on a number of issues including: whether, in light of the experience gained in developing the school since 1999, they would to do anything differently; the strategies used to address the issue of boys' learning such as clearly defined success criteria, more active learning techniques, well-organised lessons, clear boundaries, systems of rewards and offering more vocational curriculum; evaluating the benefits of collaboration; mentoring; the weight and value attached to achievement at Grade D at GCSE and the need to educate the public/pupils as to its worth; competition between post-primary schools for pupils; how the school engages with pupils and their families; school leavers' qualifications; key intervention/action to address boys' underachievement, including changes in leadership and core values, changing staff attitudes, increasing expectations of pupil achievement; and the importance of an effective careers programme.

12.14 pm The witnesses left the meeting.

7. Presentation from Dean Maguirc College on the Committee's Inquiry – 'Successful Post-Primary Schools in Disadvantaged Areas'.

12.15 pm James Warnock, Principal, Marie Quinn, Vice-Principal, Adrain McGuckin, Curriculum Coordinator and Seamus Sheilds, Board of Governors joined the meeting.

The witnesses provided a briefing on their school's submission to the Committee's Inquiry and answered questions on a number of issues including; the profiling of pupils transferring from primary schools and the identification of their needs including cognitive ability testing; consistency of primary school Key Stage 2 assessments; tracking and whether individualised learning was the way forward; differences between the sexes in levels of achievement; the role of formal education in terms of desired outcomes; how the school engages the parents/guardians of underachieving pupils through EWOs and the school's own Learning Guidance Team; and the School links with the community through sport.

1.28 pm The witnesses left the meeting.

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 23 February 2011
Room 21, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr M Storey (Chairperson)
Mr D Hilditch (Deputy Chairperson)
Mrs M Bradley
Mr J Craig
Mr T Lunn
Mr B McCrea
Miss M McIlveen
Mrs M O'Neill
Mr J O'Dowd

In Attendance: Mr J Simmons (Assembly Clerk)
Mr A Hicks (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Miss P Best (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs J Golden-Alexander (Clerical Officer)
Mr J McMillen (Legal Advisor)

Apologies: Mr D Bradley

2.02 pm The Chairperson opened the meeting in closed session.

2.10pm The meeting moved into public session.

Presentation from the Association of Chief Executives of the E&LBs on the Committee Inquiry – 'Successful Post-Primary Schools Serving Disadvantaged Communities'.

2.27 pm David Cargo, CEO, BELB, Barry Mulholland, CEO, WELB, Stanton Sloan, CEO, SEELB, Tony Murphy, CEO, SELB, and Shane McCurdy, CEO, NEELB, joined the meeting.

The witnesses provided a briefing on their submission to the Committee's Inquiry and answered questions on a number of issues including: the challenges of reflecting the needs of pupils, as opposed to schools, in the funding formula; the contrasting performance of schools serving similarly disadvantaged communities; better measures for assessing disadvantage and value added; links with the voluntary/community sector and co-ordinated services approach adopted in Belfast; the 'joined up' management of Preschool Expansion Programme; teacher selection including assessment of candidates' classroom teaching; the importance of selecting suitable entrants for teacher training courses; different career pathways for management and teaching expertise; the need for an effective mechanism to deal with failing school leaders and the role of DE governors on boards of governors; the need for health and education services to work together effectively and shortages of speech therapy and educational psychology support; what should be measured when measuring 'standard value added' for all schools; whether systems such as the e-Schools Warehouse could provide a management information system to facilitate more effective targetting of resources; the transferability of school improvement initiatives/measures across different types of social and economic disadvantage; the importance in disadvantaged areas of schools working with community groups and research on this; the need to incentivise schools by reference to the correct measures; the sterile nature of the years of debate on Transfer and structure of education administration; and the benefits of a 'Department for Children' which would encompass the relevant elements of the Department of Health, Social Development etc, in contrast to the current 'Department for Schools'.

Agreed the witnesses would provide further information on measures of disadvantage, including Looked After Children, and on the contribution which electronic data management could make to effective management of pupil attainment and progress.

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 2 March 2011
Room 21, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr M Storey (Chairperson)
Mr D Hilditch (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr J Craig
Mr T Lunn
Mr B McCrea
Miss M McIlveen
Mrs M O'Neill
Mr J O'Dowd

In Attendance: Mr J Simmons (Assembly Clerk)
Mr A Hicks (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Miss P Best (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs J Golden-Alexander (Clerical Officer)
Mr C Shiels (Bursary Student)
Ms C Perry (Research Officer)

Apologies: Lord Empey

2.12pm The Chairperson opened the meeting in public session.

6. Departmental Briefing on the 2009 PISA Results.

2.24pm Katrina Godfrey, Director of Curriculum, Qualifications and Standards, Chris Hughes, Head of Standards and Improvement Team and Karen McCullough, Head of Statistics and Research Team, joined the meeting.

The witnesses answered questions on a number of issues relating to value added measures of pupil outcome including; an analysis of take up by Northern Ireland schools of these assessment tools; contextual value added measures and OECD has yet to agree a standard; links with InCAS; complexities of some commercial tests and the costs involved; the usefulness of tests for predicating examination outcomes. The Members were also provided with a detailed example of the MidYIS assessment tool.

The witness provided a briefing on the 2009 PISA results and answered questions on a number of issues including: PISA assessment not measuring pupils attainment in terms of participant nations' individual curriculum; issues with PISA results, interpretation and usefulness; the level of individualised learning in Finland and, in particular, far eastern countries; PISA results and the value which some societies place on education; investment in early years; Scotland's education system; how 'added value' is measured in Finland; non-selective education system's performance.

7. Departmental Briefing on GCSE Results Grade D,etc

3.40pm Katrina Godfrey, Chris Hughes and Karen McCullough were joined by Rodger McCune, Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment.

3.42pm Miss M McIlveen left the meeting.

The witnesses provided a briefing on GCSE grades and in particular how Grade D compares with A* to C, and answered questions on a number of issues including: the introduction of A* at GCSE; grade boundaries and the difference between 'level 1' and 'level 2' standards; difference in attainment at the grade C/D boundary; grade descriptors; local universities and the A* Grade at A level; Department of Employment and Learning input on qualifications.

4.18 pm The witnesses left the meeting

4.18pm Ms M O'Neill left the meeting.

8. Presentation from the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) on the Committee Inquiry – 'Successful Post-Primary Schools Serving Disadvantaged Communities'.

4.19 pm Jim Clarke, Deputy Chief Executive, Terry Murphy, Senior Education Advisor (SEA), Paul O'Doherty, SEA and Sean Rafferty, EA, joined the meeting.

The witnesses provided a briefing on their submission to the Committee's Inquiry and answered questions on a range of issues including: the principle of 'proportionate universalism'; strong leadership within the school and links with the local community; the school to be the focal point within the community; the Entitlement Framework, grammar schools and take up of 'applied' subjects and parents' wishes; the centrality of 'Every School a Good School; A policy for school improvement'; policy disconnect between the Schools' sector and Further Education sector; early intervention; the need to create high aspirations for pupils, parents views; CCMS view on unviable small sixth forms and small schools; issues from the NICCE Post-Primary Review; the need to review the LMS formula; the need to change the Sustainable Schools Strategy and whether school enrolment limits should be removed; the benefits of the Catholic Maintained schools links with local parishes and issues around larger schools; the need for stronger communication and collaboration with other education and business sectors; the impact on other school Sectors of the Maintained Sector Post-Primary Review and moving ahead independently.

5.40pm Mr J O'Dowd left the meeting.

5.45 pm The witnesses left the meeting.

[EXTRACT]

Monday, 14 March 2011
Room 30, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr M Storey (Chairperson)
Mr D Hilditch (Deputy Chairperson)
Mrs M Bradley
Mr J Craig
Mr B McCrea
Miss M McIlveen
Mr J O'Dowd

In Attendance: Mr J Simmons (Assembly Clerk)
Mr A Hicks (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mrs J Golden-Alexander (Clerical Officer)
Mr C Sheils (Bursary Student)

Apologies: Mr D Bradley
Lord Empey
Mrs M O'Neill

2.05pm The Chairperson opened the meeting in public session.

2. Final Consideration of draft Report on the Committee's Inquiry

The Committee considered an updated draft Report on the Committee's Inquiry into 'Successful Post-Primary Schools Serving Disadvantaged Communities' and discussed a number of minor amendments in the course of which a Member requested that his reservations regarding the use of free school meals as a measure of social and economic disadvantage be minuted.

2.12pm Mr D Hilditch joined the meeting.

Agreed: the Committee approved the draft Report, as amended, and ordered it to be printed.

The Committee also considered the draft of a Committee Motion for an Assembly debate on the Committee's Report – on the provisional Order Paper for 21 March 2011.

Agreed: the Committee approved the draft Committee Motion.

[EXTRACT]

Appendix 2

Minutes of Evidence

23 June 2010

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Mervyn Storey (Chairperson)
Mr David Hilditch (Deputy Chair)
Mr Dominic Bradley
Mrs Mary Bradley
Mr Trevor Lunn
Mr John McCallister
Mr Basil McCrea
Miss Michelle McIlveen
Mr John O'Dowd
Mr Alistair Ross

Witnesses:

Dr Robson Davison
Mrs Katrina Godfrey
Dr Chris Hughes

 

Department of Education

Mr Peter Geoghegan
Mr Stanley Goudie
Mrs Faustina Graham

 

Education and Training Inspectorate

1. The Chairperson (Mr Storey): We will have two briefings this afternoon. The first is from senior departmental officials to assist the Committee in scoping a possible Committee inquiry into successful secondary schools serving disadvantaged communities. Officials were advised that the Committee may be interested in identifying the common key characteristics of successful secondary schools serving disadvantaged communities.

2. I welcome Dr Robson Davison, the Department's deputy permanent secretary; Mrs Katrina Godfrey, the director of curriculum, qualifications and standards; and Dr Chris Hughes, the head of the standards improvement team. I thank Dr Davison for the papers that he submitted to the Committee. I ask you to make your presentation, after which members will ask questions.

3. Dr Robson Davison (Department of Education): Thank you very much, Chairperson. With your approval, we will split the presentation.

4. The shared starting point for us all, I hope, is the value and importance not just of education but of educational outcomes, from the perspectives of individual children and wider society and from an economic point of view. Employment, earnings, quality of life and economic competitiveness are all tied up with educational outcomes. I hope that we all share the understanding that there is a correlation between educational outcomes and socio-economic circumstances. That is our starting point this afternoon.

5. The two key strategic pillars of the Minister's reform programme are raising standards and increasing equity of or access to a quality education; those are threads in many developed and developing countries. The Minister's strategy is based on a recognition that although many children achieve well in our system — our GCSE and A-level benchmarks against England and Wales bear that out — many do not. We have evidence from the work of the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) on literacy and numeracy, our Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) outcomes and our level-2 figures at GCSE, including English and maths, that many children do not achieve well in the system. The Minister's strategy takes the view that, as a society, we are probably far too complacent about the outcomes of the system.

6. There is extensive literature on raising standards, and a great deal of expertise is available. In our consideration, we have drawn on the work of Barber, Hargreaves and Fullan, who are internationally recognised figures in the field, on the experience of Montgomery County in Maryland, one of the top performing school systems in the US, on work commissioned from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), and, in particular, on professional advice from within our system and especially the advice of our Education and Training Inspectorate. The Minister is putting policies in place that are designed to raise standards and tackle barriers to learning.

7. Some of those have already been implemented; others are in the process of completion or development. They are interconnected with raising standards and addressing equity.

8. Some examples are: the ongoing implementation of the revised curriculum and the associated assessment arrangements; the implementation of Every School a Good School, which I hope we will get a chance to explore with you today; the focus on literacy and numeracy in the curriculum and our work on a literacy and numeracy strategy; the draft special educational needs and inclusion policy, which you have seen; the ending of the 11-plus and the unnecessary division of children by ability at age 11; the draft early years strategy; the teacher education review; the introduction of extended schools; our planning for the education and skills authority (ESA), the main focus of which is the raising of standards; and the inspection, identification and dissemination of best practice. We have a raft of policies designed to implement the Minister's broad strategy for raising standards and tackling issues of equity.

9. Finally, I will offer some key considerations. Questions about raising standards and equity are not easy to answer. Educational progress is a long game, because we are trying to do three things: achieve, sustain and develop progress in a context where individual schools can regress as well as progress. Secondly, from our perspective, the focus has to be on teaching and learning, leadership and planning and development in the schools themselves. We feel that a key emphasis has to be on raising standards in literacy and numeracy while maintaining a broad curriculum.

10. Professional development and support structures have to be focused on challenging and supporting schools on educational outcomes. Although there is a strong relationship between educational outcomes and socio-economic circumstances, we must not accept that as an iron law. The school can, and does, make a difference, but there is also a powerful parental and community dimension to progress through the raising of aspirations and the supporting of high expectations at school level.

11. The Department's role is to set out the strategy and supporting policies, to provide funding support, and to promote consistent and effective implementation. That is what we are trying to do. That is a broad overview of the issues that you are considering. I will ask Katrina to develop them.

12. Mrs Katrina Godfrey (Department of Education): I will pick up where Robson left off. The Every School a Good School school-improvement policy is absolutely critical to the wider efforts on raising standards and improving outcomes for pupils. You may recall that the starting point of that policy was the recognition that it is the work of teachers in classrooms — supported through effective school leadership — that delivers outcomes and improvements for pupils.

13. As Robson said, Every School a Good school is developed from a clear evidence base, including consideration of performance data and the findings from inspection and research carried out locally and internationally. You will know that the final strategy that we are implementing was also shaped by consultation views. Many people felt that the original document was, if anything, slightly too heavy on performance and data and too light on recognising the centrality of teachers in classrooms. That important change to the final document was also informed by the publication around that time of the McKinsey report, which, you will recall, considered the top-performing school systems internationally, and which reached the important, and possibly obvious, conclusion that the quality of a system can never exceed the quality of its teachers.

14. That focus on teachers — and also the focus on teaching competences that had been developed by the General Teaching Council and endorsed by teachers themselves — has been built into the shaping and development of the final strategy. That strategy is built on the belief, underpinned by inspection and other evidence, that schools are best placed to raise standards. It sets out — and this is particularly relevant to the inquiry that you are considering — what we consider, from inspection and other evidence, to be the four main characteristics of a good school. They are set out in page 13 of the document: pupil-centred provision, high-quality teaching and learning, effective leadership, and a school connected to its community.

15. We have fleshed out those characteristics with a detailed list of indicators that provide a useful tool for school self-evaluation and for schools to benchmark and assess themselves. They are reflected in what inspectors now look for during school inspections, and they are reflected in the new regulations and guidance on school development planning, which will come to the Committee for consideration shortly.

16. Comparing those indicators in the context of the Ofsted report on the characteristics of outstanding secondary schools in England, we see huge overlap and complementarity. That is not by design but because, as Robson said, we know from local inspection evidence and international research that the presence of those characteristics points to a quality education for pupils.

17. What does that tell us? Every School a Good School tells us that six key areas need to be the focus of any school improvement policy. That means that we expect our policies, schools and those who support schools to focus on effective leadership and that an ethos of aspiration and high achievement is vital. A further key area is high-quality teaching and learning; another is, as Robson said, tackling the barriers to learning that many young people face. We also expect schools to focus on embedding a culture of self-evaluation and self-assessment and using performance data and other information effectively to bring about improvement.

18. We expect them to focus on ensuring that a support structure and a challenge structure are in place to help schools to improve, with clarity about the place of more formal interventions, where quality of provision for children is not what it should be. The final key area is increasing engagement between schools and the parents, families and communities that they serve, recognising the influence that local communities can have on attitudes to education and on pupil attainment. Those are the key areas on which we have been focusing in the school improvement strategy.

19. One of the challenges in the early days of implementing the strategy was ensuring a shift, particularly among those who support schools, from important ally to critical friend. Whether at governor, leadership or support level, that shift is to ensure a recognition of the importance of the combination of support and supportive challenge and of asking questions about how things can be improved.

20. As you will be aware, there is also a focus on formal interventions and on a formal intervention process, which is a necessary step towards ensuring a clear response from schools whose provision the inspectorate finds less than satisfactory. There is a focus on action plans that are designed to address the areas for improvement and which are monitored closely to effect improvement.

21. It is also important to recognise that formal intervention is only one of three types of intervention that are set out in the strategy designed to trigger tailored support from the local Curriculum and Advisory Service (CASS), with the help of the relevant sectoral body, where appropriate. The most important aspects of the intervention process are those where the school initiates self-improvement or where the education and library board, assisted by the relevant sectoral support organisation, picks up risk factors and works with a school to tackle them so that when the inspectorate goes in, the issues that could have led to poor quality have been picked up and addressed. We hope that, as the strategy rolls out, that will prevent a school's provision being regarded as "less than satisfactory."

22. The other challenge has been the need to focus not only on tackling quality issues but on capturing and celebrating good practice, and Robson referred earlier to disseminating good practice. Earlier this week, we held an event for all the schools that had been inspected in the past year that had been found to be outstanding or very good. That was done to mark their achievements and to ensure that the good practice that they demonstrate is captured and fed back into teachers' professional development and, ultimately, into initial teacher education so that there is a loop back from good practice in a school to what informs the training and development of teachers.

23. The final characteristic of our system that I wish to mention is the combination of excellent practice with small pockets of unsatisfactory practice; it is a feature that we cannot ignore and which we must tackle. We cannot easily defend the variation in performance of schools at every level and of every type; that is one of the issues that the school improvement policy is designed to address. Chris Hughes will outline what we mean by variations from school to school and the issues that that throws up for us in implementing the school improvement policy.

24. Dr Chris Hughes (Department of Education): The Committee asked us to take a particular look at schools serving disadvantaged communities. In considering how to identify such communities, we looked at the free school meals intake of each school, particularly those with an above average free school meals intake for the post-primary sector. The average free school meals intake in Northern Ireland is 17%, and the two scatter graphs that we have provided focus on such schools. One of the graphs looks at free school meals entitlement: performance versus Key Stage 3 results. That illustrates that as the number of children receiving free school meals rises, achievement levels fall — the correlation is quite strong, which means that the free school meals element affects the performance of children in those schools.

25. On the graphs, yellow denotes selective schools, those with a partially selective intake are red, and the dark blue or black are non-selective. The expected level of school performance across Northern Ireland is 77%, but the vast majority of schools with above average free school meals entitlement do not achieve at that level; their performance is below the Northern Ireland average. Within that performance there is quite a variation between schools faced with the same challenge of what to do with their free school meals intake. For example, one school gets far fewer of its children to the expected level; whereas another with the same free school meals intake reaches roughly the Northern Ireland average. The challenges in individual institutions have an effect, but they can be addressed.

26. The second scatter graph —

27. Mr B McCrea: Might that suggest that free school meals are not a good measure?

28. Dr Davison: They are one of our key measures.

29. Dr Hughes: They are strongly associated with deprivation. Whether there is a causal —

30. Mr B McCrea: Are you drawing a causal effect from free school meals that may not be justified?

31. Dr Hughes: I did not say that there was a causal effect; I said that there was a strong association. It indicates the challenges that they face, and the strong correlation provides clear information about a school's underlying challenges. Schools find it harder to perform and the correlation line shows that.

32. Mr B McCrea: Sorry; I will let you finish before I ask another question.

33. Dr Hughes: The second graph shows the number of five or more GCSEs, including English and maths; members should note that the Northern Ireland average has dropped by 20 percentage points. Two years previously, we were getting 77% of our children to the expected level; however, when we get to five or more GCSEs, including English and maths, there has been a noticeable drop. The pattern of performance is similar in that as the number of free school meals pupils goes up, performance in a school goes down.

34. The graph shows that six schools are performing above average, despite having an above average intake of free school meals pupils — three of those schools are selective and three non-selective. When we look for examples of good practice in schools serving disadvantaged communities, we are not looking at a large number of schools. I prepared a quadrant to illustrate that point for members; it shows schools on the scatter graph.

35. Another group of schools has high free school meals entitlements and they are performing below the average: it is the majority of schools on the scatter graph. Those are schools for which we want to remove any association between free school meals and performance. We want that to improve.

36. The schools in the third quadrant have low free school meals intake and above average performances. This group typically includes a fair number of grammar schools; it is about one third of schools.

37. However, a fourth group does not have a high free school meals intake but still performs below the Northern Ireland average.

38. This graph tells us that there is massive variation in the system but also that there is a strong correlation between a high intake of free school meals — typically in disadvantaged communities — and a shortfall in children's performance.

39. Dr Davison: That ends our presentation. I apologise for having taken so long, but, as members know, this is a key issue. We wanted to get across both a high-level and a detailed view of it.

40. The Chairperson: Thank you, Robson. That is huge amount of information, on which various views will be taken; Basil has expressed one of them. There is a clear difference of opinion among educationalists about the validity of using of free school meals as an indicator in this issue.

41. I want to make this comment and then pass on. You say that the schools improvement policy will be supported and complemented by other key policies, including removing academic selection.

42. How can the Department continue to ignore the legal position whereby it is the right of a school to use academic criteria in its admissions policy? It is clearly permissible in law, but the Department seems to continue to ignore that fact and tries by every method and means to create confusion. The Department is responsible for creating confusion rather than accepting reality; its confrontational style of administration does immense damage to our education system.

43. You said, Robson, that a raft of policies was key in raising standards and removing barriers. However, some of those policies are half-baked, some unachievable, and some contradictory. The special educational needs policy has gone out for consultation and come back with a raft of criticisms. It has gone back into the Department and we have no idea when we will see it, or whether we will ever see it again in its current form. There is absolutely no guarantee on the entitlement framework. It is almost 3.00 pm and I will not comment on the outcome of the football match, but I am surer about that than I am about meeting the targets for the entitlement framework for 2013. The numeracy and literacy policies also face huge problems in the time taken to bring forward the report and so on. The Department's every policy is like a sieve — riddled with contradiction. That is the shifting sand on which the Department is building its plans to deal with underachievement.

44. How does the Department feel about building on half-baked policies that, as the Committee for Education said, unfit for purpose? We need only go back to a discussion that we had a couple of weeks ago on the early years policy. We are in a dire position, yet the Department is still pursuing those policies.

45. Dr Davison: Chairperson, you would be terribly surprised if I said that that was a wonderful analysis of the position.

46. The Chairperson: I know that I am biased.

47. Dr Davison: You must realise that I simply do not accept that analysis. We have a fundamental —

48. The Chairperson: A whole raft of people agree with me, Robson.

49. Dr Davison: Those are matters for debate; that is why we are here. We are here to talk about educational underachievement. A starting point in any debate on educational underachievement is the fact that some people do not accept that such a thing exists. People's complacency about the outcomes of the education system is difficult to breach.

50. The starting point is to accept that there are problems around literacy and numeracy, around the lack of pupils achieving five GCSEs, including English and maths, in grades A* to C, and around our position on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) PISA outcomes. There are two approaches to tackling that problem: the first is to tackle school improvement and standards head on; the second is to attempt to put policies in place that enable schools to overcome the barriers that children, some more than others, inevitably face when they go to school.

51. Every School a Good School is a key policy in that approach; I do not accept that it is built on shifting sands or that it is half-baked. It has created a fundamental shift in how we regard how our colleagues in the inspectorate inspect and report on schools and what the Department chooses to do about that. The policy puts considerable pressure on schools to self-evaluate and self-improve and on the support system to ensure that it is supporting schools in their endeavours to deal with the issues that they face. I could have the same debate on all the policies that you mentioned. Those policies are genuine efforts to tackle a genuine problem.

52. The Chairperson: Some of us have declared an interest as members of boards of governors at primary or post-primary schools or both. Let me paint a scenario: say that you were appointed to the board of governors of a school in a disadvantaged area that faces issues of raising its standards and addressing problems relating to children's ability. Which of the four key indicators in the Department's policy — child-centred provision, high-quality teaching and learning, effective leadership, and a school connected to its local community — would you prioritise, and how would you go about changing that situation?

53. Mrs Godfrey: The key point — members will have seen this in the Ofsted report — is that those key characteristics need to be viewed together: one cannot pick and choose. If effective leadership is not underpinned by high-quality teaching and learning, there will be a problem. The key is leadership supported by quality teaching and a focus on pupils' needs, as well as the work on a school's connections to its community.

54. I have done quite a few sessions with governors over recent years, and one of the most powerful things that they have fed back to us is that they recognise that one of their jobs is to ask questions about how their schools' standards compare with similar schools'.

55. We published indicators to support the four characteristics. It is helpful to look at those indicators in the context of the effective advice on self-evaluation and self-improvement that is available for schools and to use them as the starting point in looking at how a school is doing and how certain areas can be picked up on and taken forward in the school development plan.

56. That will be the key starting point for anyone who wishes to sit on a board of governors or take up a position in a school. Governors have told me that confidence comes from knowing what questions to ask and what areas to look at. The feedback that we have received tells us that there is a sense that having areas to focus on, indicators and the material that is available from the inspectorate on self-evaluation and self-assessment, helps a school make its own start. The most sustainable improvement is delivered by those in an organisation, not improvements imposed from without.

57. Dr Davison: I add to that the importance of governing bodies, whose members come from the community in which a school is located, in maintaining high aspirations and expectations. All the work that has been done locally, nationally and internationally on that subject stresses the importance of aspiration and expectation.

58. The Chairperson: Two things come out of that. First — correct me if I am wrong — none of those indicators has a penalty. People will not evaluate themselves on a scale of one to 10 and give themselves minus 2. I know of a school that has had a problem with its principal for six years. Numbers in the school have fallen from 132 to 64, solely because the education and library board in the area was held by legal restraints, with its head against the wall. It is a scandal. That school has suffered.

59. It would be easy for our opponents to say that we should have had the ESA; it is almost as if the ESA will solve all our problems with magic dust. However, within the current legislative framework for the administration of schools there seems to be no penalty for teachers or schools that do not deliver for their pupils. In the case that I mentioned, the dispute had nothing to do with the pupils, but they got caught up in it. It got so bad that the school, which is brand new, is not considered eligible to have a vice-principal.

60. Who is legally responsible if there are no sanctions? The ESA Bill contained a clause that gave the ESA a duty to raise standards. There seems to be a view that that is somehow not the responsibility of the board of governors of a school or that it is not the responsibility of the education and library boards. Who is legally responsible for ensuring that a school measures up to the standard that is required to give its pupils a good standard of education?

61. Dr Davison: It is a combination of the management of the school and its governance. The school is where children are taught, learn and where they achieve; therefore, it behoves the professionals in a school to achieve the highest possible standards for their children. They, in turn, are answerable to their boards of governors, who have oversight of the school and who have, in many cases, employed the principal and the teachers.

62. The Chairperson: When a school gets a bad report and it is clear that it has problems — we will pursue that with Stanley Goudie and his colleagues — what mechanisms exist to ensure that either financial sanctions or disciplinary sanctions are available? I could be wrong, but ultimately — this is a personal view; I am not speaking on behalf of the Committee — self-evaluation might prevent an accurate picture being given. That is why we need an independent and robust inspectorate that has teeth and which can act in a way that is relevant to the school.

63. Dr Davison: You take us to the heart of Every School a Good School. I will ask Katrina to give you a detailed answer on that. However, you should be careful not to parody self-evaluation; it is not about a school saying that it is -2 out of 10 or +196 out of 10.

64. The Chairperson: It is more likely that they would go the latter way than the former.

65. Dr Davison: That is not what it is about. It is about a group of school professionals taking a long, hard look at their school's strengths and weaknesses; that is what many schools do as part of their daily bread and butter. They take a look at how good they are compared to benchmarks against which they can set their performance. You will tell me that many schools do not do that.

66. The Chairperson: Yes.

67. Dr Davison: Every School a Good School puts self-evaluation and self-improvement at the absolute centre, and to that is added a formal inspection process. Inspectors come and, without fear or favour, give an honest assessment of a school, and the school that looks odd is the one that regards itself as +196 but which the inspectors discover is not up to the mark. There are schools where that is undoubtedly the case. My colleagues from the inspectorate will comment on that in due course.

68. Every School a Good School is designed to focus sharply on outcomes and on what a school is doing for its children against a background that every child should achieve according to their potential. That is what schools are there for; that is what the policy is designed to promote, and self-evaluation is the tool, based on inspectorate documentation, that enables a school to look seriously at its strengths and weaknesses. The other key piece in the process is that the flaws and problems that an inspection report identifies have to be addressed with the support of a support body, usually an education and library board. There are powers on governance and unsatisfactory teachers and so on.

69. Mrs Godfrey: One of the key things that Every School a Good School introduced was a focus on follow-up action where the inspectorate finds provision less than satisfactory. That follow-up action requires an action plan that is not signed off by the school but by the managing authority, which has to have a look at it and has to be sure that it is satisfied that if the actions in the plan are taken they will address the weaknesses in the areas for improvement in the inspection report and will also confirm that it will provide the necessary support and training — irrespective of what the school thinks. That is an absolutely critical step.

70. Schools used to develop their own action plans in response to inspection reports; now schools develop those plans with external validation. Someone else who is responsible and accountable for the educational outcomes and the funding in that area will study the plans and decide whether the actions in it are sensible and will effect improvement. That huge change is now in place and is working with any school that is found to be less than satisfactory. It is also working for any school found to be satisfactory or, indeed, for any school in which an inspection report identifies significant areas for improvement. It does not just apply to schools in the formal intervention process. The process of action plans signed off by the managing authority is in place for schools that have received a satisfactory inspection report.

71. The Chairperson: I do not want to get sidetracked on this, as it is a complicated issue. The 'National Standards for Headteachers' report was published in 2005. The Department says in 'Every School a Good School' that:

"These standards will continue to have a place in the implementation of our school improvement policy, but one that is more closely linked with the Performance Review & Staff Development process as it applies to principals. The standards also need to be communicated …"

In the next paragraph the Department says that the professional qualification for headship (PQH) is not to be made mandatory.

72. Is that not a contradiction? There is no deterrent for poor performance, given that one of the elements in poor performance is a school's leadership.

73. Why did the Department not make the PQH mandatory rather than voluntary, as it is at present?

74. Dr Davison: One of the reasons is the notion of a mandatory qualification for headship. Some principals may not have access to the qualification or may not have the time to do it part-time. There was concern that a mandatory qualification could deter good candidates from applying for leadership positions when the numbers applying for leadership positions in schools are not as strong as they once were. That is happening everywhere else in the world.

75. You use the term "sanction". The sanction is that people are publicly accountable as leaders in schools; they are subject to a formal, transparent and public inspection process. The inspection report is not just for a school and its board of governors; it is published. That is a fairly hefty piece of the jigsaw, although it is not quite a sanction. Saving my colleagues' blushes, our inspectorate is highly respected; people take serious note of its views and opinions. Inspection is a key piece of the process, and it would be wrong to underestimate it. Making a PQH mandatory when only a certain proportion of the teaching force has it or has access to it is a step too far at this point.

76. The Chairperson: Achieving Belfast and Achieving Derry — Bright Futures were initiatives in two locations that were having problems. In 2008-09, Achieving Belfast put 10 teachers into underachieving schools in its area, although those schools could probably have taken 20 teachers. What analysis has there been of the performance of Achieving Belfast? What evidence is there on the performance of the project in Londonderry?

77. Do we see direct intervention from those programmes, such as the provision of additional teachers? I worry that we overanalyse the problem and concentrate on it too much, although a degree of analysis is necessary to identify it. However, we have failed to emphasise the children in the schools.

78. Much of the policy that was central to Achieving Belfast and Achieving Derry — Bright Future was in the early stages of development when those projects were rolled out. In the absence of that raft of policies, is there any evidence that direct intervention has had an impact? Are there lessons to be learned from those two projects?

79. Dr Davison: Before I ask Katrina to answer that specifically, I want to make the general point that policy is designed to focus heavily on raising standards generally by closing the gap between those who perform well and those who do not and by tackling issues of equity. Therefore every school will come under the auspices of the policies that we are putting in place.

80. I recognise behind your comments a degree of impatience; however, this is a long game. Important policies, such as SEN1, need to be consulted upon, developed effectively and brought to bear on the school system. That will take time. Take the introduction of the revised curriculum in 2007: it will be 2019 before the child who went through that in 2007 comes through the full curriculum. Therefore, we have to accept that this is a long play. Katrina will respond to the question on the Achieving Belfast programme.

81. Mrs Godfrey: Achieving Belfast and Achieving Derry were always recognised in Belfast and in the north-west as being long-term programmes. We have done a couple of things, but the boards have come up with interventions that they think will respond most effectively to the needs of their areas. They know their areas and their schools and what is likely to work in them. Therefore, a very different approach is being used in Belfast to that taken in the Western Board. Although, as Robson said, this is a long game, we are not prepared to sit back. Therefore, very early on, we built in an early evaluation to the two programmes. In fact, my colleagues in the inspectorate completed a report, which was published a few weeks ago. It looks at the early progress of the programmes, provides an overall assessment, and makes recommendations for action that, if implemented, will strengthen the effectiveness of the two programmes. That report is publicly available, and I suspect that the Clerk has already circulated it to the Committee. That gives us a basis on which to check that the foundations are laid correctly and are sustainable.

82. At the outset, we set a series of indicators. As Robson said, we knew that the outcomes for pupils in relation to GCSE, for example, would take some years to feed through. Therefore, we came up with a series of indicators that we are about to revisit in the light of the inspection report and do a further update on for the autumn meeting of our Achieving Belfast and Achieving Derry project group. It does not look at the educational performance attainments but rather at milestone indicators, such as attendance rates and early progress. We are doing another stock-take against those to check that progress in those early indicators is being maintained, because if we get children to turn up to school on time and support them through early interventions, their educational outcomes should be much closer to what they are capable of achieving.

83. One of the successful elements in the Bright Futures programme is a focus on preschool and foundation stage through programmes such as the musical pathways programme on the core skills of listening, following instructions, participating, singing rhymes and those things that we know from research set children up for reading, writing and succeeding in school from the earliest stages. Those programmes are starting to tackle the barriers that Robson mentioned earlier. They are long-term programmes, but we are not going to sit back and wait 10 years to see the outcomes. We have had them inspected, we do regular checks on the milestone indicators, and we make sure that if things are going off target, we have early information to ensure that boards take the action needed to develop the trajectory towards the final outcomes that we all want to see.

84. The Chairperson: We are told that the policies in the evaluation of Achieving Belfast are child-centred; that was one of the characteristics; however, a cursory glance at the report shows that it is about commitment, procedures, staff and tailored support. There does not seem to be much about assessing the outcomes of the processes, about the child who was supposed to be at the centre of it, or about what the problem is and how you fix it.

85. Mrs Godfrey: That is exactly what the report has done. In fact, at a recent briefing, folk from the Belfast board showed us some of the practical things that they had done, including looking at children's reading ages and their progress in reading; working with teachers to ensure that they are supported; and monitoring their progress. They showed statistics from years 8 and 9 that demonstrated the progress that children were making because of the systems and process that were applied.

86. The Chairperson: It would be useful to see those statistics.

87. Dr Davison: The inspectorate draws conclusions from its inspection reports through a variety of means, including the chief inspector's biennial reports. I assume that the Education and Training Inspectorate report on the 2008-2010 period can be expected reasonably soon, and colleagues can talk about that. In the past year, two publications were issued on best practice in English and maths. Best practice in the classroom is defined for all teachers through the findings of inspection evidence across the work that the inspectorate does in the round.

88. The other factor, which my colleagues in the inspectorate can also talk about, is that inspectors are in and out of schools regularly, and, along the way, they bring their professional expertise to bear with teachers and principals across the length and breadth of the system. We are trying to set out a picture of our attempt to shift fundamentally to a focus on educational outcomes. Inevitably, that is a long game. As Katrina said, we are also trying to build programmes and approaches and to draw on evidence from our inspectorate colleagues to work at that, not in the future but in the here and now. It is an attempt to raise standards and improve equity in the long and short term.

89. Mr Ross: You mentioned low attainment and attempts at raising aspirations. Educational aspiration is a real problem in deprived areas, and part of that is that many children do not see the value in education. Can you give examples of what you mean by the importance of building links with parents and communities? We often hear about strategies but not about practical examples. Where are those being carried out?

90. Dr Davison: Many schools have good links with parents and communities. I will not name them because that would be unfair, but I have visited schools in and around Belfast that deal with deprived communities and which put a major effort into working closely with parents and with the wider community. Sometimes that is done through formal parenting programmes and sometimes through informal means. We have tried to put extended schools funding on a fairly generous targeting social need basis, one of the aims of which is to encourage schools to reach out to parents and to communities with a bit of extra resource to try to draw in on that.

91. Aspiration and expectation are key. A long time ago, I attended schools as an inspector; I have returned to them in my present job to witness an enormous shift in how they perceive themselves and how they are perceived in their communities. Those schools have raised their standards considerably. That is a key feature.

92. Mr Ross: We all agree that that should happen, but what is the uptake on it? Is it working, and how will you get parents involved?

93. Dr Davison: There is a mixed picture on all those issues. Some schools understand how to seize the opportunity; others have not quite achieved that yet. We always tread the line between over-prescription and allowing schools to make their own determinations.

94. Setting broad criteria and allowing schools to develop would run the risk of their not developing the same areas at the same pace. There is evidence of some very good approaches in the extended schools programme. However, we also have evidence that some schools have not made the progress that we would have liked.

95. Mr Ross: What do you mean by "very good approaches"?

96. Dr Davison: We mean that some schools have introduced formal parenting programmes.

97. Mr Ross: How many parents and communities are involved in that?

98. Dr Davison: I cannot give hard numbers.

99. Mr Ross: I am not asking for hard numbers. You said that some areas are successful, but what do you consider a success? I am not asking for specifics; I just want a broad number.

100. Dr Davison: Expecting schools to have 100% engagement is not realistic. It is about schools engaging with a group of parents who have influence and who can grow aspiration and expectation. Successful schools are those that know how to focus on parents who can influence the communities in which they live. One particular school is extremely good at that.

101. Mr Ross: I am getting a sense that I will not get a number from you.

102. Dr Davison: It is not one of those ones that —

103. Mr Ross: It is difficult to listen to you talk about success when we have no idea how you judge success or how many parents are involved.

104. Dr Davison: Let me put it like this: I am sure that you know which schools in your constituency work successfully with parents, but such engagement is not amenable to a score. Nevertheless, you will know instinctively which schools have good relationships with parents and communities and which keep parents and community at arm's length. Research tells us that good engagement with parents and the community raises aspirations and expectations, which were key factors in the work of the former Department for Children, Schools and Families.

105. Mrs Godfrey: It may sound obvious, but it is a two-way process. It is vital that a school reach out. We have been working with our colleagues in DSD, who are responsible for neighbourhood renewal, to articulate to disadvantaged communities in particular the importance of aspirations and of valuing the work of their local school. Such aspirations are increasingly being built into neighbourhood renewal action plans; therefore, it does not all have to come from the school.

106. Communities are recognising the importance of education and of children doing well and being supported to do well at school. Consequently, they are asking schools how they can help, what can they do and how they can do more. That dynamic is hugely important. Working with other Departments gives us a route into communities in certain areas that schools would not necessarily have. That two-way process and the joining up of the dots between, for example, the neighbourhood renewal programme and our work to raise standards have been hugely useful to us as well as to our colleagues in other Departments.

107. Mr Ross: Last week, a teacher from Ballysally Primary School told me that many teachers who have spoken to the parents of problem children encountered hostility because of the parents' negative attitude towards teachers and their bad experience of schools. She said that many of the parents did not want to know that their child was misbehaving and that there were difficulties; they simply told the teachers to bring their child back at 3.00 pm. Some of the teachers told me that in other places, such as Glasgow, liaison officers, who are not teachers and who are not seen as teachers from the school, visit parents. Is that going on anywhere in Northern Ireland? If not, are there plans to start doing it?

108. Mrs Godfrey: That model is being used in parts of Glasgow. It is also a feature of the Deis programme in the South, where home school liaison officers are appointed in areas of disadvantage to carry out that role; that is less intimidating for parents than if someone from the school were to do it. The other thing —

109. Mr Ross: Are there such officers in Northern Ireland? If not, are there plans to appoint any?

110. Mrs Godfrey: It is one of the areas that we are looking at in the context of the North/South work on educational underachievement. We want to see the impact that those officers have had in the South and whether there are lessons to be learned. The same applies to the programme in Glasgow.

111. Recently, we did work on literacy and numeracy and assessment reporting with parenting groups. Through that work we got the sense that even hard-to-reach parents and groups from the most disadvantaged communities want to do the right thing to support their children, but, often, they do not know how to go about it. I was talking to a principal the other week who had sent for the parents of a pupil to talk about a problem. She said that, until the parents came in, she had not appreciated that they were absolutely terrified, as their association with the principal's office when they had been at school had not been a happy one. Although the principal thought that she was having an adult-to-adult conversation, she realised suddenly that she needed to adopt a reassuring tone to get her message across.

112. The principal said that that was an important lesson for her. She had not regarded the meeting as a big deal, but now she is aware that she must remember that being called to meet a school principal is a big deal for some parents, and finding strategies and ways around that is important. The principal was able to point to what she had done to build trust and confidence and to inform me of the benefits that that had for the child and the message that had got out in the community about the importance of supporting the school.

113. As Robson says, when you see it happening at first-hand, it can be enormously effective. The key thing for us, and our colleagues in the inspectorate, is to capture good practice in an area as we do for teaching, learning and standards and to disseminate it more effectively, particularly in initial teacher education and continuing professional development, because it is a skill set that is quite distinctive in many ways.

114. The Chairperson: Before I go to Basil, I have one comment. Collaboration with neighbourhood renewal sounds very good, but funding for nurture groups will come to an end. The Department gives groups a project and tells them to pilot it; the project is successful and the outcomes are delivered. However, when a group asks the Department for more money, the Department says that there is none and the project folds. You can have all the collaboration you want, but that is what happens.

115. I visited a school in Sandy Row, where there had been intervention. It did a good job, but the money ceased, the intervention stopped, and it was back to square one. We see that repeatedly with nurture groups. They are doing a good job; in fact, there were no referrals to the psychologist or any interventions in Ballysally school last year because there was a plan and parents were involved. We talked to parents. However, what happens next year? The money will not be there. The Department has given a vague commitment — in fact, it has said that it is not going to do it — end of story. That is a scandal. The rhetoric does not measure up to the reality. That is the problem.

116. Mrs Godfrey: The key issues to emerge from engagement are changing attitudes and the realisation that education is important not just to our future but to that of the children in schools. We have been getting that message across effectively and working with other Departments to help it be received. That is where it is most effective. It is not the stand-alone programmes that are most effective, but the message from community leaders that education is important and that children doing well at school is important, and when the schools' work is being supported and valued in the community. That is the real benefit of our work.

117. Dr Davison: You put your finger on a broader point that innovation is required, and for innovation we need to test. However, it is difficult to move from pilot to full-scale implementation because the pilot usually involves only a small number of players.

118. The Chairperson: I do not want to dwell on this because I know that Basil wants to get in, and he has to go to another meeting, but you said earlier that we are in a long game. I could name a dozen programmes that the Department has introduced. In 1989, a PAC report said that a numeracy and literacy programme cost £40 million.

119. Then we change that and go to something else. The Department has no stickability; it tries a thing for a while, throws it out and then it tries something else for a while. We need an initiative that works, and nurture classes work. There are other examples: the Achieving Belfast programme seems to be delivering. We will get more information to see how that works. However, as soon as it works, the Department pulls the money out and the initiative disappears. There is no long-play there; you have a short-playing record. You have no long-playing record on that one.

120. Dr Davison: You draw two comparisons. Literacy and numeracy is not a pilot or an initiative. The 1998 piece was not short play. We had to look at the outcomes from the 1998 strategy — the Committee would have been first to criticise us if we had not. The Northern Ireland Audit Office helpfully produced an analysis of it for us. The Audit Office did not regard the strategy as bad; what it regarded as bad was its inconsistent implementation across the Province. We have tried to look at a much more consistent way of delivering literacy and numeracy.

121. However, we must never produce literacy and numeracy as an initiative or a pilot or anything but the bread and butter of what a child should expect from its 12 years of compulsory education. I regard that as a different order of things to decisions on nurture groups, where the pilot point is a moot one. Initially that funding, I assume, paid for a small number of schools to engage in nurture activity. The need is probably much greater than that, but, I assume, the resource to meet that need is not there at present.

122. I do not disagree with much of what you say, but this is incredibly complex territory. That is why I make the point about keeping both long game and short game in play. However, we cannot pretend that we can do everything; we have to learn lessons as both go through.

123. Mr B McCrea: I am deeply disappointed once again in all of this. All I have heard is meandering, wishful thinking. Someone says something, you try to argue it back and in fact it takes both of you to have an answer back on it.

124. I have no clear understanding about how the Department will get to grips with educational underachievement. You produced statistics for free school meals and we looked at them. We could equally take statistics about the number of homes with 50 books or more and we could draw a nice graph on that. The long and short of it is that educational underachievement starts at early years, but we do not see any effective intervention coming from you in that.

125. I have to say that that begins to reflect badly on the Department and the inspectorate. I want to know who inspects the inspectorate and who inspects the Department. You have had years to try and do all of this. You come back and tell us, you know what, this is a long play. Every year that you take is another generation that you condemn to the rubbish bin. In this situation we must find out how we get our children to read and write. How else can they equip themselves to survive a very competitive modern world?

126. I am sorry to say this. You can waffle all you like, and come back at me and say, Basil, you do not quite understand that we are doing all of this and so on. I see no strategic vision; no one tells me what is cause and effect. This is having done the literature research, the good practice from other places, pulling it together and devising a strategy that will bring about outcomes that we can improve upon.

127. It may well be that, when we go around as a Committee, we only see little bits of things that are going right. However, it just beggars belief that we cannot say that where a programme is working, we will do more of it, we will find a way, we will get resources to do that. I am waiting for someone to tell me yes or no: does differential funding make any difference? When you talk about Achieving Belfast, I seem to recall the Belfast Education and Library Board telling me yes, but we have had to let go 300 teachers over the last period of time because the common funding formula, that we changed, brought down the number of teachers in areas of social deprivation.

128. So then you put a little bit back in and it makes no difference.

129. I will finish on this point. There are fundamental areas. You talked about the PAC and underachievement. As I understand it, the Westminster PAC was rather disappointed in the Department's performance and it asked for a comparative study to be made between Glasgow and Belfast. It identified a particular section of our community that is struggling particularly with educational underachievement, which, from memory, was working-class Protestant boys. I see nothing in this discussion that gets to the root of that. We are now facing a situation of unprecedented financial pressures and we have to get it right. You need to build consensus among colleagues from all political parties to get it done. It is an absolute travesty that we do not have a strategy that we can all agree on.

130. Dr Davison: A strategy on which we can all agree is a political matter. However, to argue that there is no strategy is unfair. I understand that you are unhappy with the early years strategy, but it was deliberately constructed to feed into the issues that we are discussing today. It tries to bring together what happens in preschool with what happens when a child goes into the foundation stage of the revised curriculum. There is a strong focus on improving quality, raising equity and making sure that there is a coherent development of standards in the basic skills from preschool to early years.

131. The revised curriculum is developed with literacy and numeracy at its core; they are key skills to be developed by every child who goes through the revised curriculum. We are in the fourth year of implementation, but it will eventually play its way through to all children in all schools. It takes away much of the heavy prescription and enables teachers to focus on the needs that they see in the classroom. The emphasis is on ensuring that, after 12 years of compulsory education, children come out with the appropriate literacy and numeracy skills.

132. We have put in place a school improvement programme that suggests that if the inspectorate tells us that a school's performance is not good enough, the school should go into a formal intervention process that focuses entirely on the concerns that the inspectorate has identified and asks that school to address those concerns with external support. If they are not addressed, action will result.

133. We have brought in a special educational needs and inclusion policy, designed to improve the capacity of teachers and the structures around which special educational needs and inclusion are taken forward. I understand from your comments that you are not happy about that.

134. With respect to teacher and leadership development, we have worked with the initial teacher education providers; we have done work in preparation for the ESA on continuous professional development and with the RTU on leadership. At the same time, we have worked with the Western Board and the Belfast Board on developing approaches to urban problems.

135. That is a strategic approach to dealing with the problem of too many young people coming through our school system without appropriate literacy and numeracy skills. I do not like using terms such as "back to basics", but we are putting literacy and numeracy at schools' core.

136. Mr B McCrea: Robson, you have restated the case that the Department knows what it is doing. I tell you here and now that you do not convince me; I am not convinced that the Department has any idea what it is doing or that there is any coherence. As for whether this is a democratic or political point, so be it. We are here to hold you to account. That is the issue. All of us here have a particular opinion and, I have no doubt would like to make a contribution.

137. I conclude on this point; there is no point in extrapolating at this meeting. I am not convinced. I suspect that others are not convinced. You need to do something about it.

138. Dr Davison: Whether you are convinced or not, I will take what you say on board. I will go on attempting to convince you and others that we take that problem seriously. As I explained, we are trying to develop a strategy that puts literacy and numeracy at the core of what schools are about. It tells schools that they must produce educational outcomes for all their children commensurate with their potential. That is what the education system is focusing on.

139. The Chairperson: Before Dominic asks his question, can you tell us when we will see the revised numeracy and literacy strategy?

140. Dr Hughes: It is in the final stages of completion. We needed to take account of the implementation of the revised curriculum and revised assessment arrangements. We are trying to ensure that the strategy is completely coherent with those two fundamental elements, as literacy and numeracy are at the heart of the curriculum. We want to ensure that the revised strategy is not seen as an additional strand but that it is clear that the curriculum and assessment arrangements support it completely coherently. It is in the final stages of completion.

141. The Chairperson: Will we see it in autumn?

142. Dr Hughes: Yes. Absolutely.

143. Mr D Bradley: Good afternoon. I agree with the remarks about the quality of the Department's policies and the criticism of them. For example, the Committee severely criticised the policy on supporting newcomers, yet, three weeks later, the Department published it without any change whatsoever and without taking on board the Committee's criticisms.

144. To my knowledge, the SENI policy does not have the support of a single advocacy group for children with special educational needs. Something is terribly wrong with how the Department communicates with important stakeholders if those stakeholders return a very negative response. The Department believes in the document's proposals; in fact, it is prepared to spend £28 million before consultation responses are even analysed. Surely the Department should do fundamental work on policies first to ensure that they have currency among the stakeholders at whom they are aimed.

145. Committee members were also underwhelmed by the nought-to-six strategy. The first version of the literacy and numeracy strategy seemed to indicate that the person who wrote it thought that it was an SENI policy directed solely at children with special educational needs, whereas it is supposed to be directed at underachievement.

146. Therefore, although you say that that fine suite of policies is one core column that supports the Department's approach to raising standards, I suggest that those columns are not always based on the most solid foundations.

147. Dr Davison: Let me respond to your remarks on the special education needs and inclusion policy. An enormous amount of stakeholder input went into the policy before and during its drafting; the Department received 1,700 responses to the consultation. Departmental colleagues are going through those responses in considerable detail to consider the issues that stakeholders raised.

148. We will, soon, I hope, bring forward proposals to respond constructively to the issues that were raised. We recognise that, particularly with regard to SEN and inclusion, that this is an important and difficult area, because of all the things that surround special educational needs. We will come back as soon as possible with our response to what has been an unbelievably sized response to the consultation.

149. Again with regard to SEN, we have not spent the money yet. At the moment, we are planning to build teachers' capacity to deal more effectively with special educational needs. However special educational needs structures and the approach to them play out, building teachers' capacity to identify particular special needs difficulties and to work out strategies to identify them at classroom or whole-school level is something that we should be helping to develop. There is complementarity between planning how to build teachers' capacity to deal with special educational needs and the outworking of the special educational needs consultation. There will be congruence between those two things.

150. I do not accept that we do not listen to stakeholders. My colleagues and I are carefully considering the 1,700 responses to the special educational needs consultation. Big issues are coming up through that consultation, and you will see that in due course.

151. Mr D Bradley: We found it difficult to locate the stakeholders who were consulted in the first place.

152. Dr Davison: I will not get into that. A broad range of people was involved; they were groups that took the policy forward. I will not get into an argument over that.

153. I am disappointed by yours and Basil's "underwhelmed" response to the early years policy. As I said to Basil, that policy is a serious piece about how best to bring together what happens preschool and what happens in school so that we can tackle issues of literacy and numeracy at the earliest stage. It is an attempt to get it consistently right. Perhaps we will get another opportunity to discuss it, as, like SEN, it is an extremely important part of the policy picture.

154. Mr D Bradley: Are the policies that you finally establish as core policies assessed by the Education and Training Inspectorate?

155. Dr Davison: Yes. At one level, ETI assesses and evaluates the outworking of our policies at every inspection and it evaluates specific policies on another. The chief inspector's report draws together the evidence and sets much of it out in due course. Katrina mentioned specific policies such as Achieving Belfast.

156. Mrs Godfrey: That policy was put out to inspection evaluation to give us a basis for moving forward.

157. We check the validity of any policy that we are developing with the evidence base, inspection findings and practitioners. The core and starting point of the literacy and numeracy consultation document was quality whole-class teaching. We have accepted that the use of the wave terminology in that document was a wee bit confusing, although it was promoted by teachers and practitioners because it was in line with the support material previously available. That is why we used it. However, those who did not have in-depth knowledge of the issue found it confusing. That is the point of having a consultation. You will see different terminology used and greater clarity, referenced at every point with people who do this every day.

158. We have the policy-making and analysis skills, but, in the policies in which I am involved, we road-test them for practicality and reality-check them with teachers and principals. That is a key part of the process to make sure that there is no gulf between the research and the evidence base and how policies are implemented. That is a hugely important part of the work in which Chris and I are involved.

159. Dr Davison: One of the big changes is the revised curriculum; we are into the fourth year of its implementation. Each year we took a report from the inspectorate on the implementation of the revised curriculum, and each year we responded to what the inspectorate told us about how we take forward implementation. Therefore, we make extensive use of our colleagues as our source of professional advice on the outworking of our policies. Our inspectorate colleagues rarely spare us; they tell it as it is to us and the schools.

160. Mrs M Bradley: I return to nursery education. We visited a school in Derry. I declare an interest: I am on a board of education, although not at that school. I came out of that school quite depressed. A mother whose eight children all have special educational needs told us that the system had let her children down. That is what she said to us: "The system let my children down."

161. That woman is trying as hard as she can to get the help that her children need, through no fault of the school. The school is running the nurture centre now at its own expense, but there will be no nurture centre because the school can no longer sustain it. We talk about improving life for children, but surely that is the stage of life that we need to improve. They should not have to go to primary school, and leave primary school and move further up in their education to other schools, and then the other schools are looking for money to try to improve their lives. There is no sense in it at all.

162. If we do not start with them when they are that age, we are just wasting money as the children are going through the school, and we are still not helping those children. I felt deeply, deeply sorry for that mother. I came out of the school very depressed. There was also a young father there with a child who cannot get the full attention that it needs to make its way in life. It is just so depressing when you go out into communities.

163. Some of those schools are in highly deprived communities. Those are not the sort of parents who have the money to keep funding a school; they just do not have it. They would have to choose between feeding their children and giving it to the school. It is just not fair the way the system is. That young mother felt that the education system had let her children down.

164. Dr Davison: One can only share your disappointment and unease. What we are trying to do at a broad level through the early years and special educational needs work is to put in place a system that will enable us to do that. I could wax lyrical about the attempt to bring consistency of approach to those issues across the Province, instead of having to deal with them in separate ways.

165. On the specifics of nurture groups, there is a discussion to be had on how to transfer pilot work into a coherent delivery to all the schools that need it. The nurture groups are in a small number of schools, whereas, Mary, you know as well as I do, that the need in that area is much broader than just the small number of schools with nurture groups. Therefore it is a question of finding limited resource to develop a validated approach across the full range of schools that require it. That is the conundrum.

166. Mrs M Bradley: If everybody sits back and says that they cannot find the resources, what happens to those children? We do not improve their lives in any way; not at all.

167. Dr Davison: The resources that we have through the Western Education and Library Board are there to help the children that you are telling me about; it is for the Western Education and Library Board to bring those resources to bear as best it can. It is the same in all the other board areas.

168. We are always working with finite resources, particularly those for special educational needs. Need may be much larger than the resources that we can bring to bear on it.

169. Mrs M Bradley: The Education Department stopped putting any money into nurture education groups.

170. Dr Davison: I assume that those groups were set up under the neighbourhood renewal programme.

171. Mrs M Bradley: That is right. DSD gave them the money, but that money is no longer there. I do not remember how much money they got — I think that it was £116,000 — but none of the schools in Derry got any of it because there was not enough to go around.

172. Dr Davison: That is the point. A small number of schools benefited from the pilot work on nurture groups. However, a big problem came about when the Department tried to universalise it, because it did not have enough money to cover the cost of replicating the pilot's work in a small number of schools in the generality of schools.

173. Mrs M Bradley: The number of children who need that type of help is going up, not down.

174. Dr Davison: Hence, I am saying that, through early years and special educational needs, we are trying to work towards a more consistent approach and a more effective use of the money that we have in order to best meet the needs of the people whom you so eloquently described.

175. Mrs M Bradley: In the meantime, those people will just have to sit back.

176. Dr Davison: To be fair to the Western Board, it brings its best efforts to bear in order to meet the special educational needs of the children in the schools in its area. That is what it is trying to do.

177. Mrs M Bradley: The Western Board will not be getting any pats on the back from the parents of special educational needs children in that area.

178. Dr Davison: I am disappointed to hear that. The Western Board does what it can with the resources that it has to provide a service for children with special educational needs at all the schools in the board area.

179. Mrs M Bradley: You need to take note of the fact that there is no longer any regeneration money for such work. That issue must be looked at.

180. Dr Davison: I agree that that is a problem.

181. Miss McIlveen: Thank you for your presentation and for fully answering members' questions. I will be brief because I am mindful of the time. Parenting and early intervention are critical, and that has been recognised today. The Committee for Employment and Learning (DEL) is carrying out an inquiry into those who are not in education, employment or training (NEETs) and is therefore dealing with some of the outworkings of this issue. Prevention is critical in respect of NEETs; therefore, what discussions has the Department had with DEL about that?

182. Dr Davison: First, I spent seven years in DEL where I learned about the extent to which the school system is failing to deliver effectively for the full range of children. That was evidenced by the fact that DEL has to spend an inordinate amount of cash on remediation for children after 12 years of compulsory education. I regard that as a waste of resource, because we should be getting the system right in the compulsory years of a child's education so that they emerge with the literacy and numeracy skills required.

183. Secondly, we work regularly with DEL on issues relating to 14- to 19-year-olds within which the issue of NEETs sits. We are trying — Katrina will say a bit more about this — to bring together both Departments' provision for 14- to 19-year-olds in a more effective and coherent way, and the Department's entitlement framework is a key piece in that work. Further education adds considerably to the options that young people aged 14 to 19 should have presented to them.

184. Mrs Godfrey: DEL has been in touch with us on the specific scope and nature of its inquiry. The folk there have picked up on the importance of prevention, which was Michelle's point, and are looking at the characteristics of young people not in education, employment or training. Working back from those characteristics, they are looking at what they can do for children aged 14 to 16 when they have to be at school, as well as for younger children to ensure that their time at school is productive and enjoyable. It is important that they have aspirations to succeed.

185. Aspiration and early intervention and the actions associated with them are hugely important. Some of the areas that we discussed with DEL concern pre-14 education and early intervention as well as standards of literacy and numeracy in the curriculum, and, interestingly, alternative education provision. Many young people not in education, employment or training came through alternative education provision. That area is being reviewed and examined as part of a wider focus on improving outcomes for pupils to ensure that young people are ideally accommodated and given a good-quality education in school. Where, for whatever reason, that ideal situation does not obtain, they should get support and provision of no less quality if they are educated somewhere other than in school. That is one of the areas that our DEL colleagues have been keen to focus on: the trajectory from alternative education into not being in employment, education or training.

186. Dr Davison: The original title of DEL's work, 'Status Zero Survey', tells you all that you need to know. These are young people for whom education did not deliver. That is unacceptable. We have a duty to ensure that the issues that we are debating — standards and outcomes — are central in everything that the Department of Education the Department for Employment and Learning do in training and further education. We must try to get children at least to level 2 in English and maths. That is recognised as the jumping-off point for employment and for further and higher education. That is what both Departments want to bend their wills to.

187. Miss McIlveen: I notice that earlier communications that we received about the destinations and qualifications for 2008-09 set against PSA 19 seem to be positive that you have met those targets. When you are looking at that again, will you set more challenging targets?

188. Dr Davison: We have a long-term picture that is not a part of the PSA, whereby we have set very challenging targets. We want most children to get to level 2 by the age of 16. That is a huge challenge. We aim to get 70% of children five GCSEs, A* to C, including English and maths. We are working to a long-term plan, within which we have to play short term as well.

189. Mrs Godfrey: The other point to pick up from those statistics is that, encouragingly for us, the number of children who, last year and this, stayed on at school post-16 has risen considerably. That is important as well, but it means that there is an even bigger onus on the system to ensure that those who stay on in school are doing courses that interest them and in which they can succeed.

190. Miss McIlveen: What do you mean by "considerably"?

191. Dr Davison: One thousand five hundred additional children stayed on post-16 over the past two years, although it has not been the trend. It is a very positive outcome. Set alongside that is our work with DEL to ensure that provision for young people is broad. From our perspective, they should take most courses in school, although they may take of them in a further education college. We are working towards a more coherent and effective method of doing that.

192. Miss McIlveen: Thank you very much.

193. The Chairperson: Is it not the case that the trend whereby children stay longer at school is a reflection of the fact that long-term employment prospects are poor?

194. Dr Davison: I would have automatically jumped to that conclusion, but when that has been the case previously we have not necessarily seen the same increase. Doubtless there is an element of that in it, but it does not explain it all.

195. The Chairperson: Robson, Katrina, Chris, thank you very much.

196. I welcome the chief inspector of the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI), Mr Stanley Goudie, and his team. As always, you and your colleagues are very welcome. Thank you for taking the time to come to the meeting and for your patience. I ask you to make your presentation.

197. Mr Stanley Goudie (Education and Training Inspectorate): Thank you very much, Chairman. We are glad to make a presentation on the key characteristics of successful post-primary schools that serve disadvantaged communities. I will talk through the presentation, after which my colleague Peter Geoghegan will distribute a case study of a non-selective post-primary school that we inspected recently. The purpose is to ground in reality the sense that that school has made a difference in serving a difficult area. Hopefully, that will give the Committee further evidence of what can be achieved in turning schools around.

198. The evidence on which our remarks are based has been taken from the inspection findings of individual schools and organisations; it is also based on cross-cutting evaluations, whereby we would visit more than one school in order to look at a theme. It is also gathered on unannounced incidental visits that inspectors make to their district's schools.

199. In the post-primary sector, the main inspection model that is used to evaluate a school's overall effectiveness is the standard inspection, through which the inspection team identifies, evaluates and reports publicly on the quality of a school's provision in the following key areas: leadership and management at all levels; achievements and standards; provision for pastoral care and child protection; quality of educational provision; and a school's process of self-evaluation leading to self-improvement. In that framework, we have six performance-level descriptors: outstanding, very good, good, satisfactory, inadequate and unsatisfactory.

200. From our inspection findings and survey evaluations we have found that the key characteristics of successful post-primary schools that serve disadvantaged areas are as follows: with regard to leadership and management, the senior leadership team led by the principal has a clear overview of pupils' educational and pastoral experiences and demonstrates an appropriate vision for the school and a clear understanding of how to achieve that vision; the leadership team inspires and challenges all in the school community; distributed leadership and accountability structures ensure that a school's changing needs are met effectively; there is collective responsibility for the welfare and performance of all pupils; and a strong sense of collegiality permeates the school, which is reflected in high moral among staff.

201. In addition, there is effective communication with governors and the employing authority; they are well informed of a school's development and, in turn, provide an appropriate challenge function to the quality of provision. Through liaison with feeder primary schools and community representatives, a school is well informed of the barriers to learning that its pupils experience. As a result, the school has clear strategies to help pupils to overcome those barriers to learning.

202. A well-constructed school development plan guides the work of the school, with ownership by all, including governors, teachers, pupils and parents, and associated quality action plans to drive forward identified areas for improvement; a school has a culture of openness and transparency; performance information is shared across the school, and analysis includes trends over time.

203. A self-evaluating process enables a school to identify its key areas and priorities for improvement, thereby ensuring accountability at all levels for the quality of educational and pastoral provision; pastoral care provision is intrinsically linked to academic progress and strongly pupil-centred; teaching and learning are at the centre of all that the school tries to achieve, and curriculum planning is creative and flexible to best meet the needs of individual children; pupils are encouraged to engage actively in their learning, and robust procedures are in place for those who require additional learning support.

204. Inspection evidence is that those characteristics hold true for all good schools, irrespective of social or economic deprivation. In areas of social deprivation, what becomes important is how those characteristics are contextualised by the school community to meet the needs of pupils, their families and the wider community that the school serves.

205. I turn now to the challenges of promoting those characteristics in less successful post-primary schools. Inspection evidence indicates that although a range of factors impinges on low achievement and attainment, the most important include poor leadership and management, low expectations by some teachers, and poverty of aspiration among parents, pupils and the community. However, although any or all can apply in certain circumstances, inspection evidence shows that the most significant in those circumstances is the quality of leadership and management, and the school's capacity for rigorous and honest self-evaluation leading to sustained improvement.

206. High-quality leadership will build on a school's smallest strengths to bring about improvement. There are no examples over the past five years when the inspectorate did not find some evidence of good practice. In every school inspected, individual teachers or departments were managing to achieve good outcomes despite the socioeconomic circumstances of the school. Where leadership quality is poor, the senior leadership team invariably does not have the capacity to analyse the problem, nor, indeed, to plan strategically and realistically for improvement.

207. Another significant factor is lack of accountability at all levels throughout a school. Of the schools inspected over the 2006-08 period that required a follow-up inspection, 96% improved by at least one performance level by the time of the follow-up inspection. Monitoring by a district inspector will show whether there is a problem in schools of a "plateau" effect and whether improvements can be sustained and developed. The inspectorate is developing a risk-based approach to inspection to identify outstanding, very good and good practice, but also to focus on schools where urgent improvement is required.

208. Robson Davison spoke of the formal intervention process. The response to underachievement has often been to introduce initiatives to address the issues rather than look at a school's circumstances and so tailor support to ensure an improvement in outcomes for pupils. For example, despite noteworthy successes in the raising school standards initiative and the school support programme, some schools did not have the capacity to plan or wisely use the money that they received. They often just bought more resources, and, in the worst cases, became dependent on the additional funding without a strategy or an incentive to exit the programme. In contrast, the Department of Education's school improvement policy, Every School a Good School, which includes a formal intervention process, is one of support with a definite end to the process.

209. Furthermore, although the quality of the support provided by CASS was generally good, as is illustrated in the case study, it was, in fact, uneven within and across the education and library boards, and a challenge function was not always exercised. In the development of Every School a Good School, the Department sought to address the identified weaknesses of previous support programmes. The current school improvement policy articulates clear roles, responsibilities and, indeed, accountabilities for all the key stakeholders — the Department, the inspectorate, schools and the boards.

210. Prior to the introduction of Every School a Good School, the Department did not respond formally to inspection reports. That has now, thankfully, changed with the Department affirming schools where outcomes are good and setting out clearly how it expects poorly performing schools to respond to inspection findings in order to effect the required improvements within a specified time frame. Although the standard model of inspection is reviewed annually, the inspection process has not changed with the publication of 'Every School a Good School — A Policy for School Improvement', and inspection reports have been published for many years. The key factor now is that the Department responds formally to the inspection reports.

211. The formal intervention process makes provision for an intensive programme of support from CASS when the evaluation of a school's work is less than satisfactory. The generally small number of schools currently in the formal intervention process is providing CASS with an opportunity to customise its support for the individual schools and build knowledge cumulatively on the strategies that work and those that do not.

212. The inspectorate monitors the work of schools in the formal intervention process with a follow-up inspection that takes place within 12 to 18 months. Usually, two monitoring visits take place in the interim period and feedback on the progress being made is provided to the school and to CASS. The follow-up inspection will also record the inspectorate's evaluation of the quality of the post-inspection support provided by CASS and will report publicly accordingly.

213. Faustina Graham will now take members through the case study. She will set out the background to the study and the success that the school has achieved.

214. Mrs Faustina Graham (Education and Training Inspectorate): I will put the study into context for members. In considering the remit that we had been given, we tried to find a school that we thought reflected what you had asked for. We, therefore, looked at skills improvement over the past five years. We chose a school that had been inspected in 2010 and that we were looking at for the first time. The principal at the school came into post in 2005. That enabled us to look at the kinds of improvements that had been made over that period and at the incremental improvements that had been achieved in outcomes for pupils during those five years. We decided to try to find a school in which there was underachievement among boys, which is an issue that was mentioned earlier, so we chose a non-selective boys' school. That is one of the more difficult areas to address. Members will also see from the study that 33% of pupils at the school receive free schools meals.

215. Members will see from the data that there was a year-on-year improvement in the number of pupils achieving A* to C grades in five or more subjects and in those achieving A* to C grades in five subjects including English and maths. Members will also see that the school was above the Northern Ireland average for non-selective schools over that period.

216. We chose that school as an example because we wanted to look at something that is realistic and that is based on the reality of the skills in schools at the moment. The factors that make a successful school can sometimes sound idealistic and like generalisations. Therefore, we wanted to show the Committee and the schools that when we talk about school improvement, we are talking about what is actually possible. Sometimes people have to be convinced of that, particularly those who have worked in difficult circumstances for a long period or who have worked in schools where has been significant underachievement and low achievement. People who get locked into that cycle of underachievement find it difficult to see something differently or to begin to see what is possible.

217. What was interesting about that school is that the principal came from the school community and was promoted to principal. He understood the issues that the school had faced over a period. He could also look at the issues, not just in his role as principal, and see possibilities for significant improvement in the school. He realised that it was a matter of changing the school's culture and the mindset of some teachers who had lost their motivation to make improvement. Key to doing that, particularly to helping people to see things differently, was an emphasis on professional development.

218. There has been an emphasis on literacy and numeracy this afternoon. The principal told us that 62% of pupils arrived at the school with reading ages of less than nine years. That is frightening, yet it is reassuring to see what has been possible with regard to the outcomes for those pupils. Someone spoke earlier about the need to be innovative. The principal looked seriously at literacy. He was open and honest with staff about the issues that they faced, and he got the agreement of some staff to cut down on the time spent on other subjects in first year. A member of staff was retrained in literacy skills, and an emphasis was placed on improving children's reading skills with a view to ensuring that once they were up to speed, they could access other areas of the curriculum more easily and, therefore, progress in other subjects more quickly. That seems to be working.

219. Stanley spoke about distributed leadership. In successful schools, there often seems to be one charismatic leader doing all the work. What we found interesting in this case study was that there was distributed leadership across the school. It moved gradually into the area of school improvement, particularly with regard to monitoring and evaluation and the introduction of a no-blame culture. The principal was honest, and he would say that when people took risks that did not always work out, he had to bite his tongue and remind himself that there was a no-blame culture. That is practical and real.

220. Over the past five years, because of the no-blame culture, the principal was able to chart staff's growing confidence in their belief that they could make a difference. Teachers began to open their classrooms to each other. That did not just involve the basics of performance review and staff development (PRSD), which is very much about performance management; it involved sharing practice, too. That did not happen overnight. Teachers were gradually asked to look at what was happening in other classrooms, and trust was built among staff to make that possible.

221. The inspection findings are based on the work of a principal who knew and understood the community in which the school was based and the people with whom he was working as well as their attitudes and approaches to the young people coming into the school. He recognised the need for a significant shift in the mindset of some teachers and in their attitude towards the young people and what they could achieve. He realised that that would not happen overnight, yet the quantitative data shows that he did not take his eye off the ball in that he also recognised that some of those improvements needed to be immediate.

222. The principal is honest in that he acknowledges that this is still a journey of improvement. That is true of so many schools. The issue of parental involvement was raised earlier. The principal would probably say that that is the hardest area for him to crack. The school is still struggling with that. The issue is not about getting parents on board, because the principal sees the parents as being very supportive of the school, and our feedback from parental questionnaires is that parents are generally very supportive. However, saying that you are happy with what the school is doing is different from getting truly involved in your child's education. From the principal's perspective, the school still has to struggle with that issue. That displays honesty in a process in which the school is moving forward and improving. In this instance, thankfully, we see no regression or plateauing of improvement. There is no big rise that comes to a stop; performance appears to be genuinely improving over time.

223. We received feedback from pupils about the role of their school council and its interaction with the young men in the school. It is important to get a sense of whether pupils feel valued in their school community and of how they interact with each other. The school has been very clear that it does not just talk about, for example, peer evaluation and everyone looking at one another's work; it has consciously tried to ensure that its young people have the skills to evaluate their own work constructively and to provide feedback to their peers. Unless young people are provided with such skills, peer evaluation ends up being just an exercise rather than a skill that is developed.

224. We are happy to answer any questions. We felt that this was a case study of a typical inspection that we carried out in the course of the year, but it brought to the fore some of the issues that the Committee wanted to discuss.

225. The Chairperson: Thank you; that was useful. The Department said that the characteristics are child-centred, high-quality teaching and efficient leadership, and your report talks about ethos planning and leadership. There is no huge difference in those two sets of criteria or characteristics. It may be unfair to ask this question about the case study, because I do not think that any single change caused the transformation, but was that transformation achieved as a result of the way in which the school implemented its policy, or was it a case of introducing a new policy to the school to kick-start that progress? There has been steady progress, and it is clearly identified from 2005 right up to 2009. The submission includes a list of issues, but what was the real driving force behind the transformation? Despite the plethora of policies, I am convinced that a practical system of nurturing must be seen to be working properly and hitting the right indicators in schools, particularly schools whose free school meals intake identifies them as being in areas of disadvantage, and so on. What was the catalyst?

226. Mrs Graham: We said that when things are not effective, it comes down to poor leadership. In this instance, the improvement was inspired by a principal who had a vision but who saw what was possible and was willing to build his vision into one that was shared by the rest of the school. That is different from somebody coming into a school deciding that they will change everything. Here was someone who saw the school's faults and failings over time but who also saw its potential. If we strip Every School a Good School right back, we see that it is about high-quality teaching and learning, which Katrina Godfrey mentioned earlier. The principal very much understood that that is what it is all about.

227. Rather than exhort people to improve, which we can all do at times, the principal supported staff to improve through, for instance, retraining. For example, the person who headed up all the literacy work has completely changed his mindset from not believing change could happen to talking about what is possible. Teachers will always face the difficulty of becoming disheartened. Just think about the complexities around barriers to learning that the Committee has discussed this afternoon alone.

228. Sometimes, if people do not known how to approach a problem, they become defensive, ignore it or do nothing. The idea behind the no-blame culture was to get teachers in a school to share what they know and to be honest enough to own up that they do not know how to tackle a particular problem. Often, somebody else will know how to tackle it. To implement that approach sometimes requires training. It is about knowing what is essential at that time.

229. Stanley referred to the initiative-driven culture of the past, and we always try to point out the need to customise any approach to meet the needs of the individual pupils and organisations. Over time, any school will change, as will the nature of the children and the young people who attend it. We have to teach the young people who are in front of us, not the young people who we might have had five or 10 years ago or the young people who we would like them to be. It is about the young people who are in schools at any given point and the difficulties and complexities of their needs. We must share that practice and share our concerns. We must be confident enough to admit that we do not know the answer to something but that we will find out and try to support young people as best we can. That principal understood all of that in a quiet way, as opposed to appearing to be leading from the front. He built trust among his staff, and he has reaped the benefits of that.

230. Mr Geoghegan: I shall comment on the link between policy and the improvement journey. For example, in 2005, statutory regulations were introduced for school development planning. Those regulations contain a number of indicators and things to do. Some of those are on operational matters, so I will set those aside. The principal was able to use the regulations as a structure and as a process. For example, the principal saw the school in its context in the town with young boys coming there with all of the problems around them. That was stripped down to ask what those young people were coming to the school with and how their needs could be addressed.

231. The school development planning regulations were used as a structure to engage in the planning process. Therefore, engagement took place in setting the context, and the staff were engaged in the process by talking to them. That had not previously happened at that school, and the regulations helped the principal to structure the process in his head. They also helped the school's governors with their challenge function. The principal was presenting to the governors what he was doing, and he put them in the position of having to challenge him. He asked them to tell him whether he was going the right way.

232. The teachers and the pupils were also involved, so the policy gave the principal a structure to help him to work through the issues. In some schools, particularly those that are not doing so well, that thinking does not exist. The policy on school development planning helped that school to move forward, and the principal articulates that view strongly.

233. Mr Goudie: The bullet points at the bottom of the case study can be easily mapped back to the pillars of Every School a Good School or some of the factors that we have described, including child-centeredness and the importance of rigorous and honest self-evaluation. We build a self-evaluation process into inspection, and, therefore, if the school says that it is has a score of plus 22, we will be careful to say that the score is, in fact, plus 15, and we will say that its process is not sufficiently rigorous or honest. We make that call as part of the inspection process to assist the school with building the capacity to improve its self-evaluation and to help it to become better equipped to do that in the honest and rigorous way that the Committee would want.

234. The Chairperson: I want to clarify one procedural issue. I appreciate that your Department is no different to other Departments in that resources are a huge issue and that there is a high demand because of the number of schools that need to be inspected. I do not know the name of the school, but I was informed that a school has not been inspected for 11 years. What process do you use in the inspection regime to get an overview of inspection of the schools estate?

235. Mr Goudie: In the primary sector, the ideal position is that we quality-assure a school every seven years. That is based on the premise that a school is inspected once during each child's time at the school. Operationally, that is not possible. We also have district inspectors who call on an incidental basis, so the process is not just as loose as once every 11 years. I expect that that school may well have been involved in a survey or had a district inspection visit. The situation is not just as stark as it may appear, although we are aware that there are schools that we simply cannot inspect once every seven years.

236. We recently introduced what I described in my presentation as a risk-based approach, which involves looking closely at schools that are not doing so well and taking that into consideration, although we do not target them. At the same time, we will look at schools that are doing well, because the inspectorate must have a sensible yardstick with which to measure what is possible. The strength of the case study is that we can present it to other schools in similar circumstances as an example. We can say to them, "Come on; this is possible, and here are some of the keys that might unlock the difficulties that you face."

237. Mr D Bradley: Based on your comments on the hallmarks of a good school in a socially disadvantaged area and on the inspection case study, it appears that leadership is the key element in thriving schools. Has enough emphasis been placed on leadership in the general culture of education? Can we do more to ensure that schools have the leadership needed to bring about that type of improvement? The Chairperson said that he was aware of a school that was withering under poor leadership. How can we stop that happening? How can we ensure that schools get good leadership?

238. Mr Goudie: The straight answer is no, we have not placed sufficient emphasis on the key role of leadership and management. The 2006-08 report from the chief inspector of the Education and Training Inspectorate indicated that we were concerned about the leadership and management of about 25% of the schools that we inspected; therefore, we must build leadership and management capacity. Part of that involves having a revised PQH programme that is fit for purpose in the twenty-first century. The Committee discussed with Robson Davison the issues involved in making the PQH a mandatory requirement. Perhaps a halfway house would be to require a person who becomes a head teacher to engage with the PQH programme within three years. That may be another approach.

239. The issue for us is that schools should not wait for an inspection to come along. There is an onus on the employing authority and on the school's governors to fulfil that challenge function. When we come along and point to leadership issues, people often say, "Yes, we know". The issue for us is what was done in the intervening period, because there is a responsibility on the governing body and the employing authority to prevent that situation reaching a certain point. The school also has the opportunity to call in the inspectorate. However, rather than simply accept and respond immediately, before I accede to such a demand, I ask what has been done in the intervening period to improve performance.

240. Mr D Bradley: The improvement from 27% to 62% — roughly about 133% — is phenomenal. Is that made up solely of GCSEs or does it include GCSE-equivalent examination results?

241. Mr Geoghegan: There would be some equivalence, but the core literacy and numeracy areas are traditional GCSEs. However, some other courses in those figures are equivalent to GCSEs.

242. Mr D Bradley: Do you have any idea of the proportion between the two?

243. Mr Geoghegan: Sorry, no, not in that instance.

244. Mr D Bradley: The inspectorate's advice and evaluation of schools is often peppered with well-known, well-used phrases such as "rigorous self-evaluation". What is involved in the process of rigorous self-evaluation? What process did that school go through?

245. Mrs Graham: Peter talked about how the school in the case study used the school development plan as a vehicle to begin the process. In others words, the idea is to look at the needs of the school and to make sure that everyone in the school and school community has an opportunity to contribute to the analysis of available data: for example, examination outcomes; feedback from parents and governors on what they see as the good and not-so-good elements of the school; and, in particular, feedback from the pupils on their experience of the school. Devising the school development plan, therefore, means looking at the real needs of the school and beginning the cycle through that action-planning process across the school. At post-primary level, that means looking at what each department needs to do to effect improvement. It is very much a journey of continuous and ongoing improvement, in which everyone is involved.

246. The jargon — monitoring evaluation and so on — can sometimes sound terribly important. It is always a matter of going back to the practicalities. One practical measure about which the principal spoke was the need to ensure that, once the action plans were in place, there were points along the way to check that what was said would be done by a certain time was done. In fact, he got his personal secretary to remind him continually of the times when those things needed to be checked and when the action plans needed to be looked at. It is important to do that, but, at the same time, it is important to be realistic about what happens in schools, particularly post-primary schools, in any given year. We often see quite ambitious plans being put in place during the year, without the recognition that, in the second term, particularly in a post-primary school, the requirements for coursework and examination preparation come on board and that improvement work will, of necessity, slow down. However, people sometimes do not plan with those practicalities in mind, so it is very much about being practical and about realising what can be achieved over a particular period.

247. What is also absent at times is what could be seen as common sense; namely, having contingencies in place. If you do not get something done by a particular time, how do you get back on track? Those are problems that we see recurring, and they are simple to address. Once things start to get out of control, however, people just ignore the situation. That is what people tell us. That principal said that, in the past, it would have been a case of getting to June, looking at what they had said they were going to do last September and realising that, in fact, not very much had been achieved. Monitoring and evaluation, therefore, are very much about the basic, ongoing work of any school.

248. We do not expect to see teachers coming with lots of documents that they put together for the inspection. There is still that perception of inspections. We are happy to look at what a school does on an ongoing basis. It is up to us to find the information and work through it. However, the action plan has to be manageable, with a small number of priorities. Schools must ensure that they truly prioritise issues rather than identify a whole load of things that they know from day one will be impossible to do and that will end up leaving them feeling overwhelmed. Those are practical matters, and the self-evaluation process and the monitoring and evaluation are not rocket science in any sense. It is about common sense and good planning.

249. Mr Goudie: There is already a document in the system called 'Together Towards Improvement'. We developed it along with serving practitioners. It is a route map to allow people to take on the business of self-evaluation, including even deciding if the school is ready to engage in the process. We also produced another document entitled 'The Reflective Teacher', which is aimed at allowing individual teachers to engage in the process of self-evaluation.

250. In August, we will launch an updated version of 'Together Towards Improvement' at the Regional Training Unit. It will be web-based so that schools can look at it, extract from it and engage with the process. If they are travelling along the route of self-evaluation, they can judge their progress, and if they just want to put their toe into the water, there is a strategy that allows them to do that. We hope that that will be of assistance to schools in the process of doing what needs to be done.

251. Mr Geoghegan: We also have a suite of self-evaluation pamphlets that are subject-based — they are specific to particular areas, such as English or history. They help to focus and support departments when they are dealing with those matters.

252. Mr D Bradley: Are they all available on your website?

253. Mr Goudie: Yes. They are free of charge, so you can browse through them, or, if you like, we can send you them all. Joking aside, they are certainly available if you want them.

254. Mr Lunn: I am primarily interested in the case study, because it is practical. Do you think that that principal made use of all of the strategies and pamphlets when he was appointed, or did he just draw on his own experience, having been at the school as a teacher? Did he use his gut instincts to figure out what was wrong, having observed the situation for a while? Would it be fair to say that his first priority was to galvanise the staff rather than the pupils? He seems to have made a really dramatic improvement in the first year, although I notice that standards in English and maths were already well above the Northern Ireland average. Tell me about that.

255. Mr Geoghegan: The principal was the vice-principal of the school beforehand. When going into a school in that situation, galvanising is important, but the question is where to start. In that case, it was a bit of both. The policies are what he wanted to do. It goes back to what I said about the regulations on school development planning. He needed a structure to help him to work through the process, and the regulations provided him with that. Of course, he had all the knowledge and skills, knew the staff and was able to bring that to bear in deciding how he would move the school forward.

256. Mr Lunn: Did he get rid of any teachers?

257. Mr Geoghegan: He did. Sorry, the governors got rid of teachers, not him.

258. Mrs Graham: The principal has a very interesting philosophy on the appointment of teachers. His view is that most people who come to interviews will have the requisite professional qualification; i.e. a degree and postgraduate certificate of education (PGCE). Therefore, the weighting in the interview is more on people skills and the ability to interact and communicate with people. The principal deliberately focuses on that in the interview process, which I find very interesting. People generally come to interviews with the same qualifications, so the principal concentrates on what the school wants from it staff to ensure that young people get the best deal. He is open and honest in that way. Judging from our interactions with him, I would say that he is very knowledgeable about education policy and so on, but he also has the confidence to use what he sees as being the most appropriate aspect of any policy. That is a sign of a really confident principal.

259. Mr Lunn: The proportion of pupils receiving free school meals is 33%. Is that reasonably high? I am not asking where the school is located, but is there an element of deprivation in the area?

260. Mr Goudie: Yes.

261. Mrs Graham: In our analysis, we consider anything over 20% to be high. That is the average for post-primary schools.

262. Mr Lunn: Would that school have attracted the input of the inspectorate before the case study began? Would you have been monitoring the position of the school and trying to do something about it in preceding years?

263. Mr Goudie: We are lucky in Northern Ireland, because we have been able to sustain the district inspector role, the incidental visit and the professional exchanges that take place. Putting schools into that cycle of inspection allows for the development of schools' intelligence, and the Chairperson touched on that. That is an important piece of intelligence that we will work into the new risk-based approach that we are gradually developing.

264. Mrs Graham: We have not collated statistics as such, because our management information systems have improved over a period of time. However, a number of schools had difficult inspections seven or eight years ago and considerable follow-up activity as a result, and we have seen them come out in the very good category after a more recent inspection. We want to pursue that further, because it is interesting to see a school in which the principal remained in post for a significant period and which had fairly traumatic inspection experiences then move into the upper end of the continuum by the time of the next inspection. We have not explored that in detail as yet, but we are starting to pick up some statistics. We have seen enough of that happen in schools over the past two to three years for us to feel that we can begin to learn and benefit from that experience.

265. Mr Lunn: How long had the previous headmaster been there?

266. Mr Goudie: Years.

267. Mr Lunn: In other words, you mean "far too long". English and maths are lumped together in the chart. Is it fair to say that improvements in other subjects, including maths, flow from improvements in English and reading?

268. Mrs Graham: That was the philosophy at that school. Some of the year 8 children had reading difficulties when they joined the school, so the principal made an agreement with the history and geography teachers that if they dropped one period each in order to give pupils an extra period in English and maths, he would step up the time spent on their subjects in later years. That seems to have paid off. In addition, two teachers at the school now have had specialist training in literacy. Our specialists say that reading has a significant impact on a child's ability to access mathematical questions. However, I am an English specialist, so I am obviously going to say that literacy is the most important skill.

269. Mr Lunn: When you were putting the strategy together, did you consult people such as the headmaster as a matter of course?

270. Mr Goudie: Absolutely. When we were building the Together Towards Improvement strategy, we engaged heavily with serving practitioners. In fact, we engage with those practitioners on the development of inspection models, too. We do that as a matter of course, because it is hugely important that those documents are grounded in the reality of what serving practitioners experience. We also involve associate assessors, who are either serving principals or vice-principals in schools, in the inspection programme. They bring recent and relevant experience and, if you like, moderate our evaluations.

271. The spin-off for them is that they then take their experiences, which give them a deeper understanding of the process of self-evaluation, back into the schools system. The feedback from associated assessors is that engaging in that process is hugely valuable for staff development and continuing professional development. Those folk are recruited through public advertisement, and there is significant interest in those posts each time they are advertised.

272. Mr Lunn: Some members have been in constant communication with a group of headmasters, some of whom are still working and some of whom are retired, for nine months in a different forum. I do not know who is right in this matter, so you must not take this as a criticism, but that group has said that headmasters have a heck of a lot of paperwork to do — an encyclopaedia's worth — but that there is not much consultation with them. Therefore, they seem to be saying the opposite of what you are saying.

273. Mr Goudie: I can comment only from the perspective of our engagement with them in the inspection process and evaluation. I am happy to engage at any time with the members of the group that you are talking about to hear their views on that.

274. Mr Lunn: They would love to talk to you: I am acting as a go-between. [Laughter.]

275. Mr Goudie: I am very happy to meet them.

276. Mr Lunn: Thank you. The case study is really encouraging. Films and television series are made about such things.

277. Mr Geoghegan: We have other case studies. In one, for example, a school went into a follow-up process. It had been evaluated as satisfactory and, after re-inspection, moved to being very good. I can provide anecdotal evidence of that, as I was a district inspector. I remember saying to myself when I took over that district and walked into that school, "Wow, there are real difficulties here." It would be amazing if one could bottle the change in atmosphere there. The improvement was down to the principal and how he engaged others and grew those traits in them. Importantly, they engaged and connected with the pupils and their interests, and when that was done, the curriculum was built up around the pupils and they started to engage in the learning. It is phenomenal.

278. Mr Lunn: You keep coming back to the principal, and I am sure that we all have a principal in each of our constituencies to whom we could refer, but I will not do so as it would embarrass someone.

279. Mrs M Bradley: When you inspect a school, can you sense whether there is good sharing among the staff? It can be difficult to establish whether there is a good working relationship among staff.

280. Mr Goudie: That takes us back to the strength of the district inspector system. Almost invariably, the district inspector is also the reporting inspector. Therefore, in advance of the inspection, the inspector will have already begun to pick up vibrations around the school. As you know, Mary, we also take the opportunity to hear from parents through a parental questionnaire and from staff and ancillary staff through a staff questionnaire. That provides us with basic information about the school before we undertake the inspection. We take all of that extremely seriously, because relationships are hugely important in a school and in the dynamics of a successful school. You can read between the lines in this case and see what the principal has achieved with the staff.

281. Mrs Graham: Year 12 pupils are very good at telling people exactly what happens.

282. Mrs M Bradley: You said that you contact parents. Are they reluctant to tell you the truth? Some parents feel that, if they tell the truth, it will be known that it was them who did so. That might make them reluctant to say what is really happening.

283. Mrs Graham: The questionnaire is confidential. People understand that we will not be telling anyone about who said a particular thing on a questionnaire. I had an interesting experience in one of our area-based inspections, when we were looking at provision across an area. As you say, it takes about 15 to 20 minutes for people to stop saying that certain schools are wonderful. It is not that we want people to criticise a school; we want them to be honest. Usually, it is almost a case of wearing people down until eventually someone says exactly what they think. Then, we normally have a very good, open and constructive discussion with parents.

284. Mrs M Bradley: I was a bit worried about parents giving evidence. I tell parents to say whatever they have to say.

285. Mr Goudie: We make it clear through the process that the inspection team is available to meet parents directly, at their request. When I was a district inspector, I did that on numerous occasions in response to a request.

286. Mrs M Bradley: That is good.

287. The Chairperson: Thank you very much. That has been useful for the Committee. We may come back to some of the issues as we try to formulate the progress of an inquiry. Thank you for your patience.

22 September 2010

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Miss Michelle McIlveen (Acting Chairperson)
Mrs Mary Bradley
Mr Trevor Lunn
Mr John McCallister
Mr John O'Dowd
Mrs Michelle O'Neill

Witnesses:

Dr Tom Hesketh

 

Regional Training Unit

288. The Acting Chairperson (Miss McIlveen): I welcome Dr Tom Hesketh, director of the Regional Training Unit (RTU). I hope, Dr Hesketh, that after your presentation you will stay to answer members' questions.

289. Dr Tom Hesketh (Regional Training Unit): I thank the Committee for the opportunity to engage on a theme that is at the heart of what we in RTU are privileged to take forward; it is at the heart of educational policy and has enormous implications for countless young folk, their communities and for wider society.

290. The professional staff of RTU welcome your interest and your intended inquiry, the results of which will make a significant contribution to the growing interest and evidence base globally that school matters. A key variable among the numerous contributory factors to school success is leadership.

291. As members know, education reform is a global enterprise; there is much that we can import from successes elsewhere. There is much, too, that we in Northern Ireland have to offer the outside world about what works, particularly in the area of school leadership. That is a fact that Professor Tim Brighouse remarked on in the work that he undertook with the Belfast Education and Library Board and RTU as part of the Achieving Belfast initiative.

292. As members know, RTU is a multi-stakeholder body that has considerable wisdom on the topic across its professional officer base and management board. Today, therefore, I will make my presentation to you as the lead professional officer in the organisation rather than providing an agreed management board perspective, although I have no doubt that you may be interested in the agreed management board perspective in the future.

293. The paper that I submitted to the Committee in advance was structured around four main themes: school leadership matters; the global consensus on the key characteristics of successful school leadership; the global consensus on the characteristics of successful leadership in the context of socio-economic deprivation, which members are particularly interested in; and the wider work that RTU is privileged to engage in.

294. For the purposes of this session, I thought that, rather than reading from the paper, I should provide the Committee with some brief comments on the first theme and some more detailed comments on themes two and three, which are closer to what I think is the at heart of the Committee's interest. The wider work of the RTU, which is dealt with in theme four, may come up in members' comments or questions. Therefore, if members are prepared to proceed on that basis, I will begin.

295. The first theme is: school leadership matters. The evidence base for leadership being linked to learning has grown enormously in volume and sophistication, as has the research methodology that is applied to it. There is now global consensus on the link between leadership practices and pupil learning. As you would expect, it is a complex issue, and a complex chain of variables links leadership and leadership practices to student learning. However, the extent to which leadership affects learning is usually described in two main ways: directly and indirectly.

296. The direct impact suggests that leaders contribute between 5% and 7% of the cross-school variation in pupil learning, which, at first glance, might appear to be on the small side. However, 5% to 7% of the cross-school variation constitutes one quarter of the total school effects. In contrast, teachers account for one third of the variation across schools. That is the direct impact.

297. However, the indirect impact of leadership is perhaps more profound and significant. The indirect impact consists of the effect that the principal and other senior leaders in the school have on teacher or, more generally, staff efficacy. For example, principals can have a significant impact on the internal states of their teachers and, in turn, on teacher efficacy by working on motivation, abilities and work conditions, such as climate, culture and school organisation. Teacher efficacy is the key ingredient in a school's success.

298. The second theme is the characteristics of successful leadership, which is, essentially, what the Committee specifically requested us to comment on. Since leadership matters, leaders have a tremendous responsibility to get it right. The good news from research is that we now know a great deal about what getting it right means. Successful school leaders have recognisable characteristics that are cognitive and affective. However, there is now convincing evidence from research that the core practices of successful leaders have four major components: first, they set directions; secondly, they develop the capacity of all the people in the school; thirdly, they redesign the organisation so that it is aligned to the core business; fourthly, they manage the programme for learning and teaching.

299. All that is reflected in the various frameworks in Northern Ireland that describe and articulate affective leadership, from the national standards for head teachers, which underpin much of the work of the RTU and the professional qualification for headship (PQH), to the Education and Training Inspectorate's Together Towards Improvement framework. It is also enshrined in the Every School a Good School policy framework from the Department.

300. The Committee's interest in the theme of leadership in the face of social and economic deprivation is reflected in developments elsewhere, including the New Leaders for New Schools programme in the United States and the work of the National College for School Leadership in Nottingham on schools in challenging circumstances. There is also the celebrated work of London Challenge with inner-London schools. That is a success story: five or six years ago, student attainment in many London schools was below the national average; as a result of the work of London Challenge, those schools' attainment is now above the national average.

301. We have also worked with the Institute for Education in London on leadership on the front line, a copy of which I forwarded to members. Locally, at the behest of the Minister, "Combatting Underachievement" was the focus of a North/South Ministerial Council meeting. I had the privilege of chairing a symposium at that meeting, involving several local head teachers.

302. The socio-economic context is, of course, particularly difficult. Study after study suggests that socio-economic status (SES) typically explains more than half the variation in student achievement across schools. Family socio-economic status is a crude proxy for powerful conditions in the home that have a significant influence on pupils' success at school. Among those conditions are: family work patterns, academic guidance and support — or lack of it — stimulation to think about issues in the larger environment, academic and occupational aspirations, the provision of adequate health and nutritional conditions, and physical settings in the home conducive to academic work. All those come under the umbrella heading of socio-economic status.

303. A considerable proportion of the research carried out in schools suggests that those factors are unalterable. However, those features of pupils' backgrounds do not directly shape their ability to be successful at school; they influence but do not determine it. Underachievement is, therefore, a complex interplay of socio-economic status factors, the systemic factors that exist in many schooling systems, and school-based factors. We believe passionately in the work that we are privileged to do with head teachers. Where the correlation between low socio-economic status and low educational attainment is turned on its head or reversed — where the link between class and attainment is broken — leadership and the quality of teaching have been the twin pillars of success.

304. However, it is important to note that such success is always against the odds, since not just SES factors but systemic features of the system can contribute to underachievement. The factors that head teachers, other leaders in the schooling system and their staff have most control over are the school-based factors; they can make an enormous difference to the life opportunities of our young folk.

305. As we wrote in the introduction to our 'Urban Pioneers: Leadership on the Front-line project':

"many also experience relentless social and community pressures, frequently becoming the interface between disempowered communities and a range of public institutions."

306. There is something distinctive about being an urban school leader or a school leader working in the context of socio-economic deprivation; it is about pace, complexity and the day-to-day challenges in a community context that are demanding and volatile. In order to make a long-term difference, school leaders in those contexts need to have an intimate knowledge of their community as well as an emotional attachment to it. They have to have aspirations to share power and a passion for their work; if half-hearted, they will not be able to sustain the pace or the pressures. From research and from our work in the field, we know the leadership practices that are effective in those contexts: assertive and positive leadership; direct frequent interaction with pupils; the shaping of practices around an ethic of care; sponsoring programmes aimed at helping parents to acquire additional parenting skills; assisting parents to gain access to the full range of social services; focusing on teaching and learning, including the fostering of an academic climate; the purposeful use of data, especially in school variation; leading professional development; and building productive relationships with families and communities. In short, as the authors of the compellingly powerful '10 strong claims about successful school leadership' asserted, most successful head teachers draw on the same repertoire of basic leadership practices. The selection and combination of practices, however, depends on context, with the greater number of leadership practices required to effect change in more disadvantaged schools.

307. Substantial improvements in pupil behaviour, attendance, attitude and motivation are important precursors and facilitators for improvements in students' academic achievement, especially in schools in highly disadvantaged contexts. We know that head teacher values are key components in their success. Invariably, they exhibit a strong sense of moral responsibility and a belief in equal opportunities; many will express, in a very explicit way, their zero tolerance of underachievement. They respect and value all the people connected with the school; what typifies them more than anything is a passionate belief in the value of education and a passion for learning.

308. In conclusion, successful school leadership is fundamental to the health of our education system and of wider society. There is, perhaps, no better way of expressing just how fundamental it is than through the words of Michelle Obama, when writing about her husband:

"I've spent a huge chunk of our marriage trying to convince him to do something more sensible to change the world, like be a head teacher".

309. The Acting Chairperson: Thank you very much for your presentation, particularly for the incredibly useful paper that you sent us before the meeting. I am particularly interested in the PQH course. How would someone apply for that course and what criteria would be included in a formal application? I noticed that if a person wanted to go through that process and become a head teacher, he or she would have to get the backing of his or her school principal. Could you talk us through that process and the criteria that apply to the post?

310. Dr Hesketh: The philosophy underpinning the PQH is a powerful one. In many ways, it emanates from what has been said thus far, which is that if leadership is important — and it is — we should not run the risk of people acquiring headships in our schools without the system having first invested in their preparation, training and development. PQH is best practice; in the private sector it would be referred to as succession planning or leadership supply. It is about creating a talent pool from which the future leadership needs of the sector can be met. Therefore, it has been constructed so that all those who have a teaching qualification can, in theory, apply for the programme.

311. Unlike some schooling systems that are open to the proposition that people can come from outside the education sector and lead schools, we in Northern Ireland have bought into the view that the best people to lead our schools are those who have experience of teaching and who are exemplary practitioners in the classroom. That means that our leadership needs for the schooling system can be met only by what we can do with the 23,000 or 24,000 teachers in the system. PQH is open to all teachers. We recently changed the model because, in some respects, PQH, 10 years on, has been more of a success than was ever envisaged. Almost by default, it has become the preparation ground not only for future head teachers but for vice principals, senior leaders and heads of departments who have benefited from the professional development that they acquired through PQH.

312. The downside is that PQH did not focus enough on its central objective, which was to prepare people exclusively for headship. The changes that we effected recently will mean that only those in the schooling system who have already accumulated significant experience of leadership and management will be able to go through the selection process for PQH to get onto the programme and warrant the investment that we put into it through the public sector.

313. The Acting Chairperson: Are those positions self-funding or are they paid for directly by RTU?

314. Dr Hesketh: They are paid for directly through the Department because RTU is funded directly by the Department of Education.

315. The Acting Chairperson: How many positions are there for a headship course each year?

316. Dr Hesketh: The model from which we are moving away essentially met preparation for headship and was open to the proposition that there were other leadership roles in the schooling system, for which, through PQH, we could also prepare people. Until recently, we had a recruitment of about 250 or 270 annually. The significance of the recent change, which brings PQH back to its original intention of focusing specifically on preparing those who are within touching distance of headship, means that the number who apply and get onto the new programme has dropped from 270 to about 110. Those who are interested in the programme now have to go through quite an intensive assessment process; it assesses the motivation, capability and readiness of the potential trainee head teachers. Only those who demonstrate that they meet the criteria of our new model gain a place on the programme.

317. The Acting Chairperson: To get a position of headship, one has to go through the process of an appointment panel of boards of governors, and so on. What training is given to boards of governors to recognise the leadership qualities that are required for headship?

318. Dr Hesketh: There is a wide-ranging governor training programme through the curriculum and advisory support services (CASS) of the education and library boards. Integral to that are aspects of the role of governors in relation to school effectiveness and the role of the head teacher. You put your finger on something significant about our schooling system: PQH is not mandatory. Therefore, it is possible that a board of governors or a teaching appointments committee, when considering an appointment to a headship, could go beyond the PQH talent pool. We need governors who have sufficient discernment about the kind of qualities that typify an effective head teacher to be certain that they make the best possible appointment.

319. The Acting Chairperson: You listed 12 leadership practices that are effective in addressing underachieving schools in deprived areas. That is quite an extensive list; could you prioritise three of them?

320. Dr Hesketh: In the past number of years, one of the experiences from which we gained enormously in our professional work, and from which the schooling system also gained, was our involvement in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) improving school leadership project, which included 22 other jurisdictions as well as Northern Ireland.

321. The project focused on what needs to be done to advance the capacity of leaders to affect schools. Four policy levers emerged from that work.

322. Listing those levers will help me to prioritise the points that I submitted to the Committee. The first policy lever referred to the need for headship to be redesigned and refocused on the core business of school. In other words, the need for head teachers to get much closer to learning, to be the lead learners and the lead professionals, and to lead their staff, particularly their teaching staff, in the pedagogic and classroom practice improvement that is required to advance the quality of provision in schools.

323. Leader/learner heads focusing more on the core business of schools will inevitably take head teachers and other senior leaders into the purposeful use of data and will help them to look critically at data to see how pupils are doing and to ask important and courageous questions about why some of our kids do much better in some subjects with some teachers and not with others. Inevitably, the greater alignment of head teachers to the learning agenda in their schools and to the use of data and professional development is what head teachers should be concentrating on.

324. The other policy levers that emerged from the OECD work have resonance with what the Committee is interested in. The second lever talked about the need to move decisively toward distributed leadership in our schooling systems. In other words, schools are too complex and the issues that they confront are much too challenging to expect a head teacher to be able to move that awesome agenda forward on his or her own. Therefore the need to build leadership capacity in a school has become particularly telling.

325. The third policy lever referred a great deal to the need to continue to invest in leadership development by identifying, nurturing and preparing people in advance for the job and continuing to support and sustain them when they take up the post.

326. The fourth lever, which is certainly an issue for us, was the need to look critically at how we attract more people to the role of headship. Our demographics are perhaps the most acute of any of the OECD countries in that respect: 77% of our post-primary head teachers are aged 50 or over; over the next eight to 10 years, we are looking at a substantial turnaround in those who are leading in the secondary sector. Therefore, the dynamics that I referred to earlier about identifying and nurturing talent and creating a talent pool could not be more important.

327. The Acting Chairperson: You also talk about redesigning the role and making head teachers the lead learners. Does that need to come from head teachers themselves or from the Department or the board?

328. Dr Hesketh: That is a particularly good question. As I was talking, I could hear many excellent head teachers in our system proclaiming that they would love to get close to learning and undertake the lead professional role in their schools but that administration, bureaucracy and the accountability aspects of the job paradoxically take them further away from what they seek to get close to. We find that in its most acute form in a small primary school with its teaching principal. Across our schooling system, consideration needs to be given at an infrastructural level as well as at an individual school level to ways of enabling head teachers to better manage their wide portfolio of responsibilities, such as leading the learning, administration, bureaucracy, the interface with parents and the community and so forth. We must consider ways in which we can help heads to better manage that so that they can get close to what really matters.

329. Mr Lunn: Thank you for your presentation. Can a head teacher or prospective head teacher who goes for that qualification fail it?

330. Dr Hesketh: Yes. In fact, the pass rate for the old model PQH was about 83%; we are now moving to a new model. That percentage is of those who were successful in getting on to the programme. Of course, a significant number of folk applied who were not successful at the various entry stages because of, for example, what was on their application form. They also had to undertake an interview with their respective employing authority. From those entry processes there was a sizeable number of people who aspired to headship and sought PQH as a pathway to it but who did not get onto the programme.

331. Mr Lunn: Roughly what percentage of head teachers holds that qualification?

332. Dr Hesketh: There is good news. Sixty-three per cent of those who were appointed to headship in the secondary sector of our schooling system last year were PQH graduates; 57% of those who were appointed as vice principals for the first time in our schooling system last year were PQH graduates.

333. Mr Lunn: You do not have an overall figure across the board for how many actually hold the qualification?

334. Dr Hesketh: Fifty-three per cent of principals in the secondary sector are PQH graduates, even though it is not yet mandatory.

335. Mr Lunn: That is very impressive. Given the stress and strain of principals' and vice principals' workload, one could excuse them for not wanting to take on extra. It is excellent that more than half have done so. As the Chairperson said, there is no obligation for boards of governors to take account of the fact that the qualification exists, but it sounds as if they may be inclined to when appointing a new head teacher.

336. Dr Hesketh: Increasingly, at board of governor level and teaching appointments committee level, there is an understanding of the currency of the qualification and that it is an investment from which a school can benefit enormously. The percentage of first-time headships acquired by PQH graduates has been growing over the past four or five years: in 2007, it was 54%; last year, it was 63%.

337. Mr Lunn: I am always fascinated by how you judge the success of such things. Your briefing states that:

"leaders contribute up to somewhere between 5-7% of the cross school variation in pupil learning."

How do you assess that? It might take you all afternoon to tell me.

338. Dr Hesketh: It probably would, Mr Lunn. Fortunately, as I said at the start of the meeting, the research base on the impact of leadership has grown enormously because it has been a topic of interest across most schooling systems. It has also grown in sophistication. I think that you are asking how we could be so precise.

339. I am not suggesting that it has scientific status. However, it seeks to convey the extent to which modern-day headship appears to have become more remote from learning rather than closer to it and that the direct effect of a principal on the learning of every pupil is bound to be less than the direct effect of each pupil's own teacher. However, the significance of headship is the indirect effect that a principal will have on all the other things that happen in a school, including the effectiveness of teaching.

340. Mr Lunn: I was coming to that. The most direct effective contribution that a head teacher could make would be his effect on his teachers.

341. Mrs M Bradley: You are very welcome, Tom, and thank you for your presentation. Among your twelve effective leadership practices is "building productive relationships with families and communities". Can you elaborate on that? The Acting Chairperson asked you for three priorities; where would you place that practice?

342. Dr Hesketh: The most powerful aspect is the voice of the practitioner, particularly in interaction with the community and with parents. May I read to the Committee what some of our head teachers said on the matter? On page 8 of our 'Urban Pioneers: Leading the way ahead', a head teacher from a school in west Belfast says: "The parish is in… Estate which is an estate which in the last 30 years has seen a lot of civil unrest and the people here feel they have been dumped on… But in the last 5 or 6 years I have witnessed a change (I have been here for 10 years) in the sense that instead of looking inwardly, the community has started to suddenly look outwardly a bit.

You find in this area that a lot of them would be born here, marry here and die here. They do their shopping here even though things are much more expensive because John M up there would do 'tick' in terms of benefits, its not any money lending or anything… It's a very inward-looking community, but since Father x came here he's sort of got them geed up… and in partnership with all of us, the schools and the community organisations and the church, there has been a drive to say 'hold on a minute we matter here' and 'look we are all not dossers and lot of us want to work and a lot of us want peace so what can we do?'

343. The voice of practitioners is very powerful. Another example comes from east Belfast:

"Working-class parents would have sent their children here [in the past] in the knowledge, the hope that they would do well educationally and move on and move out… It used to be easy, you moved in to where your father worked, in the Shipyard or Shorts or Mackies, and those places just aren't the big employers they used to be. There's no straight progression into employment anymore, and I'm not sure the Protestant community have grasped that education is the only way now for many of the children.

I think in the past it was easy to have the school community and the outside community distinct… I don't think we can afford that luxury anymore today, I think we need to be working in the community and with the community, and there are a lot of schemes, a lot of developments out there for the school to delve into and get involved in, in order to help the children, so I think the biggest challenge for the school really has been to get more involved in the community.

344. We have a cadre of head teachers who buy into the proposition that although schools can make an enormous difference, they cannot do it all on their own. They need to be involved much more intensively and regularly with agencies that are anchored in the community. The cumulative impact of working in that way is greater for young people's life chances than if schools try to do everything on their own.

345. Mrs M Bradley: I asked because many teachers tell us that they have difficulty in getting some parents to attend even a parent-teacher meeting, which is very sad. I hope that it is improving; if it is, that is good. Thank you.

346. Mr O'Dowd: I want to look at the figures from a different angle from Trevor Lunn, not to be provocative but to tease out more detail about the number of principals and vice principals who have the qualification. Among vice principals, 43% do not have the qualification, and the figure is roughly similar for principals. Is there a resistance to change; or does the process take time to move through the system?

347. Dr Hesketh: It is more the latter than the former. The key point is that PQH is not mandatory. There is scope for boards of governors and teaching appointments committees to go beyond the PQH talent pool when filling vacancies. I do not claim for a moment that only those who are interested in and who have acquired a PQH can be successful leaders. Much good leadership development happens in other parts of the system. Of course, the best leadership development happens in good schools. Those figures are probably explained by the fact that PQH is not mandatory and that there are others beyond the PQH family who can contribute rather than by any reluctance or resistance to accept the PQH badge.

348. Mr O'Dowd: Has research compared schools that have the qualifications with those that do not? Is there a trajectory that suggests that the qualification is assisting schools?

349. Dr Hesketh: In the early days of PQH, in 2002, the Education and Training Inspectorate picked a random sample of PQH graduates and followed them into their first year in headship. They asked whether the investment in such people, through PQH, had enabled them to make an effective transition into their new role of headship. The report was very favourable.

350. The Education and Training Inspectorate has a study under way that is close to what Mr O'Dowd described: it is an attempt to get closer to answering whether coming into headship with PQH better equips someone for the role. I look forward to that report.

351. Mr O'Dowd: The overall mission is to raise standards in schools, especially failing schools — and I use the term advisedly; it may be fairer to describe them as less successful than other schools — that are often in socio-economically deprived areas. You said that the socio-economic status of a community contributes more than half of the factors that influence the level that someone will attain at school. What other areas should the Committee and the Assembly consider to tackle that issue and to promote education in the community rather than simply as a school project?

352. Dr Hesketh: In England, a great deal of work is coming out of the extended schools project, which I can use as an example because it has been a feature of our own schooling system. Behind the extended schools approach is an acknowledgement that 80% of the factors that contribute to a young person's attainment lie beyond schools; the school contributes to the other 20%.

353. Extended schools is about trying to create processes, engagements and connections between a school and those in the immediate community beyond it so that all concerned can engage more meaningfully in moving young people's learning agenda forward. In other words, for the school to have an influence over that 80%; until now, many schools have adopted the attitude that they can do little about factors outside the school, so they concentrate on what they have control over inside it. There is a powerful argument for encouraging as much interaction as possible between a school and its community and the various social care, health and welfare agencies. That way, we will begin to touch more meaningfully on the behavioural, academic, social and emotional aspects. Learning for young folk is so complex and multi-dimensional that if one works only on academic learning at the expense of the behavioural, emotional and social sides, learning will not advance significantly or successfully. However, to make progress in those other areas, successful head teachers know that they must work with others.

354. Mr O'Dowd: I have heard before that 80% of learning takes place outside school. In one sense, that is an impressive figure; in another, it is an alarming one. I wonder how many parents and communities are aware of the need for engagement in the home. I took my daughter to school this morning, and she will be picked up again at 12.30 pm. Fortunately, we realise that there is more to school. How do you get the message out, especially to communities and individuals that are under pressure, that learning should take place in the home?

355. Dr Hesketh: That is what singles out the successful head teacher and other senior leaders who work in those contexts from those who are not so successful: they know the power of parental engagement and community involvement, and they develop creative, impactful strategies to ensure that those connections exist. Head teachers embrace the view that that is a core part of their responsibility and of what they should be about. Therefore, although other people can communicate the importance of the 80%, the schools are best placed to bring that message home to parents.

356. Mr O'Dowd: You quoted from 'Urban Pioneers'. We live in largely rural community, and socio-economic deprivation applies in rural communities. Is the report applicable to the rural setting? Is there a separate study?

357. Dr Hesketh: There has not been a separate study, but I think that it is applicable. 'Urban Pioneers' was more a reference to the fact that one is more likely to encounter schools that work in the context of socio-economic deprivation in towns and urban areas than elsewhere. However, we are not hooked exclusively or narrowly on the urban scenario. The concept of schools in challenging circumstances has a number of derivatives. I mentioned earlier the small primary school and the teaching principal. There are challenges and complexities in that context that warrant such a school being referred to as a school in challenging circumstances and, therefore, needing particular approaches. I have no doubt that outside the Belfast and Derry scenarios there are examples of schools that work in the context of social and economic deprivation. Most of what I have referred to applies equally to them.

358. Mr Lunn: I heard that 80% of learning takes place outside school, which, as John said, could be terrifying or worthy of praise. Personally, I think it terrifying. Does that mean 80% of learning or 80% of preparation for life as a whole? Does it refer solely to academic learning?

359. Dr Hesketh: We might each have a different take on that. My understanding is that 80% of the variables that affect how well a young person does are encountered outside rather than inside a school: our young folk spend between 15% and 17% of their time in school; a colossal amount of time is spent elsewhere. Everything that happens to us in our lives and experiences contributes to learning. If 15% to 17% of time is spent in school, that leaves open the possibility for all the other factors — the socio-economic status factors — to have an impact.

360. Mr Lunn: Some 33% of pupils' time is spent sleeping; for students it is more like 50%. I find that explanation bewildering. I cannot query the 17% figure; that is just time spent in school. You say that teachers' contribution in school is about a third of the overall daily contribution and a head teacher's is between 5% and 7%. Is that 33% of the 20% that is left? When deducted, it leaves 80%.

361. Dr Hesketh: That has more to do with variation across schools. If, for example, the same pupils were in a different school, the respective contributions from the leadership and teaching staff would be lesser or greater.

362. I take the point about 80%; at first glance it appears to be alarming while the 5% to 7% that I mentioned earlier appears to be disappointing. However, successful head teachers do not buy into the proposition that the 80% is something that they need not worry about; they seek to find ways of minimising it; neither do they accept that the socio-economic status factors, which have a tremendous bearing on a young person's attainment, are unalterable. They seek to do as much as they can, through their staff, to reverse the correlation between the socio-economic context on the one hand and attainment on the other.

363. That is what makes them stand out from their peers. They adopt a zero-tolerance approach to underachievement and they seek to use the school, working closely with the community and other agencies, to minimise the impact of the factors beyond the school and to highlight the extent to which the school can make a difference.

364. Mr Lunn: Does the qualification involve a residential period; is it part-time or home study? How do head teachers and prospective head teachers obtain the qualification?

365. Dr Hesketh: The PQH journey is mainly part-time, twilight and probation; much of it is now online, given our digital world. A feature of the old model, from which we are moving away, was an intensive two-day residential element near the end of the journey, which focused on two aspects. One is preparing those going into headship to look critically at the school of the future and to align their thinking about learning in view of that; it focuses on the twenty-first century challenge rather than on what their career had, up to then, been immersed in. The other aspect of the residential element has been to prepare them for the assessment centre process, which is coming as the exit point.

366. Given the financial stringencies ahead, the residential element will be given serious consideration for the new model.

367. The Acting Chairperson: Does the course take place in term time?

368. Dr Hesketh: We have run with a mix of term-time and out-of-term elements. RTU looks after the education system's annual summer school, which we hold in the third week in August. We have put into the summer school significant aspects of the training and development that those undertaking PQH access.

369. We have gone for the twilight and online models rather than the full-day model, because we are conscious of the disruptive effect on the system of people being taken out of school during class time.

370. The Acting Chairperson: What is the gender mix in applications and successful course attendees?

371. Dr Hesketh: As members will know, 75% or 76% of the teaching profession is female. The challenge in our schooling system, as in many schooling systems, is that, over the years, there has been a preponderance of males over females in headship positions. Almost since it began, entry into PQH has always had a majority of females over males, which has helped to counteract the imbalance in the schooling system. The teaching profession is predominantly female, but the leadership cadre is predominately male. I do not have the figures to hand, but the proportion of males and females in headships has moved decisively in the direction of females over the past five or six years.

372. Mrs M Bradley: Your paper states that:

"sponsoring programmes aimed at helping parents acquire additional parenting skills development"

373. is known to be an effective leadership practice. Is that done in the school or does the leader buy it in?

374. Dr Hesketh: There are some excellent examples in Belfast: Belfast Model School for Girls springs to mind as an example of a school that has seen such programmes as a vital aspect of its provision. Programmes are, in part, provided by the school, and some are commissioned. That is the kind of additionality that a school can bring to its young folk and their parents through, for example, extended schools money.

375. Mrs M Bradley: There is nothing wrong with it.

376. Mrs O'Neill: I have a comment rather than a question. You talked about the iron circle, and that will not be broken without a partnership approach. When a child goes to school, there is a partnership between the school, the pupils and the parents, so it is imperative that everyone comes together to work for the good of the child. I understand where the figure of 80% comes from. A child whose parents did not reach a high standard of education might not recognise the benefit of achieving in school. Anything that involves programmes in, for instance, confidence building in parents and basic literacy and numeracy skills in parents will feed into a child's success.

377. You have set out the core practices of successful leadership. First, the leaders set directions, through which, you say, they want the child to reach his or her full potential; secondly, they develop the capacity of the head teacher, the teachers and the staff in the schools and, in fact, the parents — that is also a factor. I accept that, and I think that it is the way forward.

378. Dr Hesketh: Mrs O'Neill, I know that you are interested in the secondary sector. You could bring the 10 most successful head teachers who operate in the context of socio-economic deprivation, regardless of how the measurement is made, into the secondary sector, and I would be surprised if each one of them did not inform you of the extent to which they have connected what happens in the school effectively with parents and with the wider community. That contributes to their success more than anything else.

379. The Acting Chairperson: The prospectus mentions mentoring and coaching. How do you drive that forward?

380. Dr Hesketh: We are excited by that. Earlier, I mentioned how leadership development is best promoted and advanced. The best leadership development takes place in schools, particularly in good schools. One of the dynamics, which has always been part of PQH and which has contributed significantly to its success, is the extent to which we use practitioners. Serving heads and head teachers who have recently retired have, by and large, designed, delivered and assessed the programme.

381. The mentoring and coaching dimensions that we are building into the new model seek to create even greater connectedness between the leadership journey of those whom we are preparing for headship and the contribution that could be made to that journey by existing head teachers and other teachers. For example, in the new model we hope that every trainee head teacher will be matched with a serving head teacher — if serving head teachers can find the time to make such a contribution — or with a recently retired head teacher.

382. Engagement between serving and trainee head teachers through mentoring and coaching seems the best possible preparation for the job.

383. The Acting Chairperson: Should that model not be rolled out across all schools, regardless of whether they are on the programme?

384. Dr Hesketh: It is interesting that you say that, Madam Chairperson, because it is already present in the system in various other ways. We are privileged to take those who are newly appointed to headship through an induction programme. This year, we seek to match every newly appointed first-time head teacher with a mentor or coach, who will be either a serving or recently retired head teacher.

385. The other way in which we are using the powerful insight, wisdom and experience of the practitioner to advance the wider agenda of school leadership effectiveness is by working closely with the employing authorities, education and library boards and with the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools so that schools that go into formal intervention as part of the Every School a Good School framework can benefit from the support and insight of experienced head teachers. We refer to that as a consultant head teacher model.

386. That acknowledges that the wisdom, insight, dynamism and passion for the job reside in the profession. Our job, in promoting leadership development, is to find ways by which that can be connected to our privilege of working with new and trainee head teachers.

387. The Acting Chairperson: I thank you again for your presentation and for taking the time to answer our questions. I imagine that you will be no stranger to the Committee in future.

388. Dr Hesketh: I appreciate the Committee's reception and its interest in the issue. Thank you.

10 November 2010

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Mervyn Storey (Chairperson)
Mr David Hilditch (Deputy Chairperson)
Mrs Mary Bradley
Sir Reg Empey
Mr Jonathan Craig
Mr Trevor Lunn
Mr Basil McCrea
Miss Michelle McIlveen
Mr John O'Dowd

Witnesses:

Mr John Anderson
Dr Maureen Bennett
Mr Stanley Goudie
Mr Paul McAlister

 

Education and Training Inspectorate

389. The Chairperson (Mr Storey): I welcome the chief inspector, Mr Stanley Goudie. I think that I am right in saying that this will be your last appearance before the Committee, although you might appear before us again before you retire.

390. Mr Stanley Goudie (Education and Training Inspectorate): I am quite happy with this one. [Laughter.]

391. The Chairperson: If this does prove to be your last appearance, I wish you well for your retirement, early in 2011, and thank you for your tenure as chief inspector, for your readiness to appear before the Committee and your patience with us when you are here. It is much appreciated. I also welcome your colleagues.

392. Mr Goudie: Thank you, Chairperson, for your good wishes. We welcome this opportunity to make a short presentation to the Committee and to answer questions. On my left is Paul McAlister, who heads the directorate for policy planning and improvement; he is also involved with Irish-medium education and with information and communications technology (ICT). Maureen Bennett is the assistant chief inspector for children and young people, which covers early-years, special educational needs and youth provision; she is our connect with the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and with work that the inspectorate does in health and with the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority. John Anderson is a member of our middle-management group and is managing inspector for post-primary education in schools and also for teacher education.

393. With your permission, Chairman, I will bypass the work of the inspectorate, as I think that the Committee is fairly au fait with it, and go to the report. The report was published on 13 October 2010; its evidence base comprised the findings of more than 700 inspections and surveys between April 2008 and March 2010, across provision funded by the Department of Education, the Department for Employment and Learning, and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.

394. The report's main findings were that there has been good improvement in several areas of education in the past two years; however, significant challenges remain. Evidence from inspection over the reporting period shows that the implementation of the revised curriculum is progressing well and that the focus on how to improve learning through developing skills has led to improvement in the learning and teaching strategies used in about three quarters of the schools inspected. The fostering of attitudes of respect, tolerance, integrity and moral courage reminds us of the need to equip all learners with the values that are essential to living and working together.

395. Where provision and standards are of high quality across a range of sectors, practitioners can be proud of the vital contribution that they make. However, there are also areas in which provision is less than satisfactory and which, for various reasons, are not delivering sufficient benefit to learners. 'The Chief Inspector's Report 2008-2010' recognises those areas in which provision is good as well as highlighting areas in which provision is not good enough.

396. The past two years have seen significant change in the education system here, with new policies beginning to have a positive impact. The Department's Every School a Good School policy has a strong emphasis on raising standards; it also has a robust framework — the formal intervention process — to support schools when inspection shows provision to be below the required standard. We have seen real improvement as a result.

397. In the period of the report there has been good implementation of pastoral care systems by schools and institutions, further underlining the link between learners' well-being and their ability to study and develop. Newcomer and Traveller children have also been well integrated, with better capacity to meet their needs. However, parallel to those successes are areas that continue to give concern, including the quality of leadership in the primary and post-primary schools inspected over the reporting period.

398. Although there have been slight improvements in the standards for school-aged learners in literacy and numeracy in recent years, overall improvement in those standards remains a priority for all phases. There is little evidence in the 14-16 cohort in particular that the literacy and numeracy requirements of learners are being adequately addressed. There is an opportunity to develop a clear continuum of skills development in literacy and numeracy from pre-school to post-16 to allow learners to access an accreditation appropriate to them, whether they are following an academic or vocational route.

399. The inspectorate found mixed quality of provision for learners with special educational needs (SEN). There is a need to build further the capacity of staff in mainstream classes and units to meet more effectively the needs of the increasing number of children presenting with special needs. In contrast, there has been improvement in the provision for those with moderate learning difficulties (MLD) and autistic spectrum disorder (ASD).

400. The themes mentioned in previous reports continue to need most attention: transitions, connections, and inclusion. We need to support learners more effectively across the key transitions on their educational journey; including establishing clear connections for learners between the various stages and types of learning; and inclusion that ensures that all learners receive effective and equitable education and training.

401. The Committee requested that our presentation focus specifically on school leadership; the engagement of parents and community; and the under-performance of boys in deprived areas, particularly in deprived Protestant areas.

402. The leadership provided by principals in three quarters of the primary schools inspected was evaluated as good or better; in one quarter it is not good enough. In just under two thirds of post-primary schools inspected leadership was good or better. In just over one third, leadership needed to improve, and in about a tenth it was inadequate or unsatisfactory. In over two fifths of the special schools inspected, leadership was evaluated as very good to outstanding, and in nearly one fifth it was evaluated as inadequate.

403. Where leadership is not good enough, pre-determinants are likely to include the following: insufficient focus on the achievement and standards of the children and, in particular, failure to identify and address underachievement; insufficient expectation of what the children are capable of achieving; being too ready to blame low attainment on factors beyond the school; giving insufficient attention to monitoring and evaluating the quality of learning and teaching throughout the school; and, at times, excessive attention focused on matters not directly related to developing and maintaining high standards of learning and teaching in the school.

404. With regard to the involvement of parents and the wider community, the Department of Education's policy document 'Every School a Good School' states that:

"it is essential that parents and the wider community play their part in supporting the work of the school, raising the aspirations and expectations of pupils and valuing education."

The Department's extended schools policy encourages schools to develop links with parents and their community. Achieving successful parental involvement is not always easy, but it is certainly not impossible. A recent report by a Belfast Education and Library Board officer outlines how her board's integrated services for children and young people provided funding to 23 primary schools in the west Belfast and Shankill area to develop a parent-and-child art project. More than 495 parents and children involved in the project demonstrated that there is a strong will on behalf of schools and parents to engage with each other.

405. We were asked to comment on the underperformance of boys in deprived areas. Although it is dangerous to generalise, it is generally accepted that boys prefer kinaesthetic and visual approaches, for example, the use of information and communication technology, investigative work, field study, work from 'The World Around Us' curriculum and connected topic work. Boys have to have a male role model in school to respect and to whom they can relate. There is a shortage of male teachers in the primary sector; last year, some 288 primary schools did not have a male member of staff, and, increasingly, children do not have a male role model at home. As a result, it is often more difficult for a boy to have a strong bond with a positive male role model than it is for a girl to have a strong bond with a positive female role model. There are social factors that undermine boys' achievement, including peer pressure and influences outside school. Teenage boys, particularly in deprived communities, are strongly influenced by what can be an anti-school social environment where to be seen to study or to be interested in academic work severely undermines street credibility.

406. The chief inspector's report says that the number of pupils leaving school with no GCSEs has decreased from 3·9% in the 2006-08 reporting period to 2·9% or approximately 700 pupils in the 2008-2010 reporting period. There was also a reduction in the percentage of boys who left school with no qualifications to just over 5%. Schools and support organisations need to provide support that is more appropriate to the needs of this cohort of learners in order to improve their life chances.

407. The Chairperson: Thank you for concentrating on those elements that are of particular interest to the Committee and for your support for the Committee's planned inquiry. The report refers to the close correlation between the effectiveness of leadership and the management and quality of provision. Can you clarify that for us?

408. To what extent can you comment on the impact and involvement of a board of governors in such a school? Having identified a leadership problem, what can you do to ensure that it is addressed effectively? Some sectors, such as the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) claim that they have a more robust way of dealing with a school whose leadership was deemed ineffective

409. Schools can be defined by outcomes, which can be very arbitrary. However, members can think of examples from their constituencies of a change in school leadership making dramatic changes in the focus and outcomes of a school.

410. Mr Goudie: We know from inspection and research that leadership is a key factor in the quality of a school's — or, indeed, of any organisation's — provision and that there is a direct correlation between leadership and the standards that young people achieve. We report strongly on leadership and management, including reference to the governing body of a school. We can make an evaluation that a principal's leadership is unsatisfactory, and we did that several times recently.

411. Moreover, if we found the school inadequate or unsatisfactory per se, it would go into the formal intervention process, and the Department has placed a number of schools in that process on foot of our reports. We are increasingly robust in that area, and principals whose work is evaluated as unsatisfactory are afforded a programme of support on which we would subsequently report. Every School a Good School is beginning to get the traction that we need to deal with poor or unsatisfactory leadership.

412. The Chairperson: You mentioned the formal intervention process, one of the elements of which is the involvement of the curriculum advisory support service (CASS). The report states that, fortunately, only a small number of schools is in the formal intervention process. How does CASS customise its support to assist a school that enters into formal intervention?

413. Mr Goudie: CASS is developing its capacity and skill in tailoring support for schools whose leadership is described as unsatisfactory. It is also important to realise that part of our follow-up inspection in the formal intervention process is discerning the quality of support; if we found that it was not as good as it should be, that would be part of the reporting process. If a school is at x and gets to y but we think that it could get to z were it not for poor-quality support, we would report publicly on that.

414. The Chairperson: I do not want to draw you into the debate on whether there should be an education and skills authority. CASS is a service that is led by one board — the North Eastern Education and Library Board — however, there is no such service in the Western Education and Library Board. Is that correct?

415. Mr J Anderson (Education and Training Inspectorate): There is a curriculum advisory support service in every board.

416. The Chairperson: Is there a difference in emphasis, interventions or outcomes?

417. Mr J Anderson: I have not observed that. I have observed the same procedures being used by advisory services. As the chief inspector said, they become intensively engaged when a school is assessed as being inadequate or unsatisfactory and goes into the formal intervention process.

418. They also engage with schools that are deemed to be satisfactory in an inspection. Every school has a link officer, who is an advisory officer on the board. The link officer's job is to work with a school to give it the advice that it needs to help it to develop its school-development plans and its approach to self-evaluation for improvement. Therefore it is not just schools that fall into formal intervention that get ongoing support from the advisory service. Every board works in the same way.

419. Mr Goudie: Every School a Good School was introduced in April 2009, so we have had time to learn how the process is working and bedding down. It would be very helpful if the Department, the boards and the inspectorate looked at how support follows inspection to make sure that there is uniformity, that the criteria used are absolutely even and that we learn from one another in that way. It is important that there be equity across the operation of the boards in their support for the schools that fall into the categories that require the formal intervention process.

420. Mr J Anderson: For schools that are evaluated as satisfactory, inadequate or unsatisfactory, we continue to make monitoring and informal follow-up visits before we carry out a formal follow-up inspection so that we can see the extent of improvement after the initial inspection. We can get an insight into how effectively boards are supporting schools that fall into the categories and levels of performance.

421. The Chairperson: Can you comment on the interactive computerised assessment system (InCAS)? I am concerned that your report talks about the jigsaw of reform. The constant comment that we get from teachers is that there is policy overload. We hear that no sooner is a policy in than a guru in another part of the world comes up with some other bright idea that the Department thinks sounds good. The Department then gets people working on it, and if it does not come through a circular, it comes through a policy memorandum.

422. You say that the extent to which the pieces of the jigsaw link together is not always clear across the various sectors, while those who are charged with implementation report a sense of policy overload. "Policy overload" is a phrase of your own, so I cannot claim any originality for it.

423. Can the Department through InCAS, which is a formal diagnostic tool — dare I say it? — meddle to reclassify outcomes? What is all that about? I hope that there is no attempt to fiddle the books. The system is driven by outcomes, assessments and how a school is performing. I hope that InCAS is not an attempt to show a better outcome at the end of the year.

424. Mr Goudie: I will defer to my colleague John Anderson on that. The original premise of InCAS was as an assessment for learning. For that reason, it was not our judgement that we should look for the InCAS results as such, as that would have deflected from InCAS's core purpose.

425. We see the data and make evaluations, but our evaluations are not based solely on data but on evidence in the classroom. We get beneath the data. For us, the data simply raise questions; they do not provide answers.

426. Mr J Anderson: We are cautious not to ask teachers for children's InCAS scores, because it is primarily a diagnostic tool to help the teacher to make a judgement on how a child is progressing. It is one of several tests that primary teachers use; they also use cognitive, reading and numerical tests. InCAS scores are one of a set of information tools that they have for children, as well as their own judgement, because the teacher knows the children best.

427. Asking formally for children's InCAS scores in an inspection would run the risk of changing in a teacher's mind the nature of the test; they might feel that it was being used for accountability purposes, and that would undermine its value to the teacher.

428. On the other hand, we need to stand back. The tests that teachers use need to be accurate and operate effectively. When there is a need to ensure that they are operating effectively, the agencies responsible do their best to make sure that they provide useful information to teachers so that they are not discarded by the teacher because they are out of line with other information that the teacher has about the children.

429. Dr Maureen Bennett (Education and Training Inspectorate): John's points are very important. Any number of tests and tools are available to teachers; however, there is always a danger of overusing those tools. What is important is the use that is made of them to inform planning and to inform the teaching and learning that follows on from them. We need to be circumspect in dealing with tools of assessment. There are a couple of references in the report to assessment being used in a better way to help the planning for children's learning across the various sectors.

430. A second point that the report makes, and which we made in the 2006-08 report, is that the greatest resource in the classroom is the teacher and his or her skill and astute observation in making judgements about how well children are progressing.

431. Mr Lunn: I am looking at paragraph 3.2.6 of your briefing. I am always interested in the statistical analysis that those who leave school at 16 without a GCSE A to C are inadequately prepared for life. I forget the percentage, although it might have been as high as 40%. Other people take the view, in particular about English, that a D can be perfectly adequate. It may not indicate an ability to interpret Wordsworth, but it means that they can read and write adequately and are quite well prepared for the workplace. If you included the Ds, what effect would that have on that statistic?

432. Mr J Anderson: I do not have those figures with me.

433. Mr Goudie: We could get that information for you. The A* to C range is the one that we take as the marker, because it is important to have a marker that sets up a satisfactory level.

434. We can use English and mathematics as a proxy for literacy, but we are too far off the mark when we take into account those young people who are not achieving C or better in their English or mathematics at the end of Key Stage 4. If that is the case after 12 years' compulsory education, something is going wrong in getting children across the line.

435. We are keen for the Department to publish and implement the literacy and numeracy strategy in order to raise standards in literacy and numeracy.

436. Mr Lunn: I am not saying that we should not try to improve the statistics — of course we should. However, the D grade used to be regarded as a pass mark, whereas now it seems to be regarded as something of a failure. That is hard on kids who leave school with a D and who, like myself, are reasonably literate and numerate. It is a bone of contention.

437. Mr Goudie: We will get the figures for you, but we do not have them before us.

438. Mr J Anderson: As the chief inspector says, we benchmark from A to C. However, in our more detailed report we said that in two thirds of cases over the past two years learners achieved good or better standards in English and that the proportion of cases in which standards were less than satisfactory was one in 10. That gives you a sense of the scale, but we can supply you with the detail.

439. Mr O'Dowd: The figures at paragraph 4.2 are cause for concern. In a quarter of primary schools leadership is not good enough; in just over one third of post-primary schools leadership needs to be improved; and about one tenth is inadequate or unsatisfactory. Leadership in almost one fifth of special schools was evaluated as inadequate.

440. As we enter the second decade of the century, why are our school leadership figures as they are? Two thirds are good, but one third is bad. Why are we still at that stage in developing our leadership skills in schools?

441. Mr Goudie: I agree totally. Leadership is to do with the principal, the governance of a school and with leadership at each level; therefore there are degrees within figures such as a third or a quarter. However, there is a deficit in the leadership and management of some of our schools that we need to reduce in order to improve outcomes. The Chairperson correctly made the connection between the leadership of an organisation and the outcomes for its young people.

442. Mr J Anderson: There are other factors, one of which is how complex and demanding a job school principal is, and I appreciate that the Committee has had discussions with Dr Hesketh about the demands of leadership. We must bear in mind that, over the past three years, schools have been dealing with change as well as trying to raise standards. They have been implementing a substantial revised curriculum across the breadth of what schools and teachers have to do.

443. As well as running the day-to-day administration of a school, principals have also had to manage change. Our inspection of the implementation of the revised curriculum found that they have done that very well. Nevertheless, it has been demanding, and it may be one of the reasons for the figures that you cited.

444. Schools are beginning to look around to provide a broader curriculum offer to the children who live in their catchment areas; they are beginning to negotiate with other providers, and that requires leadership skills. Those are just some of the reasons why the job of principal is particularly complex. That is possibly why we see the disappointing shortfall in some schools' leadership performance.

445. Mr O'Dowd: I accept that. There is no doubt that being the principal of a school is a demanding job, but the figures tell us that some principals are not up to it. The harsh reality is that we must continue to drive home the message. In all walks of life, as in your own roles, there are pressures and demands to be met. I cannot say any more that politicians are under pressure; that would only put me under pressure. If a principal is not up to the job, they are not up to it. Do we have to strengthen the mechanisms for removing such people from post?

446. Mr J Anderson: That issue was indentified in 'Every School a Good School', and the inspectorate is responding to it. We are undertaking a survey of leadership development programmes. Indeed, I noticed in Hansard that Dr Hesketh referred to the work that we have begun to do. We are looking at revision of the professional qualification for headship (PQH) programme that the regional training unit provides, tracking candidates in the new programme and interviewing those who graduated from previous programmes.

447. In Northern Ireland, there are six master's degree programmes, offered by higher education providers, for the leadership and management of schools. We are inspecting those and interviewing teachers who chose to take them. We are particularly interested in teachers who undertake both the PQH, which is funded by the Department, and a master's programme for which they pay themselves. We are pursuing lines of enquiry about what it takes to improve the capacity of the leadership cohorts in schools through those programmes in the increasingly demanding environment in which they work. That work is ongoing.

448. Mr Goudie: The process for deeming a teacher's or principal's work unsatisfactory — not the teacher or the principal but their work — is being revised and reviewed, but we need to strengthen it. The process is too protracted and needs to be strengthened. We must be able to deal with those principals who do not have the capacity to lead and manage their school as they should.

449. The Chairperson: We have encountered examples of that. The last time we met I mentioned the case of a school where there was an issue with the principal, and it took six years to remove him. In the interim, a vice-principal was appointed and that brand new school went from having 160 pupils to 84 or fewer. Numbers dwindled to the point where the school failed to meet the criterion for eligibility to have a vice-principal. That was because of the protracted legal process.

450. I do not detract in any way from the rights of individuals who feel aggrieved about particular processes. However, there must be a way of separating that from the school and of dealing with it outside the school. While that was going on the school went downhill. The process sapped the confidence of the local community, and concerned parents took their children elsewhere. It is a huge issue.

451. You mentioned a continuum in education and the jigsaw of policies. Is there not an issue about all the methods and mechanics of training? Training is provided by CCEA, by boards and by others. How does a principal determine where to seek training? A principal has to look at a menu to choose training for his teachers. There seems to be no coherent continuum in training.

452. Mr Goudie: I will defer to John Anderson on that. The chief inspector's report, or an aggregation of that which comes out of an individual school or organisation's report, should be driving the in-service training agenda of CASS. In other words, the menu should not be devised by CASS across five boards; it should follow a more strategic process whereby issues raised across the system drive CASS's in-service training provision.

453. John will discuss the CCEA/ELB approach because the inspectorate has already indicated issues around it.

454. Mr J Anderson: That is why the chief inspector said what he did in his report. Over the past two years, we have published reports on a whole range of issues, but I particularly want to refer to the one that focused on the implementation of the revised curriculum. In those reports we have been critical of the challenges that face all the agencies that provide support for schools. The programme to implement the revised curriculum was managed through a partnership management board of which all the partners and stakeholders were members. However, even with such a mechanism it was still challenging to bring together in a co-ordinated way a single implementation programme. That remains a challenge.

455. Depending on their needs, schools will choose the support that they feel they need in order to improve. Every school is different and schools have different needs and different sources to which they can turn. However, the report says that there is a need for greater co-ordination.

456. Mrs M Bradley: On the radio this morning, a school principal said that, because of the pressures that they are under, all his staff would leave if they could get jobs somewhere else. It sounded horrific. Do you pick that up from teachers when you are carrying out inspections?

457. Mr Goudie: There is an issue about the number of initiatives that schools seem to face and the sense that they can make of them. It is imperative for all of us to communicate the connexions that exist between the various parts of the system so that they see how all the various policies interlock in an attempt to raise standards. There is an issue about how we communicate the idea of an overall whole rather than a series of different initiatives, which is not the intent.

458. It would sadden me greatly if people wanted to leave a profession as honourable as teaching.

459. Mrs M Bradley: What I heard this morning on the radio scared me.

460. Mr J Anderson: I believe that that radio report was on foot of a study that was carried out in England. I wonder whether it was the same report.

461. Mrs M Bradley: I think that it was local; I think that it was from Tyrone.

462. Mr J Anderson: Perhaps I read a different story in which a former union leader was commenting on a report that was conducted in England. He made similar points, so the story sounded familiar.

463. Northern Ireland has a different level of teaching recruitment; young people of a very high calibre want to teach. One cannot generalise in the same way in England. I do not think that the report that you heard reflects what I find in schools: the vast majority of teachers are committed to their job; they enjoy what they do. Of course there are exceptions, but the tone that I find in schools is very different.

464. Mrs M Bradley: Teachers are all very professional. However, what I heard concerned me. The principal said that he could not get young teachers in to take short-term work.

465. Mr J Anderson: Many young teachers would welcome such work.

466. Mrs M Bradley: Well, the principal on the radio could not get them, and that concerns me.

467. Miss McIlveen: Thank you for your presentation. A couple of weeks ago, we received a presentation from Tom Hesketh about the professional qualification for headship. Is that qualification an indicator of effectiveness?

468. Mr J Anderson: We ask that question in the inspection that we are conducting at present. We are looking at the previous model and those who qualified from it. However, we are also looking at the revised model and asking the very question that you pose: is it effective and is it directed at meeting the priorities and demands of our education service?

469. We are also looking at the master's programmes, because they have a different purpose and distinctiveness; they can develop concepts of leadership, management, change and improvement. The PQH programme is much more practical and focused; it involves placements, mentorship and coaching. Many take both, which indicates something. We are pursuing that by interviewing people who did either or both about the extent to which they feel they were better prepared for improved leadership as a result of those programmes. That work is ongoing and will be published in due course.

470. Mr Goudie: Another thing that we mentioned the last time we were before the Committee was the extent to which PQH can be made mandatory before a person presents themselves for leadership. Perhaps a halfway house would be to suggest that once a person takes up a leadership position in a school, three years down the line they would be required to engage in PQH training. The question is whether having a PQH should be made mandatory immediately — candidates should not apply unless they have one — or whether a principal can be in post for a couple of years before being obliged to do proper leadership training.

471. Miss McIlveen: A sort of continual professional development. The second area that I wanted to look at was the 0-6 strategy. There is an emphasis on early intervention, and we are in the middle of looking at the consultation on the 0-6 strategy. What input did you have on that strategy?

472. Mr Goudie: I will put Maureen on the spot, because she is our young/early-years specialist.

473. Dr Bennett: No reflection on my youth. [Laughter.] We had input to the strategy, as we have to most departmental strategies, in that the Department will take account of the findings of inspection reports. We commented on the strategy and gave advice on the qualifications and curriculum of early years and on the importance of building up the early-years strategy — support for SEN, for example. The short answer is yes, we had an input; however, our voice is one of several.

474. Miss McIlveen: Having looked at the strategy, does it reflect what you said?

475. The Chairperson: That was a very loaded question, Maureen.

476. Dr Bennett: We are very supportive of the fact that there is a 0-6 strategy and an attempt to ensure that there is a more equitable, even and consistent picture of staff qualifications. We also support the need to look at the transition from early-years to primary education to put the emphasis on education, particularly in pre-school. In that penultimate pre-school year we need to focus on education for three-year-olds and not simply on care for them. The link with Sure Start is important as is the involvement of parents. In short, we support the big themes in the 0-6 strategy.

477. Miss McIlveen: How would you like the strategy to be taken forward?

478. Dr Bennett: The greatest resource in education is the staff. Given the complicated and diverse panoply of strategies and the tight budgets that we face, we need to put our resources into building the competence of teachers and staff. A first step to achieving the outcomes that the 0-6 strategy sets for itself is to build up the resources, qualifications and expertise of staff, because it is quite uneven.

479. Miss McIlveen: The report states that:

"In just over four-fifths of the pre-school settings inspected the achievements and standards across the curriculum were evaluated as good to outstanding."

480. Yet the report states that inspection of Irish-medium schools in the pre-school sector found that:

"one-half of the settings was evaluated as good or better"

481. Why is there such a difference?

482. Mr P McAlister: A big difficulty with Irish-medium schools is finding staff who have the skills that Maureen spoke of, the capacity to deal with young people and the necessary fluency and flexibility in Irish. Early-years work in any language is about drawing the child out, stretching their imagination, and presenting and building creative opportunities. A teacher cannot present a script that they prepared the night before and say that they have done their homework and now have all the Irish that they need to talk to the children.

483. It takes teachers with a high level of language flexibility and fluency, and, frankly, it is hard to attract those with such skills into a school for a few hours a day. That is particularly the case outside the critical mass of the cities. In rural pre-school settings it is hard to find the sustained services of staff who have the necessary quality of Irish, the skills that Maureen mentioned in dealing with young people, and the awareness of what is appropriate to the needs, interests and ability of young people.

484. Miss McIlveen: Although my question focuses on Irish-medium schools, would a very poor rating from the inspectorate of a pre-school or primary school have an impact on the next year's intake? Would parents decide that they did not want to send their children to that school?

485. Mr P McAlister: The Chairperson mentioned a school that had lost the confidence of the community. A negative report from the inspectorate would affect a community's confidence in a school. Although we do not follow it up, it is reasonable to suspect that a negative report would influence the thinking of a community in which such a school was situated.

486. Mr Goudie: They may not be directly connected. However, recent analysis of the number of hits to our website shows an increasing interest by parents in accessing reports either because they live in an area and want to make a choice of where to send their children or because they are moving to an area. They also directly contact the inspection services branch for sight of reports on local schools. Parental interest is growing.

487. John O'Dowd mentioned leadership. We should not have to wait for an inspection to surface a poor leader in a school — there is a responsibility on a school's governing body. Those folk work voluntarily; they are extremely valuable people who make a huge contribution. However, it concerns me that a governing body will accept our findings because it already knows that something was wrong but did not enact a mechanism to provide support for a leader who was experiencing difficulties. The governing body should not wait for an inspection report to surface a poor leader and then deal with the consequences. We are saying that more in our spoken reports to governing bodies and in our published reports.

488. The Chairperson: Perhaps my question reflects my inability to navigate these reports. I in no way suggest that Stanley or his team were unduly sympathetic to or easy on Departments. However, sometimes I get the feeling that there is a sensitivity around some issues, especially Irish-medium schools, one in three of which was deemed to be failing. That is still an issue. As people involved in education, we need to address seriously the huge problems in that sector.

489. Over the past number of weeks, the Committee has been discussing pre-school education, and some pretty stark comments were made. It falls into the conflict — I will put it no stronger than that — between the statutory and the voluntary and community sectors.

490. The report states that almost all the statutory nursery schools and nursery units and a majority of the voluntary and private ones reach the necessary standard. I saw somewhere that 63% in the statutory sector and 24% or 25% in the community and voluntary sector fell into the category of "good or outstanding". That is a huge difference between the two sectors.

491. I have to be fair and reflect accurately the reasons that the early-years educationalists gave for the difference. On the other hand, the statutory and voluntary sector representatives gave reasons why their units were so good.

492. There is a huge difference between those two figures: more than 60% and 23%. What makes such a difference? We have had many reports about qualifications. Some will say that qualified teachers should be leading pre-school education; others will say that it is adequate to have people who have an NVQ level 3 or upwards.

493. Dr Bennett: The figures show that the situation is not black and white: it is not all good in the statutory sector and not all poor in the community and voluntary sector. We need to recognise that to start with. Qualifications and experience are key issues, and we have dealt with that. There are other issues — funding is different for the two sectors. The statutory sector comprises two types of provision: one is the statutory nursery school, which is exclusively for pre-school children; the other is the nursery unit in a primary school. Both are staffed by qualified teachers, and their resourcing is higher than the resourcing for provision in the voluntary and private sector.

494. There are other factors. The size of the pre-school setting in the voluntary sector and the salaries of the staff in it often cause a huge turnover of staff, so it does not have the consistency of the statutory sector. There is also a difference in access to continuing professional development, because staff in the voluntary sector are usually not teachers and so do not have access to CASS support and the normal supports that exist for teachers.

495. The other areas of weakness in the provision that we talk about in the report — and remember that the overall picture is improving — include physical development. Sometimes, in a pre-school setting in the voluntary sector, there is not enough space around the school. The pre-school accommodation may be much more limited and children may not have a playground or areas around the pre-school to explore. Those are just some of the reasons for poorer performance.

496. Mrs M Bradley: Some 11,600 parents replied to your questionnaire. Are you satisfied with that? Does that represent an increase in responses to such questionnaires? Are schools and communities working closely enough together?

497. Mr Goudie: We get a very good response from parents. Our statisticians tell us that, in their responses to questionnaires, parents not only complete the forms and tick the boxes, but they write comments, which we find extremely useful. The comments are analysed in advance of inspections and the information is made available to reporting inspectors. We do not always take what parents say as gospel truth; we check it with the head teacher. However, in many schools we get a healthy response from parents, which reflects their interest. The anonymous nature of the questionnaire facilitates that. We are careful to manage the information and check it with the head teacher; however, it is only a part of the evidence base for an inspection.

498. Mr Lunn: I am curious about the best age to introduce children to pre-school. Is there evidence to suggest that bringing children into that environment a year before their pre-school year is beneficial in the long run? Does it make any difference to them?

499. Dr Bennett: It is a question that the Department, and all of us, considers often. Ideally, the child's best environment in early years is the family. However, that raises questions about what constitutes "family" and the values in it. Let us park that for a moment. We look at Sure Start and the research into the long-term consequences of pre-school provision.

500. Let me take the second of those first. Long-term research carried out by the Institute for Education of the University of London finds categorically that good-quality pre-school provision has long-term effects on the education of children through their primary-school years. A great deal of brain development takes place in those years, particularly in children's capacity to develop language — which is a tool for learning.

501. The second point is that family is best. However, we all know that there are huge numbers of dysfunctional families and single parent families and that parents need to go out to work. The Department's response is to develop Sure Start schemes in areas of deprivation to replicate the richness of a family education in early years. That is what we would like for children in the round. The beauty of Sure Start is that it also involves the parents and helps them to become involved in their children's education. In the developing world, the influences on a child's education come much more from without the school gates than from within them. The reverse is the case in the developed world, where there are many more implications and stronger impacts on education from within the school.

502. Mr Lunn: I do not dispute the value of Sure Start. I think of the decreasing number of families that are not dysfunctional. Have you evidence that starting a child's education at two instead of three accelerates its educational development?

503. Dr Bennett: The evidence that we have looks at three and four-year-olds rather than two-year-olds, and it suggests that the best place for early childhood is with the parent.

504. The Chairperson: The inspectorate does not inspect Sure Start.

505. Dr Bennett: We have inspected the two-year-old provision that the Department of Education funded; we published a report on it about four months ago.

506. The Chairperson: We will make that available to members.

507. Mr Craig: The annexe to your report says that you are doing follow-up on 39 of the 49 post-primary schools that you inspected. Is that not an indication of serious difficulties in those schools? Why is there such a high percentage of follow-up?

508. Mr Goudie: I will let John deal with the detail. We have six categories of performance from outstanding to unsatisfactory. However, even if a school is deemed satisfactory, it will be subject to a follow-up process that is not as detailed as that for a school that is deemed inadequate or unsatisfactory. We continue to have an interest in a school even if it is deemed satisfactory with a view to improving its performance.

509. Mr J Anderson: We must bear in mind that the follow-up procedure takes place 15 to 18 months after the original report, and the figure of 39 must be understood in that context. I checked the 49 figure. Of the 49 schools, the half dozen deemed less than satisfactory have intensive support and follow-up; a further 14 that were graded as satisfactory were followed up. Therefore a better proportion to look at is 20 out of 49.

510. Mr Craig: Is that not still a high percentage?

511. Mr J Anderson: Of the 49, six were considered inadequate, and that is reflected in the report. Fourteen were considered satisfactory, which still means that they were less than good and that they have issues that need to be addressed. Those issues are spelt out in the report. There have been follow-up inspections, so I am sure that there has been an improvement. For the past two years, we have published a report on the extent of the improvement after follow-up inspections. In the 2008-09 business year, the improvement in the schools sector was 93%; there was a similar improvement in the 2010 business year. The improvement is significant.

512. Mr Craig: A statement was made earlier that concerned me. Your inspection report on a school can annihilate it by saying that it is out of control. I read with horror a report that you did not so long ago in my constituency. Do you do a follow-up to ensure that education and library boards or the Department will intervene to turn around a school that is out of control?

513. Mr Goudie: That is the premise of the formal intervention process. The Department now responds very robustly to a report and places a school in a formal intervention process. The formal intervention process in Every School a Good School has an end point; we are past the stage of schools continuing in that mode for 10 or 20 years while generations of young people pass through them.

514. The formal intervention process allows us a number of interventions, including one based on the inspection findings. That could involve putting a new principal in post and changing the shape and make-up of a governing body. There are several interventions en route to the end game, which is now much shorter than it used to be. The formal intervention process in Every School a Good School is giving the traction necessary to turn underperforming schools around. They benefit from a period of intensive support. If our view was that the support was not as good as it should be, that would come of the reporting mechanism by publishing subsequent follow-up reports.

515. Mr J Anderson: We conduct monitoring and follow-up visits. As a consequence of those, we publish a letter to the school, the chairman of the school, and chief executive of the board, providing the formal intervention and indicating progress in addressing the areas for improvement as published in the report. To be fair, on balance, the vast majority of areas for improvement are addressed and improved; only a very small minority fails to do so.

516. Mr P McAlister: The formal intervention process is on pages 63 to 67 of the 'Every School a Good School' document.

517. Mr Craig: Stanley, we are almost back to the scenario that you discussed with John O'Dowd about when you identify a serious managerial issue. You say that perhaps that is down to the board of governors. Have you ever tried to remove a principal who was not up to the job?

518. Mr Goudie: I have not had personal experience of sitting on a governing body.

519. Mr Craig: As the Chairperson rightly pointed out, it can involve years of litigation. It is not easy.

520. Mr Goudie: I accept fully the complexities, which is why it is so appropriate that the Department is reviewing the process. It is not easy for a governing body to deal with such issues. However, if a governing body knows that the leadership is weak or poor, it should not let it continue; it should intervene in the ways that it is allowed to intervene before the situation becomes critical and before the inspectorate comes along.

521. Sir Reg Empey: I join the Chairperson in his opening remarks about the inspectorate, as I had dealings with it on several occasions.

522. The Chairperson: He had to respond to his inspection reports.

523. Sir Reg Empey: Mr O'Dowd raised the issue of management and leadership, but that is an issue across the entire private sector. Departments put a great deal of money into management leadership courses for business. All the reports from Oxford Economics and others indicate that improving management and leadership in our economy would have a dramatic impact. The same applies to the education sector, which, in large measure, is contributing to that, because it is through basic skills bases that our economy develops, and management leadership seems to be a big deal.

524. The report that the Minister has been preparing on teaching refers to continual professional development, but I was struck by its almost haphazard nature. There are various budgets in different boards for it, there is no compulsion to participate in it, and given the fact that we have eight or nine applicants for every teacher training college place — in complete contrast to the position elsewhere — it seems bizarre that, with the esteem in which the profession is held, there is no clear-cut process for continuous professional development. I do not understand that. It has to be introduced in a meaningful way. Because of the high bar now to get into teacher training, we have a resource that nobody else has, yet we seem unable to exploit it to the best of our abilities. Despite pressures on teachers, demand to get into the profession is high here.

525. Like Trevor, I feel very strongly about basic numeracy and literacy, as problems in that regard cost Departments, including the Department for Employment and Learning, further down the line. I pushed up dramatically the amount of money that we put into essential skills; it will be more than £10 million next year. That does not take account of the support that is given to a whole range of training organisations so that they can reach harder-to-reach clients in the community, which is something that you inspect.

526. We are putting enormous resources in at a much later stage. It is so much harder to fix the literacy and numeracy problems of a young adult of 16 than those of a child. Given the expertise and experience of the inspectorate, how is it that we allow children to go from primary to post-primary school without being able to read properly? Those children sit at the back of the class, humiliated before their peers; they are inevitably discarded by their teachers, who have to get on with the rest of the children. Why are we doing that? Those children are the NEETs ( not in education, employment or training) of the future. With all the years of experience in the inspectorate, what are we not doing that is allowing that to continue?

527. Mr P McAlister: In my first week as the principal of a primary school in a rural area, an elderly gentleman asked me whether I was the new master, and I said that I was. He said, "Teach them to read and they'll teach themselves after that". I have often reflected on that. He did not have much schooling, but he appreciated the importance of reading.

528. Mary asked about the link between schools and the community. One of the things that we notice in our inspections is that that link is not uniform across the piece: where there is good support for the school from the community, the values and attitudes of young children are more often caught than taught. If children get a sense that their parents value learning, the school and what goes on in it, it is much easier for the teacher to point them in the direction of learning from the word go Part of the issue is getting a connection.

529. Maureen said that in other parts of the world the environment outside school has a bigger part to play. We must recognise that some teachers face difficulties that education alone cannot address and that support and resources are needed from other Departments to support the work of the teacher in that context by helping the community and parents to value education.

530. Once that is in place, it is important to remember that the teacher is the key agent of improvement; it is important to have well-qualified teachers and coherent, high-quality continuing professional development opportunities for them. It is also important that the focus be on learning and that each teacher is thinking about the next step in the learning of each child; teachers do not have to have a grand plan for education in Northern Ireland. The focus of the teacher is on the individuals in his or her class, particularly with regard to literacy and numeracy, not just as ends in themselves but as tools for learning in the years ahead.

531. Mr Goudie: We do not manage the transition from early years to primary education or from primary to post-primary schooling terribly well. That leaves a deficit in which young trainees are in work-based learning situations who cannot read, write or deal with basic numeracy.

532. Money should be deployed on early-years provision. We also need to look at how we manage transitions and whether it may be necessary to keep a young person back before they advance to the next stage of their education.

533. Paragraph 3.3.4 spells out things that we have found wrong in pedagogy. It sets out areas for improvement in the primary phase, which, if put right, would improve standards, particularly in reading and writing. We need to be more innovative in managing key transitions and correct difficulties in a young person's life earlier rather than trying to fix them when they are less receptive to the idea of education.

534. Sir Reg Empey: When ICT was added as a third essential skill in summer 2009, it created a huge surge in the numbers coming forward. Embarrassment is a factor that must be overcome. Computers are now part of every aspect of business and everyday life — the first thing one does is switch on the computer, whether in an office, a factory or on a farm. They are omnipresent.

535. Could ICT overcome the many social and other barriers to which you referred? Teachers have to face kids who come to school without breakfast or lunch or who experience all sorts of difficulties at home. However, all kids understand computers, because they play games with them. Could ICT be adapted to assess what a child can and cannot do? There is no social barrier to computers, whereas learning to read and write in a classroom can be a huge issue for some children.

536. The States have hold-back years so that children can participate fully when they get to post-primary education. The period from transfer until the age of 16 is the Death Valley of education for many young people. Could bringing ICT to bear at a very early stage be of help?

537. Dr Bennett: I cannot believe that the numbers of children who are not succeeding as well as we would like are not succeeding because they lack innate ability; however, some children come to school with complex physical, linguistic and emotional difficulties. We need to recognise that there has been an increase in such difficulties and that children are not available for learning until those difficulties have been sorted out.

538. Why are those children not succeeding? I would take the more general point of what Sir Reg says: it has to do, at least in part, with the relevance that young people see in how they are taught and perhaps even in the language and content of programmes used in school.

539. ICT can be a huge draw for young people in its interest and hands-on impact. We could do considerably more with ICT.

540. However, that means helping teachers to realise what the potential is. Children learn to develop language by using it, not by being passive recipients of it or being taken through narrow skill-and-drill exercises. It is by using it in relevant ways. A child learns language through seeing how someone else can read the words that he puts on a page and understand what is going on in his head. ICT can demonstrate the engagement with language. I can write to you on screen and get your response. There are a number of ways in which ICT can be used, but teachers need to know how best to do it.

541. Let me go back to some of the programmes that were used for developing children's language in the early years of primary school. I do not want to get into the detail, but teachers said categorically of the reading recovery programme and the training for it — in this part of the world, across the water, in Australia and New Zealand — that that programme gave them insights into how children develop language in a way that they had never before had. That came from experienced teachers. There is something there that we need to look at.

542. We need to know the various components that help children to develop. "Reading recovery programme" was a misnomer; the programme is about oral language, reading and writing. I have never seen a scheme as good as that programme for developing a teacher's capacity to assess how children develop language.

543. Mrs M Bradley: In my parish in Derry there is a community group and a women's group that meets every Tuesday. On Fridays, some go to the school and help the children with their reading; others teach the children to crochet and knit, but the reading group is the most successful. One of the little lads in the class said to the lady helping him to read: "Can you be my granny?" The reading corner is now called the granny corner. It works very well. Those ladies can sometimes get more out of a child than a teacher can, because the child may feel more relaxed. The community can work with the school and help in many respects.

544. The Chairperson: Adaptive learning teaching and assessment (ALTA) is a useful system and we must get some clarification from the Department on it. This treads on territory that John dealt with earlier about not having information and not asking about UCAS. It seems as though there is reluctance, for some reason, to use it. It has been on the go for some time and I have seen it demonstrated. It is along the lines referred to by Sir Reg. It gives a huge amount of information to the teacher. It is an IT system that helps the pupil immensely with mathematics. It is different when it comes to literacy.

545. There is something fundamentally wrong. I cannot get my head round this. In 1998, we had the first damning report from the Public Accounts Committee on numeracy and literacy, and we have not made massive strides since then. Elements of the report state that there have been improvements; however one in five — or one in four in primary schools — still has inadequate literacy and numeracy skills.

546. The Minister talks nonsense about transfer and blames everything on it. Set that aside. There is something wrong. Is it the jigsaw of policies? Is it the overload? Is it the revised curriculum? Is it the issue of male teachers? I do not think that it is any one of these things on its own, rather a culmination of factors. We do not seem to be getting it right.

547. The figure that Sir Reg gave us is astounding.

548. Sir Reg Empey: For one small aspect of essential skills.

549. The Chairperson: It is probably far more. If we had a proper structure for early-years and primary education, we would have a continuum throughout the education system. I am very keen on that.

550. Mr B McCrea: I apologise for missing some of your submission, so if you have already answered my questions you can nod and tell me to read Hansard. I cannot understand why the benefits of early-years education are not brought more to the fore. We talked recently about why we are not getting to the core of education problems. Surely the inspectorate could speak out when it sees problems developing in transitions from Sure Start to nursery and then primary.

551. Mr Goudie: We do and we have.

552. Mr B McCrea: Perhaps we should be more emphatic. From speaking to folk in the pre-primary sector, I get the feeling that there is still an idea that nursery is where children go to have fun and that, far from being paid to work there, nursery teachers should pay us to play with kiddies and plasticine. I was interested in what Maureen said about communication as a specialist skill; not just reading and writing but language development for interpersonal and social behaviour.

553. Those are the areas in which we can make a difference. Frankly, we need to do more to explain to the public and to budget holders that this is where effective intervention takes place. Am I on the same page as you?

554. Mr Goudie: Absolutely.

555. Mr B McCrea: I know that you have to tread a fine line because sometimes people round this table play politics.

556. The Chairperson: Never.

557. Mr B McCrea: The commissioner for political statements has left, so I cannot check whether we are making political statements at the moment. [Laughter.]

558. With your professional reputation, you could influence the public debate by saying that there was a problem with a particular area. I do not expect the witnesses to comment, but we are having something of a sterile debate on transfer at the age of 11. Although there are different views on the matter, the real issue lies further back. A useful challenge for the inspectorate would be to say, "This is where the argument is."

559. In your report I read about leadership and where schools fail. That is also an issue on which we need to be harder-hitting. We are in danger of having 80% of our cohort more or less ok; they chunder through plus or minus a few percentage points. However, we are simply not reaching the under-achieving 20%. Should we not have a fundamental review to get to the bottom of under-achievement?

560. Mr Goudie: I could not agree more. When our previous report showed that one child in five was not reaching the appropriate literacy and numeracy standards by the end of Key Stage 2, I could have reported it that 80% were hitting the mark.

561. However, I chose to turn it on the other side. That is why we said that we had a deficit in 25% of leadership and management in primary and post-primary schools. We have heralded the literacy, numeracy and leadership issues loud and clear. I have no problem with what you are saying, because we have a strategy to disseminate the report's findings by taking it into the community. If that enlivens the debate on the early-years contribution, we are happy to do that and to engage in that way.

562. Mr B McCrea: I happened to be in a nursery school on the Shankill Road, and the Sure Start folk said that one of the most disturbing things for them is having children on a Sure Start programme for two-year-olds who do not then find nursery provision. The children have all the benefits for two years and are then left in a desert. Somebody, I do not know who, perhaps it is me, is supposed to point that out, but how can that be? Should we have universal nursery or pre-primary school provision?

563. Dr Bennett: About 94% or 95% of children are in pre-school education. The issue of where that provision should be is a difficult one. If you are basing your pre-school settings on one year's cohort, you do not have the same flexibility as, say, in a primary school, where you are dealing with seven years. Therefore it is difficult to get that provision in the right place at the right time, particularly in the voluntary sector, when you have so many small settings.

564. Mr B McCrea: I agree. However, that is an area that we could bring out more. There is also an issue of logistics. If you ask young women why they will not take their child to playschool, part of the reason comes down to their place of work being in the other direction or they cannot cross the road there. A range of social issues prevents people from taking up provision, and those are precisely the mothers and children that we need to get to, because those who are doing OK will make sure that they get their children there anyway.

565. I worry that percentages mask the real problem. We need to look at the bottom end. We also need to place a bit more emphasis on speech therapists and basic communication skills. I do not mean to be critical, but the inspectorate, with its professionalism and status, could do a little more to direct the debate. I would be delighted if you could take a few more risks, although I understand why there may be reasons that you cannot.

566. Is there anything that we can do? Sir Reg said that we have a huge talent pool of aspiring young teachers. Can we not think a bit more creatively? We have a problem with a lack of male teachers in primary schools. I do not think that we have a 'Teach First' scheme here to encourage young male graduates to do a couple of years in primary school. Should we be looking at that, or are we so overburdened by having too many teachers coming out of teacher training? There must be something that we can do to get young men into teaching.

567. Sir Reg Empey: When the draft of the teacher training report went to the Department and ourselves, I raised the issue of doing something about male teachers. The Minister of Education felt that we would have difficulties with that under equality legislation. We have now got it down to such a small number that, as you say, some schools do not have any male teachers, and you could count on the fingers of practically one hand the number of people coming forward. The issue was raised, but she took the view that we were limited because of the legislation.

568. Mr B McCrea: We could go in the other direction. How many primary schools did the report say do not have male teachers?

569. Dr Bennett: Two hundred and eighty-eight.

570. Mr B McCrea: Out of how many?

571. Dr Bennett: About 850.

572. Mr B McCrea: Therefore 25% of primary schools have no male teachers at all. There must be an equality issue there, given that research has indicated that it is a problem.

573. The Chairperson: A certificate for male teachers.

574. Mr P McAlister: There is a serious problem. Given the number of single female parents, there are instances in which a child's single significant adult at home is female and all the significant adults at school are female. There is an issue with young boys identifying school as a place that they aspire to do well in. It could lead to marginalisation.

575. Mr B McCrea: Does the inspectorate agree that young boys learn in a different way from young girls? Is that an accepted fact?

576. Mr Goudie: There are almost two different teaching methodologies for young boys and for young girls. Boys prefer certain learning styles: they like to be moving, they like learning to be short and sharp, and ICT influences and motivates them hugely. That is part of the discourse in raising the standards for those who are underachieving.

577. Mr B McCrea: Have you produced a report on early-years provision recently?

578. Dr Bennett: Our most recent survey report was on special educational needs in early years. We also did a short report on the quality of provision in nursery units, vis-á-vis nursery schools and the voluntary sector.

579. Mr B McCrea: The political debate has moved, and there is general consensus that early intervention and early-years provision should be supported. We need a plan or impetus to deal with the issue. At the moment, things are floundering. We are not sure whether we need an early-years strategy for children between naught and six, naught and three, or three and six. There could be some guidance on that.

580. Correct me if I am wrong, but I have a feeling that part of the reason why government is so keen to deal with the early-years provision from organisations in the community and voluntary sector is that it is easier to manage budgets, because you are only dealing with them on a one-year basis. If that is at the core of what we are trying to do, we should be looking at statutory provision with long-term funding.

581. Dr Bennett: Some of that is dealt with in the nought-to-six strategy. It was part of the inspectorate's findings that young mums in certain areas will not move very far to take their children to pre-school because they do not have the resources to do so. Equally, it is arguable whether a small unit with just one or two people would ever have the resources to deal with the full range of learning difficulties, learning styles or range of education. Where does that leave us? You need to look at some form of area planning so that you have pre-school settings with a collegia link, whatever that should be. That will help you to share resources more widely and will mean that you have a richer pool of resource from which to draw.

582. Mr B McCrea: I will finish on this point, because the Chairperson will throw something at me otherwise. Universal provision raises the question of whether open enrolment is appropriate in pre-school provision. You need area-based planning, but you also need some way of dealing with much smaller units; that requires clarity from the inspectorate on how it is directed. You could find that there is support for that work and that it is urgently required.

583. I have only picked up bits and pieces, but by the age of four some children could be up to two years behind. We have to look at that. We need a unified approach, whether we are dealing with a two-, three- or four-year-old. Is there a body that can help us with that? Guidance on that area would be most useful and would be gratefully received by many people.

584. Mr Goudie: We are very happy to do that. The other thing is that it is not just an educational issue; it is also a health and social issue. There is a connection.

585. Mr B McCrea: I do not want to extend the debate, but we should look at the idea of almost having a children's ministry to embrace Sure Start, DSD or other aspects. We need a new approach, particularly in dealing with parents, families and children from the most deprived backgrounds.

586. Dr Bennett: Over the past couple of years, we have been working with our colleagues in health and social services, particularly those working on the early-years team. In the voluntary sector, we did a number of joint inspections. In the Sure Start inspection that we referred to earlier, we enlisted the support of speech and language therapists and another early-years professional from the health and social services side to look at those areas.

587. The links between health and the wider dimension of education are important as is continuing professional development for teachers. I firmly believe that there is a need to have more definite career pathways for teachers, some of which will take on board modules, for example, from speech and language, counselling, educational psychology and so on. Several issues come together in the question you have raised.

588. Mr J Anderson: Basil asked earlier whether there was anything that we might say about unemployed teachers, as high-calibre, well-educated and well-qualified young people cannot get teaching posts. The number of unemployed young people is likely to increase. That is particularly dangerous as communities emerge from violence. Those two problems could be connected.

589. Mr B McCrea: Absolutely. That was my line.

590. Mr J Anderson: That seems obvious.

591. Mr B McCrea: Reg spoke of those not in education, employment or training, many of whom are of an age group close to that of the young teachers. We cannot afford to squander resources. Even if it is on a different financial basis, we need to look at it.

592. Sir Reg Empey: We already have funded the graduate internship schemes that give people six months with a voluntary and community group in an area of significant deprivation. One might think it possible to adapt that and populate it in part with unemployed trainee teachers to deal with some of those issues. We have many of the pieces on the board, but they are not in place.

593. The Chairperson: That ties in with a point that Maureen made earlier about the reading recovery programme. However, the reading recovery programme is different from the ALTA system used for mathematics, as the reading recovery system is based on the premise of there being an individual teacher. Forty million pounds was spent on numeracy and literacy according to the first PAC report. I hope that the Committee does not look at it again only to find that another £30 million has been spent without any progress.

594. Surely, rather than spend the money on policy we should spend it on young people who cannot get teaching posts. That reservoir of resource could be more effectively used. At present it sits dormant: young teachers cannot get jobs. We could address that fundamental problem. I cannot understand how we allow children to move from primary to post-primary to learn other languages when they cannot speak their own language. There is something fundamentally wrong.

595. Dr Bennett: I want to build on the beautiful little incident that Mary mentioned of a child enjoying reading with an adult so much that he wanted her to become his granny. It illustrates the importance of the relationship between a child and a significant adult in a child's life. That raises the fundamental issue of pastoral care and relationships in schools; there is more to literacy than motivating children with an education.

596. Youth education is another area, and in fairness the Department is looking at it and at its youth policy. At the moment, however, those two areas, both in the formal and informal education sectors, could complement each other rather better. We say that in our report. Often, a youth worker can provide a young person who is struggling or who has lost his way with a pastoral relationship.

597. The Chairperson: I have always wanted Mary to be my granny. [Laughter.]

598. Mrs M Bradley: You might not if you knew me. [Laughter.]

599. The Chairperson: Stanley, as you are retiring soon, perhaps you can answer this question more freely. It is my view and that of my party that the inspectorate should be independent of the Department because you, as chief inspector, are also a member of the management board of the Department. Would the work of the inspectorate be unshackled — assuming that you believe it to be shackled — if it were independent and could ride in like the cavalry and tell the Department that there was a problem that it had better sort out?

600. Mr Goudie: I thought that you had implied earlier that we had a cosy relationship with the Department or that we were sensitive to it. The inspectorate speaks independently and we report honestly and openly. I do not believe that I have a cosy relationship with Departments; that is the truth. I have written to the three permanent secretaries asking for a formal response to the report and for the actions that they will take on foot of it.

601. We will challenge the Department if it has not moved on the issues that we raise in our evaluation reports. I believe that we act independently and unshackled and that we speak openly and honestly. How structures might change in future is for others to say, but neither my colleagues nor I have ever pulled back from saying something that we felt needed to be said: our focus is entirely on the learner; we are advocates for learners. If that causes upset, we are happy to live with it.

602. The Chairperson: I want to ask about a procedural matter. Was the paper that you presented to us today cleared by the Department?

603. Mr Goudie: I have complete autonomy to write my reports. As a matter of courtesy, I would have shared the report with the permanent secretary, but there was no departmental input into it — nor should there be.

604. The Chairperson: Thank you for your useful evidence. Again, we wish you well for the future.

605. Mr Goudie: Thank you.

19 January 2011

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Mervyn Storey (Chairperson)
Mr David Hilditch (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Jonathan Craig
Mr Trevor Lunn
Mr Basil McCrea
Mr John O'Dowd

Witnesses:

Mrs Janice Clarke
Mr Johnny Graham
Mrs Jacqueline Weir

 

Belfast Model School for Girls

Mrs Carmel McCartan
Mrs Ita McVeigh
Mr John O'Rourke

 

St Louise's Comprehensive College

Ms Jill Ashenhurst
Mr William McCullough
Mr Andy McMorran

 

Ashfield Boys' High School

Mr Micheál Mac Giolla Ghunna
Ms Emer Mhic an Fhailí
Mr Diarmuid Ua Bruadaire

 

Coláiste Feirste

606. The Chairperson (Mr Storey): We will begin with the presentation from Belfast Model School for Girls. Johnny, it would be fair to say that we sense that you are so glad to be in your current position. We face a dire situation. As you are aware, yesterday this Committee had the Education Minister in front of us to discuss the Budget. There were fewer answers and more questions. The issue of capital is certainly a huge problem for many schools that today do not know what will happen; in fact, in some cases they now know that their projects will not be moving forward. I am sure that you have a sense of great satisfaction and relief that you have been able to move through what was a very painful process. I do not think that the Girls' Model got to this stage without many long days, weeks, months and years of work, but certainly from what we have seen and heard, the end product is very impressive. We are delighted to be here and I ask you, Johnny, to make your presentation.

607. Mr Johnny Graham (Belfast Model School for Girls): Thank you very much for your kind words. We have a lovely, brand new school, which is fantastic, but what we have to worry about now is whether we will have any teachers in this new school after the budget.

608. I have been principal of Belfast Model School for Girls for 10 years. Beside me is my colleague Janice Clarke, who is our full service extended school co-ordinator and who has been since the start of the programme over four years ago, and Mrs Jacqueline Weir, who is a very supportive chairperson of the board of governors. The three of us welcome you to the Belfast Model School for Girls.

609. We thank you for the opportunity to present to the Committee. I know from my previous experiences that the Committee members are extremely receptive to the views of the professionals at the coalface, and I am especially pleased that they will also be hearing from students this afternoon, as their views must be listened to for this inquiry to be successful. The Committee has received the submission that we sent before Christmas and has also been sent a copy of the main points that we feel are most pertinent to the inquiry. I will spend a little time highlighting some of the main issues, and I will then ask Janice to talk for a few minutes on the impact of the full service extended school on the school and its community. I will finish by pointing out some major issues of concern that, if they are not addressed in a positive manner, will impact extremely negatively on the work being done by schools serving disadvantaged communities and, more worryingly, on the future of pupils who live in these areas of disadvantage. After that, we will be happy to answer any questions or clarify any points as you wish.

610. I realise that time is limited, so I will outline a few of the main features relating to the inquiry. I know that the other three schools giving oral briefings this morning may well touch on similar themes; however, their context will be very different as our catchment area, the greater Shankill and north Belfast, has a unique set of circumstances and a very chequered history, which we all are too familiar with. Therefore, a customised response from schools such as ours is needed to provide an education pathway that can allow as many young people as possible to rise above that long history of deprivation and unrest in order to achieve their potential, both academic and social, and take their place in a new, modern, shared future for Northern Ireland. However, we must remember that there are many barriers to learning to overcome in order to achieve that goal.

611. I will provide some context. Here at the Girls' Model we are well on with that journey, with our five A* to C or better at GCSE improving from an average of around 30% in the years between 2000 and 2004 to 66% in 2008-09 and 58% in 2009-2010. Every girl left with some GCSE accreditation in 2009-2010, which is well above the average for similar schools. Every girl in Key Stage 4 studies our specialist area of ICT at GCSE, and last year, out of over 150 girls, 96% achieved a pass rate at A* to C, with 86 A* recorded. At A level, 64 girls sat A-level exams last year, up from 31 in 2004-05, with just under 40% gaining three A* to C, which is up from 17% in 2004-05.

612. We are very pleased that 26 girls went to university last year, and every one of those 26 girls was the first in their family to do so, which is fantastic. That creates a new generation of role models for the Shankill and north Belfast. In our specialist area of ICT, 90% of the 38 girls entered in the A-level exam gained A* to C, with Sarah Jane Pollock achieving the top mark in the whole of the UK in AQA applied A-level double-award ICT.

613. The reason why I outlined that is that those results set a standard for the girls lower down the school to aspire to, and raising aspirations is one of our main features. It raises the bar for the future, which I know is one of the things that the Committee is looking at.

614. Something that I think is very pertinent is the fact that over 80% of girls in the sixth form receive the education maintenance allowance (EMA). The news in England yesterday mentioned a school in Tower Hamlets with the highest number of kids receiving EMA, and it was 75%. Over 80% of our girls rely on EMAs so that they can come back to sixth form. That begs the question: what would happen if it were discontinued? The answer is that a lot of the excellent progress currently happening would simply stop and we would slip back to the situation in the bad old days, when children who had the potential to achieve at sixth form were not accessing it due to financial considerations, and that is something that we really have to look at.

615. The problem facing us is that the intake ability profile of pupils coming to the Girls' Model is changing. I have provided a data sheet, which I will explain. MidYIS is the test that we give the girls when they enter year 8, first year. A score of 100 is average for the whole of the UK. The data shows that in the early 2000s — from 2001 through to 2005 — we had scores very close to 100. However, the first-year pupils in 2007, who will be doing their GCSEs next year, were down to 92·7. You can see that the ability profile is going way down.

616. With the Yellis, which is the Key Stage 4 baseline testing, an average comprehensive school would have 25% of pupils in each of the groups: A, B, C and D. The figures for our school show that, for five or six years up to 2006, about 30% of our girls were in the top two bands. Of the girls who are doing their GCSEs next year, 2% are in the top 50%. There are two reasons for that.

617. The first reason is that grammar schools are now taking the girls who we would have got: the B1s, B2s, C1s and C2s, who we got for years and years. However, because of demography, the grammar schools are now taking those girls, to fill up their numbers. That leaves us with the situation where academic role models are not coming, and that is a massive problem because we rely on such girls.

618. The second reason is that the children who have come to us in the past couple of years have gone through the Shankill feud. The primary school principals say that that had an amazingly negative impact on those children and caused trauma. Again, that is shown in the figures. There is a slight light at the end of the tunnel, in that the MidYIS results have started to go up a little bit again, to 95·1. Therefore, hopefully, the worst-case scenario has passed. However, that is a massive problem in a school such as ours, especially now in a budgetary situation where there are less and less resources to deal with the pupils with weaker ability who are coming through.

619. As we mentioned in our submissions, we feel that the crucial areas in our success are the excellent professional staff who believe in our vision of achievement for all; the leadership throughout the school; a broad and balanced curriculum with a relevant mix of academic and vocational progression routes and parity of esteem for each, focusing on pupils' strengths to maximise potential for success. Another area is our having a data-rich environment to track pupil progress and thereby identify underachievement early so that we have strategies in place to deal with that, by putting in support mechanisms such as special educational needs, literacy and numeracy, mentoring and counselling and extended schools, to minimise the barriers to learning for girls who come to the school. A further area is the use of ICT as a tool to support learning across all areas of the schools, particularly our virtual learning environment, which allows pupils to work at their own pace. As well as that, I have provided a little bit of information on how the VirtualGMS helps pupils. That is very important and really helpful in our situation.

620. Most importantly however, we need, and have, focused staff development for practising teachers. That must be delivered by practitioners who have the necessary credibility to enthuse and skill staff through individualised, not generic, centralised training. We really feel that we are a teaching school along the lines of a teaching hospital, and we work with schools such as St Louise's Comprehensive College, Ashfield Boys' High School and others to make sure that we get advice from practising teachers across schools. That is the way forward.

621. I sometimes feel that a lot of money is spent on the curriculum advisory and support service (CASS), which I feel has outlived its usefulness. It is nothing to do with the CASS people; they are very good people. However, the days of having someone who has not been in a classroom for 10 or 15 years parachuted in to a school to tell teachers how to teach are over. Schools are losing money to pay for that. To me, that is nonsensical. People who are practising teachers and who are doing the job at that time should come in and work with teachers. I have always said that and have said it in front of the education and library boards as well. I have nothing against the CASS service per se — there are very good people in that — but the days of using it are finished. We need training for schools by schools, with practising teachers involved in up-to-date teaching and learning training.

622. As our school has such a wide range of girls from diverse social backgrounds — from those who have excellent home and community support to those who have little, none or even negative support — it is very easy to see how important a support network is to a student's success. We can identify girls who have the same ability as others in their class but who will never be able to realise it fully without extra support, because they do not get it at home. I will ask Mrs Clarke to talk for a few minutes about how the full service extended school is helping to redress that imbalance.

623. Mrs Janice Clarke (Belfast Model School for Girls): Good morning; thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to the Committee. Full service school was implemented in January 2007, and I have been the full service school co-ordinator throughout the duration of the programme to date. I have also been a teacher in the Belfast Model School for Girls for the past 16 years. It is difficult to believe but true.

624. The programme was implemented in January 2007, and we work in partnership with the Belfast Model School for Boys. The aim of the full service programme is to reduce barriers to learning. There are many barriers to learning in our catchment area, not just for our young people but for their whole family. The full service school aims to address those barriers, get the young people into school and get them ready to learn when they are in the classroom so that they can go on to achieve their full academic and social potential.

625. We are looking at the full service programme being family-led, needs-led and totally child-centred. We also want to avoid duplication. There are many services and voluntary and statutory organisations on the Shankill that will provide support to young people and their families. We want to work together to avoid duplication. We want to ensure that the young person is getting the support that they need and that we are all working in partnership and collaboration for the good of the young person.

626. At the start of the programme, we carried out extensive auditing of our school community; that is, our pupils, parents, teaching and non-teaching staff, primary schools, business community and the voluntary and statutory organisations. From that, we identified our needs, the barriers that we need to look at and the issues that we need to address to enable the young person to learn. We put those into five key target areas: pupil engagement; parental engagement; transition support; health engagement; and community engagement. From that, we can see that schools cannot work alone to provide support; we have to work with our whole community.

627. Having identified the needs, we put programmes and strategies in place. Among those programmes are coursework clinics, in which we provide additional and professional support for the young people who are identified as struggling with coursework. We also run Easter classes, additional classes after school and evening classes for our whole community. Furthermore, we have an extensive extra-curricular activity menu, which encourages us to look at the young person holistically. It enables us to look at all of their needs and to encourage them to be part of the school life and their local community. We want the young person to achieve in school, and we want them to be able to put that back into their local communities, to raise educational aspirations for the future.

628. Not only have we implemented programmes and strategies through the full service programme, we have been fortunate in being able to employ staff. We have employed a family link attendance officer. That officer works with young people who have an attendance rate between 80% and 90%. We are careful not to impinge on the role of the educational welfare officer, and we are working in partnership with those officers.

629. Over the past year, we have been working with a cohort of 55 girls who have attendance issues. By the end of last year, the overall attendance of that cohort had increased by 18%. That meant that they were in the classroom more often and accessing the curriculum, which means that they have a better opportunity to achieve their full potential.

630. We also offer learning and emotional support to all of our girls. Part of the full service school programme is counselling support, which involves referring young people to the proper counselling that they need. They may require counselling for bereavement, a family break-up or for a wealth of other reasons. Again, we work with our local community to provide a good, strong support network for our girls.

631. We have also employed a family link co-ordinator. Her role is to give individual support to families. We are aware that 80% of a girl's learning comes from their home and community, and only 20% comes from the school environment. We have to tap in there; we have to work with parents and the local community to ensure that learning takes place. The family link co-ordinator will also signpost families to other organisations from which they can receive support.

632. We have a behaviour mentor in school. I know that that is hard to believe; I am sure that you do not think that we need a behaviour mentor, but we do.

633. The Chairperson: I think that the Education Committee could do with one.

634. Mrs J Clarke: They mentor young people who are, in most cases, experiencing difficulties outside of school. We need to work with the families in such situations. Often, there are not procedures or rules in place at home. We try to gently tell the parents that we have to work together to make sure that their daughter is in school and that she is learning, so that she has every opportunity for the future.

635. We were the first school in Northern Ireland to employ two transition teachers. Our transition teachers work in all of our 18 feeder primary schools. They offer individual support and small-group support for literacy and numeracy in those primary schools. We also offer additional programmes, such as summer schemes, information days and fun days, all of which encourage young people to be able to move on to the Girls' Model, settle earlier into their year 8 programme, and, therefore, start learning at an earlier stage. Another big benefit of the transition programme, which I find invaluable, is the links that we now have with all of our primary schools. More information comes to us earlier from the primary schools. We can address issues sooner and put in support at an earlier stage. I know that the primary schools welcome that.

636. Finally, we have community and health engagement. We welcome our close working with health and community partners. We have a network of organisations. At present, we work with 32 partner organisations that deliver classroom input in schools and offer counselling support. That has enabled us to fast-track services. For example, when we do home visits in our local community as part of the parenting programme, we find that there are many mental health issues in families. We are able to fast-track them on to services that offer support at an earlier stage. That benefits the young people for the future. The Shankill area needs that type of intervention because it is unique. Many problems and issues are out there. That intervention is needed in order to tackle those barriers to learning.

637. The full service school programme is fully integrated into the life of the school. We work very much within the curriculum and with pastoral care to ensure that every young person in school has the best life chances. That is what we want for them. I just want to finish with a quotation from Don Edgar in the 'The Patchwork Nation':

"The purpose of a school is to help a family educate a child."

638. That is so true of what we are trying to do in the Girls' Model. We want to work together in partnership to ensure learning and address underachievement.

639. Mr Graham: Thank you, Janice. Because of the nature of the Shankill, it is important that it has the resource of the full service school. We are wary of that resource being cut. I pointed out a few reasons why we are a successful school. I could have mentioned others, such as student voice. In recent years, we have been pioneers in working with other schools' pupils to develop that student voice, which has a big role to play to shape learning, teaching and pastoral care in schools.

640. I want to finish my remarks by saying that I am scared about the future. That is true particularly with regard to the current financial situation and the draft budget that has just been released, as well as the hammer blow of the proposed ending of end-year flexibility (EYF). To deal with the latter issue first; the ending of end-year flexibility has massive implications for any school that is currently strategically planning for the future. John Wilkinson from Dromore High School is a friend of mine who is losing £320,000 because he is saving to start a new sixth form. He needs that money to start the new sixth form. Judging by the way things look at the minute, he will not have that money. That is shameful. He is someone who has been strategically planning but who finds himself in a poor situation.

641. We have been planning for downsizing due to the capping of numbers at our new school. We had kept aside money to try to keep on some staff next year due to the school's number of pupils being down to 950. Schools that have overspent are not affected. Schools, like ours, that have been forward-thinking are affected badly. The worst-case scenario for our school is that we will have almost £450,000 less next year due to a combination of the end of specialist school funding; the inability at present to use EYF; a reduction of pupil numbers due to capping; and the likelihood of a reduction of local management of schools (LMS) funding of at least 2·5%. That will cause immense harm to our ability to maintain success in serving a disadvantaged community, as our essential support mechanisms will not be able to be resourced through lack of finance.

642. Our class sizes will rise. However, our complement of teachers will be reduced. Our small-class working and one-to-one working in literacy and numeracy will be decimated. The excellent progress that we are making will be sorely compromised as we strive to maintain and improve results with a weaker academic intake.

643. In order to sustain development, we should be getting more, not less, resources in the next few years. The education system, and you as politicians, need to work together to reposition funding to front line services, as the waste of money on non-essential bureaucratic layers is shameful. People talk about it, but little is being done to resolve the issues, which include empty desks; pupils receiving free transport and being bussed past perfectly good schools; the amount of money that is being spent on the duplication of services; and the costly bureaucracy. I see all that, then I look at my budget for next year and agonise over which young, enthusiastic teacher with expertise I am going to lose, knowing that there are no jobs for them elsewhere. I also have to try to minimise the damage to the pupils whom I am charged with looking after.

644. I am talking with 37 years' experience of teaching in five schools in different areas in Northern Ireland. Pupils have only one chance of success. The present education system is not fit for purpose, unless the front line services are protected and the unnecessary spending to resource other areas is cut. If that is achieved, with money going to schools and making them responsible and, more importantly, accountable for the outcomes, schools will need to be successful in all areas, including areas of disadvantage, and standards will go up.

645. It is vital that the hardworking staff in any school believe in the vision of achievement for all. That is a fact that was borne out when the chief inspector, Mr Stanley Goudie, visited our school and spent over three hours meeting staff and students. He said that it was obvious that the vision of achievement for all permeated throughout the school. He felt that the school was living that vision.

646. I know that the other schools presenting this morning will have similar visions to ours and will have hardworking staff who believe in their vision. As we work closely together, we share ideas and we ask each other for advice, which is given freely, school to school. We have worked with Carmel in St Louise's on many occasions, and Andy and I meet regularly to discuss issues and ideas. To date, we have not been linked with Micheál and his team, but, hopefully, we will in the future. I am looking forward to hearing their views this morning, and I know that I will learn from them.

647. The Chairperson: Thank you. On the basis of those two presentations, we could spend from now until this time next week talking. Unfortunately, we do not have that time. I will try as best I can not to stray on to the issue of the budget, because we want to focus on the inquiry, but your point is well made. Suffice it to say, you might not be in receipt of the letter that came from John McGrath, but we have a copy of it. My personal view on the letter is that it is not worth the paper that it is written on, because it does not tell us anything that we do not already know.

648. Mr Graham: It says nothing.

649. The Chairperson: I spoke to the Finance Minister yesterday, and Basil spoke to him this morning on a certain radio show, but I do not think that he was very successful. A meeting will take place on Friday between the Education Minister and the Finance Minister. I believe that every effort needs to be made to deal with the short-term issue of EYF. The Committee has to look seriously at the budget, and is doing so. You are right; it is worrying. I worry particularly about the aggregated schools budgets because those will direct the end product. I do not want to go down that road, but I will ask a couple of questions. Members will also ask just a couple of questions, so that we can keep the presentations moving.

650. I am very interested in a variety of things, but the full service extended school has been a reaction to the circumstances in which the school found itself as a result of amalgamation and of bringing the new school into existence. The point that was so well made was that this school or any school cannot stand in isolation. In the past, there has been an idea that the school is up there and that whatever goes on in it is to do with the school. It is an integral part of the community. That is easily said, but it has to be translated into how the community and the school interact.

651. Have transition teachers been key to pupils' transition from primary schools to this school? Have they been a key component in making the right choices for those pupils and in ensuring that that transition is a seamless and easy process?

652. Mr Graham: I will make two points about that. First, it is not about making the choice to come to whatever school the pupils come to. We work with all pupils, no matter what school they go to. It is more or less to try to have early intervention and deal with problems in primary schools. It creates much closer links. When pupils go from Key Stage 3 to Key Stage 4 to Key Stage 5, it is a seamless transition because it happens in the same school. The hardest transition is from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 3, because, in our case and in other cases, the pupils come from 18 or 20 different primary schools. Therefore, we have to try to make sure that we make that as easy as possible. Whenever they come to us in first year and go into an English or maths class, they come from totally different positions. We do not know what maths or English they know. We are working with the primary schools to try to get some sort of consistency so that we know exactly where to start.

653. The Chairperson: I will not get into the other debate about the pros and cons of selection or non-selection. However, has there been a reluctance to use standardised, acceptable criteria to determine where a child is at? Has that whole system failed because some people believe that we will use it solely for the purpose of selection? For example, I have gone to a school in Cookstown that does not use an academic selection process. It uses a different system, and it works for that school. Surely the key issue should be having relevant information that enables us to know where a child is at during their progression from primary school through to the day that they go to university.

654. Mr Graham: I agree entirely with that.

655. The Chairperson: Does that hamper you when you go to primary schools to determine what level girls are at?

656. Mr Graham: That problem is that the levels in primary schools are not moderated. Therefore, different primary schools have different ways of doing it. In other words, when they tell us a level, we have to test the pupils again here to make sure that the level is right.

657. The Chairperson: We do not test children any more. We are not allowed to test children.

658. Mr Graham: No. We look at children to see where they are and to determine what class to put them in when they come to the school. We have to do that ourselves because 20 different primary schools will have different levels because there is no moderation. That is a big problem.

659. Mrs J Clarke: I agree. The work of the transition teacher is key to that, because that teacher identifies the levels, which is especially important for children who are underachieving and need the additional support. They gather that information, and we are ready for those children to come in at the start of year 8. Furthermore, that teacher is a familiar face for young people, and they are very much used to the transition teachers, from their being in their school. Again, that eases the transition process. We not only work with children who we know are coming to the Girls' Model; we work with all the girls. We do not specify or say that we will give extra literacy and numeracy support to girls who come to the Girls' Model. Everyone gets that support at that stage.

660. Mr Graham: The most important point about the transition teachers is that they teach 50% in our year 8, which is the first year here, and 50% in the primary schools. That provides continuity. Moreover, a lot of primary schools are too small to have certain support systems, which we then put in for them because they may have only five or six staff and cannot do very much with their budget. Through the transition teachers, we can give them access to support in drama, numeracy, literacy, music and some sport. Without those transition teachers, they could not do that because they do not have the budget for it. That is another help for them.

661. Mrs Jacqueline Weir (Belfast Model School for Girls): In another life, I am the chairman of a primary school board of governors. Therefore, I see it from the other side. We find the support of transition teachers very useful on the primary school side.

662. The Chairperson: I want to make a point to not only Johnny and his colleagues but to others who will make presentations and to members. As we go through this, we will discover that similar elements of work will be done in the Girls' Model, in Ashfield Boy's High School or in the other schools and that there is commonality. However, different things will be done in different ways. That is what we want to try to tease out. My worry is that the model of the Girls' Model — excuse the pun — may not be the exact model that should be used in every school.

663. Mr Graham: I agree entirely.

664. The Chairperson: Every School a Good School does not mean every school the same, and that is the challenge for us. There are, however, key components, one of which is leadership. I commend you for the leadership that is given in this school.

665. Mr Lunn: Thank you very much for your presentation. I noted what you said about the grammar schools moving down the ability scale to fill their books, which is obviously happening. It always seemed to me that, ultimately, a slightly lower achiever at 11-plus will do better in a school such as this than in a grammar school, where they might struggle. Is that your impression?

666. Mr Graham: I will not start into the selection debate. I went to a grammar school and some of the pupils in the lower classes there probably did not get as much attention as those in the top classes. Because we have achievement for all, every girl who comes here is treated exactly the same. We do not give special treatment to the girls who are higher ability. Everyone receives good treatment here. I am sure that it is exactly same in grammar schools. To me, a good grammar school is a good school, and a good secondary school is a good school. For me, the debate about grammar schools has gone on for far too long. Schools are either good or they are not. That is all that I will say there, but that argument can be made.

667. Mr Lunn: I was not trying to draw you into the selection debate in any way. That is for another day.

668. Mr Graham: I think that that argument can be made.

669. Mr Lunn: I declare an interest: I went to Belfast Royal Academy (BRA), which proves that grammar schools do not always turn out successful people. Basil went there too, which is further proof. [Laughter.]

670. Mrs J Weir: I went to BRA too, and I am on its board of governors.

671. Mr B McCrea: Nelson McCausland also went there.

672. Mr Lunn: There is an awful lot of emphasis on successful outcomes and achieving A* to C. We have had some interest in that recently. Surely a D is not a failure; is it not effectively a pass?

673. Mr Graham: We have to work with raw results because inspectors look at raw results. However, all our work in school is about value-added results. We baseline the girls when they come in. We look at their predictions from a valid test that is used across the UK and we see whether they get positive or negative residuals. Girls who get a negative residual are underachieving, and we can identify them. Girls who get a positive residual have value added. There are girls who come in here with IQs in the 50s and 60s. Those girls will never, ever get five grades between A* and C. However, it is a fantastic achievement if they can get Es and Ds. Instead of saying that they are a failure, they should be shown where they started from and told that, in getting Ds and Es, they have added fantastic value and achieved something brilliant.

674. Mr Lunn: I will go back to my original question about grammar schools. I am interested in the fact that Jacqueline is on the BRA board of governors. Take, for example, a child with relatively low achievement who goes to BRA, but who you could make a success of. Will BRA do a better job with that child than this school? What are the statistics?

675. Mrs J Weir: I do not know the statistics.

676. Mr Lunn: There must be statistics for that.

677. Mrs J Weir: There may well be.

678. Mr Graham: It would be very difficult to get statistics on that, because you would have to work from baseline statistics. It can be done in England, where children are tested the whole way through, under the nationwide PANDA system. We do not have that situation.

679. Mr Lunn: I am sure that you have an opinion on it though.

680. Mr Craig: Thanks for the presentation. You have my sympathies, Jacqueline; I sit on the board of governors for a few schools in Lisburn, and I know what is ahead of us all.

681. I am very interested in what you said about the family link co-ordinator. Janice discussed that issue and talked about dealing with parents. I do not know what it is like here, Jacqueline, and I will not try to second-guess that. However, I know from my personal experience in a similar position that the parents are a bigger problem than the pupils. Is that the experience here? Does the family link co-ordinator mitigate a lot of the issues that parents bring into the school, never mind the more important issues that arise with the pupils themselves?

682. Mr Graham: It is not possible to divorce the two issues. When we meet the parents of some of the pupils who are underachieving or are causing problems, we realise what the situation is. That is why Janice is working so much with parents.

683. Mrs J Clarke: It is. We have a person who goes out to pupils' homes; that is the key. When we go to the homes, we do not do that to be nosey or to see what is happening in there. However, it gives us an overview of what family life is like for that young person. If we are more aware of that and are in their own environment, they are much more willing to speak and open up. Moreover, if we are aware of the issues, it is easier to deal with them. In the past, we found it more difficult to engage with parents and did not know what was happening. The child did not open up to us in school, and we did not know what the main problems were. We are starting to identify the problems. Now that we are identifying the problems from working with the parents, we need solutions and we need to be able to support the family and the young person. That is why we work in partnership with other organisations and with our local community.

684. We are now finding that parents are more willing to contact us to tell us about what is happening in the home. That is definitely true of the parents who we work with through the full service programme. They are engaging with us much more than they did in the past. However, it is a real challenge — as is parenting — to get the parents to realise educational aspirations. That is a community-wide issue for the Shankill and, perhaps, much wider than that. I attend many different forums, community groups and executive meetings on the Shankill as part of my role in full service, and one of the main issues that people are trying to tackle is how parents interact with and give back to their local community.

685. Mr Craig: That interests me. Quite honestly, your experience mirrors my experience in Lagan Valley in Lisburn, in that the loyalist communities are the ones that are difficult to reach. The breakdown of the traditional family is leading to a lot of difficulties for children.

686. Mrs J Clarke: I live in Lisburn.

687. Mr Craig: You probably know where I am talking about.

688. Mrs J Clarke: I know you; I see you a lot in the 'Ulster Star'.

689. Mr Graham: One of the problems is getting parents to value education and to see that it is the way to raise aspirations. Because a lot of our parents had a very poor experience of education, they do not value it. We try to raise the value of education. The 26 girls who were the first in their family to go to university last year is a good start; it shows what could happen to our girls, and, hopefully, they will be role models in the future.

690. Mrs J Weir: That has to start before they even get here. It has to start in primary school or even nursery school.

691. Mr Craig: The key is working with the family to get the pupils to that stage.

692. Mrs J Clarke: That cycle sometimes starts with the child and sometimes starts with the parent, depending on which opportunity is best.

693. Mr O'Dowd: Apologies for being late; I need a crash course in time management. I also have to leave early; I am a disaster area today.

694. I will comment first, then ask a few questions. Those from the non-grammar school sector are always very polite about the selection process. I do not want to get into the debate, especially in front of politicians, but strong elements in the grammar school sector are not so polite and are up to their oxters in the political debate. We may need a wee change in tempo. However, I will not draw anybody into a debate that they do not wish to be drawn into, because there is enough in your presentation to provide food for thought. Janice's quote sums it up:

"The purpose of a school is to help a family educate a child."

695. Was that correct, Janice?

696. Mrs J Clarke: Yes.

697. Mr O'Dowd: That sums it up. You had a discussion with Jonathan about the support network outside the schools, for the schools. In other debates there is a lot of terminology around ethos and what it means in a school. Some portray it as if some schools do not have an ethos. What is the ethos of this school?

698. Mr Graham: Our ethos is achievement for all. We want to make sure that everyone who comes here gets the same opportunities and the support that they need, regardless of where they come from or their ability level. I do not mean the same support for everybody. Those who need more support get more support. Pupils will be given the opportunity to fulfil their academic and social potential. Everybody buys into that.

699. Mr O'Dowd: There needs to be a new mindset in society about what education is about. It goes back to the quote; it is there to facilitate and support families and the communities. I understand why this happens, but the situation is often that parents send their children to school or drop them off, and, after that section of the child's day, they come home from school. You mentioned visiting homes. No one goes into a school without reflecting on their own era in school. I look at the lives of some of the people I went to school with, and I can understand what happened to them. I suppose that I am talking in circles, but I am trying to get to the core. Should we refocus the educational output around the kind of support work that Janice and this school deliver, especially in communities such as the one that is served by this school? If you were asked for five priorities that would help our young people to achieve, if education were to focus on underachievement — that might be the wrong term — what would they be?

700. Mr Graham: Contexts are different. In the context of the Shankill, the first thing to do is to get the family to value education. That is the core. If the family values education, the young person has support in the family for that. Secondly, the parents need to be skilled up so that they can help their daughters or sons. Thirdly, it is important that children have basic numeracy and literacy when they come here. By the time that they come to us, it is too late to teach them that. They have got to have that early in primary school and coming through. Fourthly, it is about having a situation in which young children are not classed as being a success or a failure. The pupil is there as one who is developing at the pace that is relevant and right for them, and we should get rid of any stigmas in that regard. Those are four priorities.

701. Mr O'Dowd: There is a focus around what education delivers for the individual. Perhaps it should be more about the creation of a good citizen and a good individual, rather than the creation of five C, five D or five E pupils.

702. Mr Graham: I agree; holistic education is vital. Academic qualifications are part of a package. They are not the whole package; they are part of the package of the whole child.

703. Mrs J Clarke: Education should be child-centred, because each child is an individual. They are all different, and they all need different levels of support and help.

704. Mr Graham: If we are looking for a shared future in Northern Ireland, we have to work on how we work with everyone in Northern Ireland. That is very much part of our education.

705. The Chairperson: I remind members to keep questions succinct, because I am conscious that we run the risk of running badly out of time.

706. Mr B McCrea: If parental involvement is the key, what do you do about it?

707. Mr Graham: That is the $64,000 question. We work with various strategies, but the parents have to want to be involved.

708. Mr B McCrea: I know that that is what we need them to do. The question is: how do we do it?

709. Mrs J Clarke: We employ strategies, such as our family link co-ordinator. If the parent will not come to us, we will go to them. We try to keep as much contact as possible with the parents. We offer that additional support and help. We also offer parents the opportunity to come to the school, as all schools do. Some parents do not take up that opportunity, and often it is the parents of the children who we need to see who do not come, so we follow those up. We have a very strong pastoral care system in the school, which works alongside the full service school.

710. Mr B McCrea: What percentage of children have attendance of less than 85%?

711. Mrs J Clarke: In my group, I have about 55 girls from year 8 to year 12 whose attendance is between 80% and 90%.

712. Mr B McCrea: The Chairperson has asked us to be brief, so I do not want to labour the point. However, I have a couple of observations. First, if pupils are not at school, it is very hard to do anything with them. Secondly, I was at some of the nursery schools in the Shankill, and what came across was how logistics play a part. If it is easy to get children to the school, they are more likely to go.

713. I do not want to take too long, and we will talk about it later on. I have already had my first grilling of the day, which is why I was late. The staff got me outside. I wonder whether we can start to think outside the box. I read the papers about bureaucracy, the multi-levelled services and so on. Could we move to having area-learning communities that are run by secondary schools? Nursery school and primary schools would feed directly into secondary schools.

714. Not only are there administrative savings to be made, but it seems to me that we are wasteful in the disconnect in the transfer from nursery to primary and primary to secondary. Everyone is trying to find out what has been done and tested at other schools. I wonder whether we would be better to say that the school at the top will manage everything at the bottom. Secondary schools can work out what their feeder schools will be; that can be divvied up whatever way you want.

715. Mr Graham: The problem with that is that you would have to ensure that the school at the top is accountable and is very, very good.

716. Mr B McCrea: I read your inspectorate report, which is to be commended. We are all being very polite, but Mr Goudie said that 35% of our schools are failing because their head teachers are not up to it.

717. Mr Graham: That is for the Education and Training Inspectorate to say.

718. Mr B McCrea: I did say that Mr Goudie said it. I just wonder whether that is the answer. We are all running around talking about bureaucracy. I would like to see a model in which principals of secondary or grammar schools — whatever it is — are empowered and supported by boards of governors to follow a voluntary grammar principle, although they do not necessarily have to be grammar schools. Schools could be given the opportunity to do that, but they would have to take responsibility all the way down the line.

719. Mr Graham: I would rather the money be given to schools, as long as they are autonomous and accountable. Let the schools buy in the services that they need. The money should go to the school for it to make the choices. However, there must be rigorous accountability. Schools must ensure that they use that money very wisely, and autonomy must be taken from them if they do not. For me, it is far better for schools to make those choices. A school knows its surrounding area and context. Education is not generic; it depends on the context.

720. Mr Hilditch: Johnny, thanks very much for the presentation. My question is specific to the difficulties facing your school and the unique position in which it has found itself, probably more so in the past. Considering the school's geographic position, are you able to continue activities here after the school bell rings at 3.30 pm or whenever it is? Do you go out into the areas that you serve, such as the Shankill? Do you do have on site or off site programmes, or a mixture of both?

721. The Chairperson: David, that is one of our perennial problems. Some 60% of our girls live in the Shankill, and, given the patchwork quilt of north Belfast, it is impossible for them to walk home. If we have after-school activities, we have to pay for buses. That is a massive drain on our resources, but we must ensure that the girls get home safely. Janice has to pay for the girls' transport home from after-school clubs or anything like that. That is a massive problem. We also do outreach work with primary schools.

722. One of our biggest problems is that a lot of the parents live in the Shankill. It is difficult for them to get here. There is no direct bus, so they have to get a taxi. That is a logistical problem that may be unique to the diverse area of north Belfast. It would be far easier if we were in different position. However, we are here, and we have to make the best of it, but it causes financial problems.

723. The Chairperson: Thank you, Johnny, Janice and Jacqueline. As we have said, we could spend all day on this issue. We have your submission to the inquiry. This is a specialist school for ICT, and there is concern among many about the proposal in the budget to do away with specialist schools. We need to take that on board, and the Committee has to have a discussion on that. Aside from the submission that you have given us for our inquiry, we are interested to hear what impact the budget, as it stands, will have on schools. I say that to all the schools. My fear is that many of the elements of the full service extended school would have to be axed should you have to cut your cloth accordingly. That would have a detrimental effect on your purpose, the reason why you exist and what you are doing.

724. Mr Graham: I agree entirely. It is a very scary future.

725. The Chairperson: OK. Thank you very much.

726. I welcome to the table representatives of St Louise's Comprehensive College. We are delighted that you have taken the time to come to today's meeting, and we look forward to hearing what you have to say.

727. Mrs Carmel McCartan (St Louise's Comprehensive College): Thank you for the opportunity to present to the Committee. I am principal of St Louise's Comprehensive College in west Belfast. With me is Ita McVeigh, who is the director of specialism in St Louise's and a member of the senior team, and I am delighted to also have with us John O'Rourke, who not only is the chairperson of our board of governors, but an accountant, which is useful in today's climate.

728. I listened to Johnny's presentation, which resonated very strongly with me and will resonate with what you are going to hear from us. There is no doubt that a lot of what I am going to say resonates with the situation in the Girls' Model. We have been passionate about improving the life chances of young women for over 50 years. We are also passionate about equality of opportunity and social justice. You mentioned the values system. I will be discussing with you the importance of a strong values system in a successful school.

729. Like the Girls' Model, we face many challenges. St Louise's has the distinction of having the largest number of young people on EMA in Northern Ireland. As you will know, we are one of the largest schools, so we serve a large community. We have over 1,500 girls and we have a high free school meal percentage. We attract young people from the most disadvantaged areas, according to Noble indicators of disadvantage.

730. We have been a specialist college for six years. Like the Girls' Model, we have noticed from our MidYIS results that our intake is increasingly skewed towards bands C and D, and that is undoubtedly a challenge. I will elaborate on that later when I discuss the selection argument. Unlike my predecessor, Mr Graham, I will not skirt around that issue, because it is at the heart of the debate about what is quality in education.

731. St Louise's believes in the holistic development of young women. Although the focus may artificially be on five A* to C as the only measure of success, we have been very proactive in promoting and developing the talents and abilities of all young people in the performing arts, STEM subjects and the caring professions. That is what we believe a good school does. There is another level to the debate about what a good school is. It is not purely about how many pupils get five A* to C, even though that is the benchmark used. It is about the values system and a culture of high aspirations and achievement.

732. We are ranked in the top 10% of schools for A-level performance using value added, and we are great advocates of value added, because that is a fairer way of measuring improvement and success. We have been ranked in the top 10% for four years in a row using A-level value added performance.

733. At GCSE we are the highest performing non-selective school in Belfast, and we are among the top 10 in Northern Ireland. In Yellis value added at GCSE, we ranked in the top 5% of schools and colleges this year. That is a very strong position, because that is out of thousands of schools across Britain and the North of Ireland. We have received the Jerwood award for excellence, which was one of our main achievements of the past five years, as well as other marks of excellence and specialism.

734. Our values system is grounded in Vincentian Catholic comprehensive ethos, which is based in social teaching that is passionate about equality of opportunity, excellence for all and service. People often ask me what the word "Vincentian" means. It is grounded in the work of St Vincent de Paul. All of us know about the importance of the St Vincent de Paul Society for the less advantaged in today's climate. It is about service, empowering everyone and equality of opportunity.

735. I will address the Committee under the three main themes in the paper that we submitted, and I will invite Ita to discuss some of the issues as we go along. The first key theme is effective school leadership as a factor in a successful school. I will then invite Ita to talk about parental and community links, which I know the Committee discussed earlier. I will then talk about quality learning and teaching, because excellence in learning and teaching is part of our mission statement. The successes that I have just mentioned are grounded in excellent teaching and learning in the classroom. I will then make some concluding comments to do with budgets, selection and the major challenges that we face in west Belfast.

736. I will begin with the theme of effective school leadership, to which there are three dimensions. The first dimension is the importance of a values system that everyone buys in to. The second is learning-centred leadership and what that looks like in reality. The third dimension is the importance of quality whole-school development planning.

737. I begin with values-driven practice. As I said, St Louise's has been passionate about all-ability comprehensive education for over 50 years. We feel that selection is morally, socially and educationally unjust. I am privileged to have started my teaching career in a school led by a principal who even then — I will not tell you which decade or you will all know what age I am, but it was a long time ago — realised that you cannot divide children into sheep and goats or label some as failures and label some as successes. I am privileged to have been grounded in that values system, and we ensure that the staff who join us are also passionate about social justice and equality. That is what gets us out of bed every morning and what makes us go the extra 100 miles that we all have to go. Those things motivate us and put the fire in our belly because they ensure that we give every child the best opportunity, through sharing our gifts. The main gifts that we share are our time, our high-quality teaching and our compassionate pastoral care.

738. We have invested heavily in quality learning and teaching and innovative practice; Ita will elaborate on that. Our school has always been innovative in reaching out. I have been fortunate enough to go to America, China and, of course, across to England and down South to see where the next example of best practice is. I have also been very fortunate to be linked with schools such as the Girls' Model and others, so I can come here and share ideas. That is what underpins the improvement agenda in St Louise's. That does not just apply to the principal; everyone at every level must be passionate about improvement and quality.

739. We heard earlier about the need for compassionate pastoral support to help our young people to overcome barriers, which, given that we serve a disadvantaged community, is grounded in our values system. We do a lot of work in the pastoral domain, and we have been described in inspection reports as "outstanding" in that area. However, that is very resource-intensive and emotionally demanding. Therefore, we need to ensure that I, as principal, and the board of governors can continue to invest in that. It requires an additional time budget for staff to visit to homes and sit with and listen to troubled children rather than having to rush off to class. I can talk at length about our pastoral support centre and the work that it has done using a multi-agency approach to support children who face many barriers, including social and economic barriers, family break-up and poor attendance. Those issues are faced in north Belfast and west Belfast.

740. Our pastoral support centre has not been fortunate enough to be part of the resourcing for the full service community network. Therefore, we fund that centre from our LMS budget and with a very small pot of money from extended schools. I will come back to that issue at the end, because I feel that the amount that we get relative to other schools that serve similar catchment areas is very unfair. However, in our pastoral support centre, we have worked very hard to ensure that all the agencies are there to support the child. We have a parent support officer, as the Girls' Model does. That is the only additional resource that we have. His role, which involves visiting homes and supporting the whole family, has been invaluable. Again, that accords with what we heard earlier.

741. As a team with leaders at all levels in the school, we invest heavily in high-quality strategic planning and detailed action planning to ensure that there is a rigorous culture of self-evaluation and improvement. That sounds like the jargon that we read in 'Every School a Good School', but the reality is that in St Louise's people are held accountable for outcomes depending on their leadership role or their role in the classroom. There is a clear culture of shared responsibility for improvement.

742. I will now move on to the second dimension of the first section: shared learning-centred leadership. Over the past number of years we have had to restructure our leadership model. That was driven, first and foremost, by budgetary pressure but also by the need to create a shared leadership structure that is fit for purpose in the twenty-first century. We have developed a culture of accountability and responsibility for ensuring every student's success. We talk about personalised learning. Every single student who puts on a brown uniform is important, and her development, through learning and pastoral support, is a shared responsibility. I could talk at length about how we use the form tutor to provide pastoral support, but I am conscious of the time budget here.

743. Teachers in the classroom use value-added measures so that we know that the children in their classrooms are achieving in the top quartile relative to similar children in other schools. Under Yellis, MidYIS and ALPS, every teacher knows the minimum acceptable grade or outcome for the child. We then work collaboratively to ensure that the child achieves at least that. We use a lot of detailed quantitative and qualitative data about pupils. We have all the measures that we have talked about, using value added, but we also use a lot of qualitative analysis, such as student voice surveys.

744. We have a family-like system at pastoral level, where the form tutor is, as I say, the mother/father rolled into one for those 20 children, from the moment that they come into St Louise's until they leave, hopefully seven years later. We have close contact with the families, and it is important to know each child and her interests outside school and to ensure that the school, the home and the external environment are working in harmony as far as possible.

745. Whole-school development planning is also important; we are always articulating our strategic intent. We are passionate about the external dimension and the next example of best practice, ensuring that St Louise's is forward-thinking and the children are getting the best practice. Like Johnny, I feel strongly that a lot of that comes from systems leadership in the school or by sharing good practice with colleagues in other schools. That is where most of our learning has taken place. It has not come from CASS personnel who, as we have said, are very good people, but who are not tuned in to the reality of dealing with learning, developments and good practice in brain-friendly learning in the twenty-first century.

746. We focus on detailed action planning, self-evaluative outcomes and on our school as a specialist college. We have been fortunate to have been a specialist college. It has been an outstanding catalyst for improvement in outcomes and community links across the school.

747. Ita will address the Committee on the specialist dimension and on engagement with the community. Following that, I will make concluding comments.

748. Mrs Ita McVeigh (St Louise's Comprehensive College): I will discuss elements that are crucial to our success, particularly in relation to the school's engagement with parents and the wider community. We are part of the extended schools programme, and, as a result, we have employed a parent support officer. His remit is the health and well-being of our pupils and parents. That is done through links with families through home visits. It is a child-centred approach and supports those girls who have particular needs at particular times. However, he is available for all children at our pastoral support centre. At the centre, we have our special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO), who is responsible for networking the multi-agency support for the entire community. We have over 20 agencies working with us. That support is co-ordinated through the SENCO.

749. Classroom support and counselling services are available for all our pupils, and there is individual support for families working with our community support learning.

750. Our specialist schools initiative is another element that is crucial to our success. As director, I have been in the privileged position of developing our specialism across the community with many partnerships, our local community organisations, our primary schools, post-primary school and adults from the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust who have learning disabilities. That is a catalyst for whole-school improvement across the board.

751. We have 11 to 12 primary school partners. Our programme, delivered through performing arts, aims to support transition and literacy, as well as develop confidence and self-esteem in pupils at our partner primary schools. We have run transition taster days, which is a programme that disseminates our literacy and numeracy strategies to our colleagues in primary schools. In turn, they contribute their expertise to us. That programme is running this week. You asked the Girls' Model how it shares that practice with its primary school partners. We have been in the position where we have been able to share our curriculum with them. Using level descriptors, we have been looking at the levels of literacy and numeracy and examples of work. It is a first step in the standardisation between what we are doing in our post-primary school and what is happening in the local primary schools. We have about 30 primary schools in this week, and the programme is running each day. That is one of our specialist initiatives, and it has been very successful.

752. We also work to reach out to our post-primary partners, and we have been involved in the sharing education programme for the past three years. That has come to a conclusion with two of the projects, but we are still working with Ashfield Girls' High School to break down those community barriers and work through performing arts to deliver the curriculum and to look at aspects of reconciliation and ways in which we can address that in a safe and caring environment.

753. We have warm relationships with parents, who are a key aspect of all our work in St Louise's, and we work with parents to nurture mutually respectful relationships. We are also working hard to communicate progress to parents at regular intervals through our progress updates initiative. Those updates include information on the pupils' MidYIS value-added information or Yellis, and they also look at level descriptors using the primary level. We are attempting to develop a programme that is common across departments so that, when parents see a level 4 for English and a level 5 for maths, they understand the corollary between the two. Furthermore, we track progress, and pupils are identified as being on target, above target or below target. That communication with the parents is so vital, and they have told us how important it is to them.

754. We also offer reading programmes and learning programmes in partnership with the school, and parents come to the school to do literacy programmes with our literacy co-ordinator. We have been building that initiative over the past couple of years. It has been particularly strengthened this year, and parents have greatly valued that opportunity.

755. Another crucial aspect is the quality of our teaching and learning, and we were recognised as "outstanding" in that area in our recent inspection report. It said that we have creative and innovative approaches to learning and teaching. That is exemplified in our delivery of quality learning in lessons that are based on the accelerated learning cycle. I will not get into the jargon, but we look at assessment for effective learning ongoing with effective feedback. We have established a quality learning in teaching team that involves 19 members of the school community, particularly young teachers. That team brings forward the connected curriculum and embeds the thinking skills and personal capabilities agenda through the developing of higher-order thinking skills for our pupils. That is a very successful initiative, and connected learning, particularly at Key Stage 3, makes learning relevant for our girls and helps them to make those connections in the wider world.

756. As Carmel said, we have established a rigorous model of target setting and pupil tracking. Our pupils are identified at the outset through visits with our primary schools to gather the relevant data on their InCAS and bring that forward into our MidYIS. Underachievement is identified and supported. The pupils are rigorously tracked throughout and supported in all subject areas. We have quality assessment tasks through rigorous step learning opportunities that lead to a learning outcome. Home learning goes with that on a regular basis.

757. There is deep support from the pastoral team, which is the form tutor and the heads of year, and there is individual mentoring and peer mentoring when necessary. We report three times a year, and each student has a personal learning plan in which they track their own progress. Aspects of career development and careers education information advice and guidance are combined in that plan. We have accelerated learning for our gifted and talented pupils, particularly in performing arts subjects, but also across the board; for example, in languages. We have established coursework clinics to give extra support where necessary and for our gifted and talented pupils. Those clinics happen at lunchtime, after school and at weekends.

758. The provision of the full entitlement framework is also key. We are one of the few schools that provide the complete entitlement framework within one establishment. We have more than 25 AS/A-level subjects, and we offer a range of vocational NVQs and BTECs. We offer 30 GCSE subjects to Key Stage 4 pupils. We also ensure that we look to the economy and further explore the labour market to ensure that our curriculum is fit for purpose and meets the emerging needs of both the economy and our pupils.

759. The pupil voice supports all that and underscores everything that we do. We ask our pupils about their learning, relationships and courses and about what they want to do, where they want to be and how they want to get there. We listen to their voice, and it is key to where we have been and where we are going.

760. Mrs McCartan: I hope that you will have an opportunity to talk to some of our girls about these themes this afternoon, because they will be able to elaborate on them.

761. We face key challenges. The budget is a big headache for us. Against a deficit situation, we will potentially lose the £150,000 that comes with specialist school status. I invite the chairperson of our board of governors to highlight some of the reasons why we face extreme financial pressures and are losing sleep at night over those.

762. Mr John O'Rourke (St Louise's Comprehensive College): As an accountant and someone who sits on our LMS committee, I have found that schools accounting is very different from real-world accounting.

763. The Chairperson: Is it any more transparent?

764. Mr O'Rourke: Unfortunately not. It is very difficult to understand.

765. As Carmel and Ita have said, what is obvious is that you are penalised if you offer a wide curriculum. We offer more than 25 subjects for post-16s. Schools are trying to balance the budget, but it is a trade-off between incurring extra costs and being able to offer pupils a wider choice. The easy way out is to not offer that choice.

766. The one thing that I have never been able to get my head around in schools accounting is that a deficit does not go away. It stays there forever and is carried forward. A deficit will often have been due to circumstances totally beyond a school's control. Indeed, part of our deficit has arisen as a result of a backdated job evaluation, which goes back six years. The school ends up bearing the cost of a backdated job evaluation exercise, unlike redundancy, which is covered centrally. Such evaluations can go back four, five or six years, and we have suffered very badly in that respect.

767. As Carmel said, and Johnny Graham made the same point, we are fortunate to have had specialist school status for the last couple of years. It has meant an extra £150,000 or so. When that money disappears, we will either have to cut back accordingly or look to make savings elsewhere. In my experience, and having gone through the budget line by line, it is very difficult to find any savings at all.

768. Mrs McCartan: We have worked very hard to make savings. I talked about our restructuring of the senior team. To save money, we reduced the number of vice-principals from four to two. We then looked at leadership across the school. The reality is that it means a smaller number of people having to work even harder, but that is an example of the pain.

769. That has the potential to impact on the drive to improve the life chances of young people, and, as Johnny said, the jobs of innovative, brilliant young teachers, the likes of whom, with their tremendous skills and abilities, I have never seen in all my years. There is a terrible emotional cost involved in considering those young people for redundancy in a time of economic downturn.

770. We have over 1,500 children and get £48,000 from extended schools. However, other schools in the same catchment area that are one third of the size of ours get £38,000 and £40,000. The reason why we are getting what seems very like a very unfair deal is because we are capped. We are a victim of size, and that has been another problem in budget terms. Once a school goes beyond a certain number of pupils, it gets only £10 a student. I looked at this recently: if we got pro rata the same amount of money that the boys' schools or other schools get, we would have £100,000-plus to spend on our pastoral centre and extended school initiatives, which improve life chances. That is a major headache for us. A lot of that £48,000 goes on our parent support officers, so the flexibility to run all the other innovative schemes that help young people to overcome barriers is severely curtailed.

771. Another major area of inequality is the difference in the standard of school buildings and resources between the selective sector and the non-selective sector. I know that this school is an exception to that, but if you travel around west Belfast and rural towns in Northern Ireland, you will see that inequality. Not only does the two-tier system create a mindset that grammar equals better; nowadays, grammar does equal better in many cases, because of the sector's access to state-of-the-art resources and facilities.

772. Our school was in line for a newbuild but, unfortunately, unlike the others, we were not far enough up the queue, so we are going to be in substandard accommodation and have substandard resources for many more years. Our school is entitlement-framework compliant, successful and meets the criteria in Every School a Good School, but, due to factors outside our control, our ability to sustain excellence could be severely undermined or destroyed. That really is a critical issue for the future of west Belfast and the work that schools such as St Louise's and other quality schools do to empower young people to take their place in society and to make a contribution; indeed, citizenship was mentioned earlier.

773. As regards the political agenda, we know that forces out there could drag us all back into the abyss. However, education is a great liberator, and the empowerment of women in west Belfast has certainly been a key factor in stability, the economy and all areas. Therefore, as a principal of a school that has successfully encouraged that, I implore the Department to not make decisions that will undermine or impact negatively on our capacity to continue to improve life chances. There is no doubt that there are too many schools, and that, despite the economic downturn, there are too many surplus places. However, we need courageous leadership and we need leaders to grasp the nettle of rationalisation and support successful schools that are doing a good job, so that they can continue to improve life chances.

774. My final point is that, as I said at the outset, selection is morally, educationally and socially unjust. We in St Louise's spend a lot of time building up the self-esteem of young people who have been wrongly labelled as failures, some of whom you will meet this afternoon. Many young people who are on pathways into the professions had been labelled as failures, but because of the work in schools such as ours and other high-quality all-ability schools, their self-belief and confidence have been restored.

775. I urge you to do all that you can to get rid of selection as soon as possible — I cannot put it any more bluntly than that — and to ensure that systemic inequality is not exacerbated by unequal access to resources and state-of-the-art facilities. In other words, we want a fair deal for all our young people. Thank you for listening to us.

776. The Chairperson: Obviously, you do not expect us to get into that debate today, because we are not here to discuss the issue of selection. I will make one comment, however. There is sometimes an overemphasis on the whole issue of injustice and inequality. It all depends on your definitions and where you stand.

777. You hit the nail in the head in respect of a huge issue, namely grasping the nettle of rationalisation. The reality is that there are sectors in this city that have not rationalised. The boards sometimes get a very bad press. You have seen all the press about the future of the boards and the debate about whether we should have the education and skills authority and so on. However, in fairness to Belfast Education and Library Board (BELB), it has now delivered for this city with two very good schools in this locality: the Boys' Model and the Girls' Model. There is also Ashfield Boys' High School and Ashfield Girls' High School, and we will hear from Ashfield Boys' later.

778. Other sectors are still having an internal debate about what they need to do. That, equally, comes down to the whole debate about injustice and inequality. We need to deal, collectively, with the issue of how many schools we will have. For me, the simple premise of the budget is that schools will be financially starved out of existence. It will not matter what name is across the door, whether maintained, controlled, integrated, Irish medium or whatever; if they do not have the money, they will not be there.

779. I am a dab hand at using all the old phrases. I read some of the material that has come from the schools, and it falls into one camp or another. We need to get out of those camps, because that is a fundamental problem that we face. I appreciate the presentations, because they give us a sense of the different opinions and ideas that exist. We need to listen to all the voices. Sometimes we are keen to listen only to the voices that we want to hear.

780. Mrs McCartan: I am also a realist. I see schools on the periphery of west Belfast that have the label "grammar school" but are becoming all-ability schools by default. They are denuding quality schools of the children that Johnny referred to earlier. I see a future in which many parts of the North will have all-ability schools, not because of a principled position but because of the reality that only the fittest will survive. There will be a lot of pain for schools that are withering on the vine if they are allowed to do so, rather than getting support and leadership. Selection exacerbates that.

781. Mrs McVeigh: It is about resources as well. Chairperson, you talked about the model of the Girls' Model, the Boys' Model and the Ashfield schools. There has been a budget to support that rationalisation, but it is no longer applicable. That is where we are.

782. The Chairperson: The point that I am making is that, for a variety of reasons, those who have control over some of the schools have not brought forward proposals for amalgamation. There is no point in beating about the bush: there is still an ongoing debate in the maintained sector. There are still 30 schools in the maintained sector that are pro-selection. In this city, there has been a failure by the sector to grasp the nettle and deal with the issue. We cannot continue to say that we want equality and an end to injustice and then expect money to be available every time you want to fund that. The reverse is the case in relation to whether it is a grammar school or a non-selective school. That is where we need to get to.

783. By getting into that whole debate, we are straying off badly. We want to focus on the issue of what makes a successful school. It is now 12.30 pm, and we have two other presentations still to hear. I do not want the other two schools to feel as though we are treating them less favourably. We do not want to deal with people inequitably. We have a timescale to try to stick to, so I ask members to keep their questions succinct.

784. Mr Craig: I do not want to stray into that debate, but I am the chairperson of the board of governors of a comprehensive school. Within a quarter of a mile of that school are two of the best grammar schools in the country. I appreciate what you are saying, but do not get paranoid about it. My advice is to turn your school into a better school than theirs; that is the only way that you are going to survive.

785. I am fascinated with the issue that was raised earlier about how you interface with the families and parents of children. I am interested to hear your experiences of that. Do families who send their children to your school hold back their children's education or do they actively encourage it? I do not know whether it is a myth, but there is an idea that people from the communities that send children to your school are much more proactive in education than those from the community and background that I come from.

786. Mrs McCartan: I agree. Those parents are very ambitious for their children. Obviously, over 50 years, thousands of young women have gone through the doors of schools such as St Louise's. Those women are now the mothers or the grandmothers. Those generations have been empowered and know that it is now time for the second or third generations to go to university. We send over 100 students to university every year. My drive is to continue to empower our parents to be equal partners, give them information and progress updates, talk to them about the curriculum and make sure that they do not feel in any way intimidated when they come into the school because of bad experiences from generations in the past.

787. One of the great strengths of our school is that we have tremendous support from the parents in west Belfast, who are very ambitious and have a culture of high aspirations, which is what every parent wants for their children. It is a privilege to work in an area where that exists. That does not mean that those families are not experiencing barriers to getting children through school. However, the culture of high aspirations and the desire to give their children the best start in life is very strong.

788. Mrs McVeigh: I think that that culture is growing. Given the global situation, parents recognise that education is the way forward. There is a tangible feeling that, for their children to succeed, they need a fit-for-purpose education system. St Louise's can work in partnership with parents to deliver that so that those children have a future.

789. Mr Craig: It is very much a partnership between the parents and the school.

790. Mrs McCartan: As far as possible, we try to make it an equal partnership. We have talked about the fact that we are equals; we both want the same outcome, which is what is best for the child.

791. Mrs McVeigh: We try to gather the voice of parents through our parent surveys, focus interviews and post-event conversations, which we have all the time. It is an ongoing process to refine what we do so that it best fits.

792. Mr Lunn: I will not take much time. We have be warned not to stray into particular areas —

793. The Chairperson: Then do not. [Laughter.]

794. Mr Lunn: I will not mention the S-word again. However, let me say that I find it difficult to form questions when I have agreed with every word of the presentation.

795. I am concerned about specialist school funding and the inequality in extended schools funding. Can you put that in the context of your overall budget? Where do the £150,000 and the £48,000 fit into the overall scheme of things?

796. Mr O'Rourke: The overall budget income for St Louise's for the year is around £7 million.

797. Mrs McVeigh: In specialist schools, 50% of that budget is for community partnerships. Therefore, 50% of the £75,000 is used in the delivery of community partnerships and supporting those programmes.

798. Mrs McCartan: When you mention £150,000, the educators around the table tend to think immediately of two teachers' jobs or three teachers' jobs, a technician's job and so on.

799. Mr Lunn: As is said, I agree with every word. I just wanted to put it in context.

800. Mrs McVeigh: There is also the impact on the curriculum as a result.

801. Mr Lunn: You touched on the ethos of the school and the Vincentian ideal. You also mentioned breaking down community barriers, which I know is a passion for you. To put it delicately, how many non-Catholic pupils do you have?

802. Mrs McCartan: This afternoon, we have brought along one of our girls from year 13. She is from the Muslim community and came here from the Philippines. Although it is a very small percentage, we have an increasing number of children from Muslim backgrounds and so on. We do not have any non-Catholics along the traditional Catholic/Protestant divide in Northern Ireland because of our location. However, we have an increasing number of children from other ethnic minorities.

803. Mrs McVeigh: We have a mixed staff too.

804. Mr Lunn: Looking through the papers that you gave us, I see that you have a very wide catchment area. You also have a very fine record of achievement and output. Recently, I was in a Catholic school: the Dominican College in Portstewart. That school is unique because of its Presbyterian headmaster. It has managed, perhaps through geography, to deal with this situation, and Protestant girls and boys have no problem in attending that school. There is nothing in its ethos that would put them off. I get the feeling, more and more, that there is nothing in the ethos of a school such as yours that should put off children from another tradition, if the standard of education that they receive and the location of the school is suitable. However, it still does put people off.

805. Mrs McCartan: It is also about geography or location. Sadly, due to our segregated city, certain people feel threatened if they move outside what they perceive as their area: west, east, north or south.

806. Mr Lunn: You are bussing people in from Crumlin.

807. Mrs McVeigh: That is a good point.

808. Mr B McCrea: If the biggest challenge is educational underachievement, where do you think that we should be focusing our resources?

809. Mrs McCartan: The obvious answer is early years development, for preventative action. However, resources need to be targeted at schools that are serving disadvantaged areas across all ages. We know that disadvantage starts in early childhood. However, that is exacerbated and increases as barriers become higher and the disadvantage gap widens. Resources should be targeted at all levels from early years.

810. Mr B McCrea: On that basis, the Department recently suggested that the pyramid is the wrong way round, with too many resources being given to sixth forms and secondary schools. Given that we have a fairly tight, constrained budget, if we really want to tackle educational underachievement, perhaps we should have much larger classes in sixth forms. Perhaps that could be done on a shared basis, as happens at university. That money could then be put into nursery and preschool education. Would you support that position?

811. Mrs McCartan: In Montgomery County in America, I saw much larger classes. At A level, a teacher could teach larger numbers of pupils. The average class size is 15, but up to 25 pupils can be taught. However, the challenge for teachers is the marking burden. In a university environment, lecturers have a lot of non-contact time alongside their large classes. If it could be ensured that preparation time and marking time was given to staff to provide quality feedback for young people, that could be done. However, the bigger argument is around the number of sixth forms that can be sustained against the background of diminishing demographics.

812. Mr B McCrea: We keep hearing the argument that we should invest in the nursery sector for good development. Primary school teachers talk to us about the pressures that they are under. There is only so much money.

813. Mrs McVeigh: It is about making choices to help underachievement. What helps underachievement is ensuring that the support needed along the way is there. That is crucial.

814. Mr B McCrea: In a fair chunk of the evidence that we hear, I am struck by the fact that early intervention is suggested as an appropriate course of action.

815. Mrs McVeigh: As is continued support; as are further strategies for literacy and numeracy.

816. Mr B McCrea: I was only asking your opinion. Given that there is a finite sum of money, there can only be one of two options: resources can be split in the same way as they are now, or, if you decide that you are not happy, the split can be changed. If you change it, what will be the direction of change? We get a lot of representation from primary school teachers who talk about how their roles and responsibilities have dramatically increased but their resources have not. They point to the fact that secondary schools and nursery schools appear to get more funding per pupil. Therefore, you could argue that, if pupils go to university — as you have great aspirations for your girls to do — and will be a in a big, free-thinking class, perhaps it is wrong to have big classes in early school, slightly smaller classes in middle school and tiny classes in final school. Perhaps we are doing it the wrong way around.

817. You raised the issue of selection; we will not debate the whole point. You have a particular environment in west Belfast to deal with, but how would you deal with children who come from a school in a rural setting and are not close to a good school but will be disadvantaged if we use a proximity arrangement? What alternative do you suggest to deal with the 30% to 40% of pupils in Northern Ireland who live in rural areas?

818. Mrs McCartan: I live in a rural environment. The ideal model is for children to transfer to the local post-primary school. They have, hopefully, spent seven years in a good primary school in a mixed-ability environment and they should transfer together, as they do in Keady, Maghera and Armagh. We want quality for all children, and in those areas, they transfer to a high-quality all-ability school that offers every child, irrespective of his or her innate talents or abilities, pathways that will allow them to progress.

819. Mr B McCrea: I will not labour the point. However, the debate that people have about selection is simplistic. There are aspirations, and we all want a good school for everybody. However, our environment and our education system are products of evolution. You talked about the change in aspirations in west Belfast over a certain period, and the system that you have is great. There were different generations in different communities at different times, and the difficulty is trying to find a way to get money that will go around everybody on a fair and equitable basis. The biggest problem that I can see is that the funding formula that you talk about is competitive. I believe in differential schools with different specialisms. Some offer pastoral care and some offer an academic focus. However, we only do what we can with the finances that are available, and, at the end of the day, we have to make decisions. At the moment, I am leaning towards early years intervention because that really gets to the heart of the problem.

820. The Chairperson: At the risk of Johnny and Carmel ganging up on me, I will ask one question before we conclude this session. We talk about inequality, social justice and treating everybody the same. Do you believe that single-sex schools offer equality? I speak as a parent who sends his daughter to an all-girl school. We throw mud at certain ideas and say that they are awful, unjust, wrong and terrible. The next presentation will be from Andy McMorran, and he will be able to tell me whether it is right for boys. However, that debate has always been under the table. I have heard it said that single-sex schools work for girls but not for boys, and I hope that Andy will make reference to that. However, if we are to deal with inequalities, can we financially, morally and educationally continue to hold on to single-sex schools?

821. Mrs McCartan: Post-primary review has been going on in the maintained sector. Believe it or not, as a well-known, single-sex, girls' school — we have some boys in sixth form but they are a minority — our submission has opted for a co-ed school in the future with a gradual integration of boys from year 8. It is not an amalgamation; that is a different idea.

822. However, there is certainly a notion of co-ed boys being able to access the school and its opportunities with their sisters. I have to say that the young men who have joined our sixth form have enriched the life of the school in many ways. They are very brave, because they are a minority — albeit a big one — in a large girls' school.

823. The Chairperson: Or they are very lucky. [Laughter.] It depends on how you look at it.

824. Mrs McCartan: Or unlucky, being among all those powerful women.

825. Mrs McVeigh: We also went to our parents and pupils, who agreed that it is the way forward.

826. The Chairperson: The debate is going on in the school that my daughter goes to.

827. Mrs McVeigh: They want a family school and they want equal opportunity to quality education for their boys and girls. As the parent of boys and girls, you have to acquiesce. That is what you want as a parent.

828. Mrs McCartan: Most of our selective schools are co-ed, certainly in Belfast and the surrounding area.

829. Mr B McCrea: How does that affect your numbers? At 1,500 you are getting close to the top; if you get to beyond 2,000 pupils I think that it is unsustainable. What will going co-ed do to your numbers?

830. Mrs McCartan: It is not about just taking 500 boys from another school. We are looking at staying within an enrolment number, but it is about achieving a balance. If we take, on average, 200 in every year, how will that 200 be broken down? That could be one way forward. Obviously those are debates that are ongoing.

831. The Chairperson: The question that that raises is how it would affect the outputs of the school.

832. Mrs McVeigh: With strong leadership, hopefully the outputs will continue to improve.

833. The Chairperson: Carmel, Ita and John, thank you very much. John, if you do not mind, we may ask for your advice at some stage in the relation to the budget, if you are happy to make your services available. [Laughter.]

834. We will move on swiftly, and I implore members to keep their contributions succinct. I welcome Andy McMorran, the principal of Ashfield Boys' High School, Jill Ashenhurst, the vice-principal, and William McCullough, the chair of the board of governors. Andy, I know that recent reports of your demise and passing are not accurate.

835. Mr Andy McMorran (Ashfield Boys' High School): Apparently I died in front of an assembly last Tuesday, but I have managed to recover.

836. The Chairperson: We are glad to see you here alive and well, and we wish you well in your planned retirement, when that comes. I ask you to make your presentation. Many of the questions will be similar to those already asked, but we should try to stay focused on the subject of the inquiry.

837. Mr McMorran: I am staying away from two subjects: money and the 11-plus or selection. The good thing about the two principals who have spoken about it is the passion that they showed. I know that Carmel and I are at different ends of the spectrum on the 11-plus, but I am not going to mention that.

838. I will first talk about stereotypes. Our school is in a Protestant, underachieving area, it is non-selective and is all boys. Given all those stereotypes, I am afraid that we should be closed. There is no single explanation for our success. We would not be sitting here now if some people did not think that ours is a successful school. I am a firm believer in on-site solutions and whole-school approaches.

839. I was appointed 12 years ago. I will not give you too many figures, but when I came into the school 3% of the pupils were achieving at least five A*to C. That is now 70%. The staff attendance was 66%. If you cannot get the staff into the school, how can you get the pupils in? The pupil attendance was 72%, and it is now up at 90%-plus. It was a sink school and was closing fast. The percentage of pupils achieving five A* to C has increased from 3% to 70%, which is very high for boys, not only in Belfast but in Northern Ireland.

840. However, that does not tell the whole story of the school, because we have pupils coming into the school aged 11 with a reading age of six. We have a very strong special needs department. One of the reasons why Jill is here is that, as the vice-principal, she is also in charge of special needs. As you said, I am retiring this year, and I hope that somebody sensible puts Jill in place when I go. Billy is the chair of the board of governors. He also lives in the area, and when we are talking about community links later you will find that he does a fairly good job on that.

841. We have been on a journey, not because of the 11-plus and money but despite them, and we have got there by building relationships with the pupils, teachers and parents. The first two words spoken to me on my first day at the school were said by a pupil; I will not mention the first word, but the second one was "off". It was the pupils against the teachers, and that is the way that it went on at the school. The parents did not come to the school. To be honest, the pupils were being treated like dogs. There was this idea that if you kicked them enough, they would go into a corner or go away. However, what happened was that if they were kicked enough, they would bite back. That was something that I had to attack at the very start.

842. I was able to get a few retirements and redundancies and bring in new appointments. However, that is when it started to get silly. I was a firm believer that females could not teach in an all-boys' school. If the females in the room would just let me finish before they come over the table, I will explain. The teaching staff was 70% male and 30% female, but since then it has changed to 70% female and 30% male, and what really annoys me is that those females are better teachers than I ever was.

843. The school building is not new like this one, but I have been very happy with the capital and budget that the Belfast Education and Library Board has given to me. I am, unfortunately, going to say some nasty things about the board later on, so I just wanted to make sure that I mentioned that good point first.

844. I have given the Committee a sheet to show what improvements have been made in the school. All of that came from the former principal, Mr Rab Dunn. When I was vice-principal, he sat me down and we discussed what was needed at the school, which was literacy, numeracy and oracy. We sat down and looked at the future and decided to go back to basics. After my appointment, I spent two years watching 148 lessons to see how pupils learn in a classroom rather than how a teacher teaches. I used to go to the second period of the day so that the kids had a chance to settle in. I would then attend the last period of the day and, after removing the teacher, I would questions the kids to find out how much they had retained from the second period. That process took so long because I was the principal.

845. I once watched one of the science teachers doing a lesson on finite resources. She did a very good lesson for the first 28 minutes, and the kids retained 63% of the information. However, she panicked when she mistimed the lesson and started to discuss her experiences from the year before in Australia: burning kangaroo dung, skin cancer, the use of the sun, etc. The retention rate of the pupils was 100%. She came to see me to apologise for the last 12 minutes of her lesson. However, I told her that she had better stop apologising and that I wanted her to talk to the staff. I then took her to a staff meeting, where we went through what had happened, and I explained that the real teacher had come out. After the Education Reform Act 1988, we were hit with glossy documents on the curriculum and so on, and my teachers were being choked because they were not being allowed to teach. However, the new curriculum allows us to teach, and, as a result, it is working well.

846. Another thing that I did when I joined was to disband the senior management team. I did not want to listen to people talking nonsense during the school day when other teachers were out there teaching, because it was a waste of time. I broadened it and made it into a school management team. We met after school, and it was really strange because after we started to do that the meetings were not as long, because people were trying to get home.

847. We also looked at the whole area of underachievement

We did an audit with the parents to identify the needs of pupils and the status of exams with parents. I have massive contact with the parents, and I have a couple of sneaky ways of getting them to come up to the school. For example, we do not post out reports. If parents want their son's report, they have to come to the school to get it, and if I am handing over that report, I will want to sit down with the parents for 15 or 20 minutes to discuss what is happening with their wee fella. I have to congratulate the parents in the area on the fact that when they come to see me, they ask, "What has he done now?". They do not say, "Prove it", they ask, "What has he done now?" That is a fabulous compliment to east Belfast parents.

848. We also looked at literacy and numeracy and developed the whole area of special needs, for which we now have extra teachers.

849. I am not part of the full service initiative. I tried to be part of it, but I was told that I was a victim of my own success. However, I have thought of a really good idea to get on to the initiative: take the whole of the fifth year down to Dee Street on a Saturday night, give them all alcohol and tell them to break windows and burn buses. If I did that, I might get some more money within six weeks because something had happened in the area. However, I have not done it and I have not got full service. As you can hear from my voice, I am not very happy about that, because Johnny Graham has proved what a fabulous initiative that is and what it can do.

850. As I said, the whole area of literacy and numeracy is the focus of the school and its teaching. What goes on in the classroom is absolutely paramount. That is why the results have gone so high and why we are oversubscribed. However, I noticed that as achievement increased, the levels of indiscipline in the school dropped considerably. The kids started to achieve, especially the low-ability kids. Every child who comes through my door has a special need; some have extreme needs, some do not. We worked on that and got the level of indiscipline down.

851. It used to be in the past that the little boy in the corner getting on with his work was the target. It is now the messer who is the target, and the pupils are telling him to knock it on the head because they want to get on with their work. You will meet four gentlemen from my school this afternoon who will explain it all.

852. I mentioned the learning policy. I will talk about the school leadership policy. Johnny Graham got very excitable, as he does, when he talked about CASS. I am very selective about the training initiatives that I take on. Johnny talked about the long meetings that we have; they are mainly on a Thursday night and they are mostly alcohol-induced, so we will not go there. [Laughter.] I am selective about who I let into my school. I have not allowed a curriculum adviser in for 10 years. That sums up my view on that. I know that Carmel and Johnny said that they were very good people, but I am sorry; I do not agree with that. They do not get into my school.

853. As part of school leadership, the treatment of my staff is very important. It is a job; they have families and they do not want to be there spending extra time in meetings listening to someone rambling on. I want to make sure that they are treated professionally. If a member of my staff makes a professional request to attend a course that I think will not do me any good, they will not be allowed to attend it. Some of the courses that are run are not very good. Personal requests are totally different. There is no discussion; they can go, and I get the benefit back tenfold. For example, at the extra classes in the school last Thursday night I had over 70% of my fifth year and more than 50% of my staff. There is no money for that, which shows you what it is all about.

854. The community is vital to the school; I gave you a list of some of the things that we have been up to. We work with primary schools and — I will put this in inverted commas — "community groups", because I am in east Belfast so I have to talk to them.

855. I will talk about the role of the schools inspectorate in the area of school improvement. We went through an inspection in 2008 and I felt that it was user-friendly. We learned a lot from it and we came out with an excellent report. The staff got together beforehand, and the positives that came after the inspection were very good. However, I do not see why money has to be spent inspecting good schools. Sometimes, when the inspectors go into schools, they make mistakes. Anyone who has ever been to St Patrick's College, Bearnageeha, on the Antrim Road, knows that it is a very good school. I know, because we have a very strong link with it. P J O'Grady and I do not always get on, but it is great to work with him. For someone to term that school as "satisfactory" is a disgrace, in my opinion. We need to look at that. As Johnny said, Stanley Goudie has been visiting schools. He came up to us, and we discussed that. At the end of that discussion Stanley told me that he was retiring, so I do not know whether I hastened that. [Laughter.]

856. We have a very strong rewards system in the school. It starts with trips, and includes teaching staff and my office staff. We went to the World Cup in South Africa and we are about to go to New York. The kids raise the money themselves; we do not just sign a cheque. We reward what the good kids do. When I went in, the good kids were not being rewarded. Most of the time was being spent on the kids who, in many ways, were trying to destroy the school. We have found that the rewards system increases the self-esteem of the kids. They have to reach a certain percentage of achievement before they can go on those trips.

857. I am very positive about the life and work initiative. It has been a big help to Ashfield Boys' High School. It is about citizenship, personal, social and health education and employability and all that that entails. It allows us to take a subject right across the school and reach out into the community. For example, the year 12 pupils did a project on homelessness. I took a big risk; I took them into town, along with some staff members, to visit homeless people. That is what I do; I take risks. When they came back and talked about it in assemblies and other classes, it was a plus.

858. I have to commend the extended schools. I was absolutely shocked to hear Carmel saying how little money her school gets. I get nearly as much money as Carmel gets, yet my school has nearly 700 pupils. I can totally understand her frustration. The Belfast Education and Library Board got itself into trouble. I hope that Mr Cargo is listening, because it has done a great job to get out of that trouble. However, to get out of that trouble, the board had to make cuts. One thing that was cut was the dissemination of good practice.

859. I sit on the literacy and numeracy task force, and I am now working on a project about underachievement in Protestant working-class areas. I visited the controlled commission for a while but left for reasons that I will not go into now. The two things that the literacy and numeracy task force talked about were early intervention and dissemination of good practice, which are vital. Johnny and I do it, and I know that other schools do it through their area learning programmes. I remember watching a presentation by De La Salle College, and I picked up their system immediately because I thought that it was great.

860. It was great to hear Carmel saying that she finds that girls who attended her school are becoming the good parents now, and I have found the same thing. However, I worry about the ones who came before that, because it does not say much for our education system. Remember that, when we criticise parents, we are criticising the education system that they came through.

861. Results and statistics are not everything, even though ours are very good. In many ways, the special needs provision is the heart of the school. We have a linguistic phonics teacher, and we do work to try to bring boys' grades up from Ds to Cs. We have specialist classes in reading, science and maths and so on. The money for that is not supplied by the Department of Education; we have to raise the money ourselves. I have a third-generation pitch that I rent out for £50,000. I have C2k upstairs in the school, which everyone goes on about us lending to the Department of Education. It means that we are cramped, but it does not matter because money is brought in. We have people who bring money into the school, but how you spend that money is what is important. That is why I talk about on-site solutions, and Johnny Graham mentioned some of that. It is about how I spend that money for my boys.

862. Someone asked about a school's mission statement. First, I want to find out what my kids are good at and like doing, and I want to get them paid for doing it. That is one. On another point, it is strange that you asked about single-sex schools because you have just talked to three single-sex schools, so we must be doing something right.

863. Secondly, I hear boys in school explaining why they have not done their homework by saying, "My mummy did not let me do this". Or they might explain where their lunch is by saying, "I have forgotten my lunch; my mummy did this". I firmly believe that my boys can achieve anything. I go in with that optimistic view; if I had the view that every child who comes through my door will let me down at some stage, I should just get out of the way.

864. Before I leave this year, I would love to put one sentence up on the front of the school. For my boys, it is the most important sentence in the English language. It has 10 two-letter words: "If it is to be, it is up to me." Instead of making excuses about the budget, the 11-plus and what is happening outside, we have just got on with it. We should be closed, but we are not.

865. The Chairperson: Andy, it would be very useful if we could bottle that. That gives us all a sense of perspective.

866. Unfortunately, we always come back to the issue of funding. You talked about just getting on with it, but that can only be done in the context of how much money you have. I listened to what Carmel said about disparity and inequality as regards what some schools get compared with others. Everything is very clinical in an accountant's world. However, in the real world, is it possible to get a formula that is fair across the board? It is often about being cute enough to access the funding. I will not use the term hokery-pokery, but schools can sometimes access money with a wee bit of shifty footwork. That is not the way that our schools ought to be funded.

867. Mr McMorran: I understand that. In the real world, that is the way it is. My answer to the question is quite simple: I do not know, but when I am given my budget at the start of the year, I am out there getting money left, right and centre. I have used the lottery very well, and I have used the neighbourhood renewal fund. I have a full-time school counsellor because we need him. Every school should have one. The Department of Education says that every school has access to a counsellor if they want it. That is right; I can get one for two hours a month. That does damage. I need a full-time school counsellor. I was lucky to get one outside the Department of Education by going to another Department and getting it through neighbourhood renewal.

868. I will very quickly describe his role in the school. A little boy walks across the playground with a school bag and our school uniform on. He has got in his hand invisible baggage that he sets down at the front door. It could be drugs, sexual abuse, physical abuse, a dysfunctional family or alcohol abuse. He sets that baggage down, comes into my school and behaves the way that we want him to. At the end of the school day, he lifts the baggage up, takes it home and he has to live with it for the rest of the day. The school counsellor will never make the baggage go away, but he will try to lighten it. I could not do without that school counsellor at the minute. I am sure that members have seen in the news about the problem with cars going round east Belfast. The counsellor has been working tirelessly at night and has a drop-in centre. However, I went out to find the money for that. I go to the lottery and to other people. It might sound awful, and I know that there are big problems with money, but I have to run a school so I have to get on with what I have.

869. I agree with exactly what Carmel and Johnny said: we will have to increase class sizes. I understand that, but there will be other ways to do it. I will give a very quick example. People always ask why Ashfield goes on so many trips. I believe that a lot of my kids will learn as much outside the classroom as they do in it. However, any time there is a trip, the boys raise money through bag packs and so on. Some of the money goes towards staff cover while they are away. Therefore, the boys pay the teacher who is brought in to cover the teacher who is away with them. That is a case of ways and means, not hokery-pokery as the Chairperson said.

870. The Chairperson: I have one other question. It is astounding that there are situations in which boys of 11 are going into schools with the reading age of 6. What, in your mind, is going on in the feeder primary schools to put us in that situation?

871. Mr McMorran: As I said, the literacy and numeracy task force has been looking at that. Not enough money is going to the early years. It is as simple as that. Jill is in charge of special needs, so she might want to comment on that.

872. Ms Jill Ashenhurst (Ashfield Boys' High School): The primary schools have mixed-ability classes. Therefore, the teacher:pupil ratio for children with additional needs is critical to how they will progress. Often, those children are not given the support that they need because of a lack of funding, staffing or expertise in that area. That is why primary schools are suffering with that situation.

873. When such pupils come to us, they are in a situation where we can do withdrawal support for them. All our year 8s are on a reading programme. Each class, regardless of whether pupils are at the top or bottom of the academic scale in the school, goes out to reading classes throughout the entire year. They go out in sessions from September to the first half-term holiday and from Halloween to Christmas and so on. It works on a rota basis, and every child gets the offer of help to improve their reading in a small group situation. Alongside that, we have an accelerated reading programme and, although it does not increase their reading age as significantly as our small group programme, it increases pupils' motivation to read. As a lot of us know, the underlying motivation to read and reading underpins a lot of other subjects. That is the key to addressing it.

874. Mr McMorran: Without wishing to start an argument, I am 100% pro academic selection. However, I am 100% anti 11-plus. The story is: a little boy came into year 8. At the end of P7, he had not been to school for eight weeks because he had been causing so many problems. We brought him in to discuss things, and he is now in the school and doing really well. When we looked into it, we found that he had been in a class that was being prepared for an examination, but, because he was not doing the exam, he was sat in a corner with nothing to do. He overreacted, caused trouble and was undisciplined, so he was thrown out. I know that we have to deal with discipline problems. Nevertheless, that child deserved more than anybody to be taught right through, but that did not happen. He is now in school. He is not perfect, but he is getting there. So, obviously, I am 100% against that aspect of the exam.

875. Ms Ashenhurst: We have another child in year 8 who is an exceptional mathematician. His parents decided that he would not sit any AQEs. Again, he caused a lot of trouble in primary school and came to us with a very bad reputation, but you can see already that he will be an A* maths student, because he is particularly gifted in that subject. He had been sitting with a group of children who were not going to be doing an exam, and, because he was bored, he created mayhem.

876. Mr McMorran: We are sorry for mentioning individual examples, but sometimes they explain things better.

877. Mr Hilditch: On the subject of parents, you spoke about getting them in to collect reports. What other work is going on in the field of communication with parents?

878. Mr McMorran: We have total communication with parents. In year 8, there is an interview with all parents to find out, after six weeks, whether their son is settling in. That meeting is so important because you get contact with parents, which means that, the next time we phone, we can get them up to the school. However, if parents do not turn up to the year 8 meeting, real pressure is put on them to make sure that they come to the school. It is quite simple: if they are not there, their son will be at home for the next six weeks, which never happens. That is the start of it. We then have two additional meetings a year with parents, as well as individual meetings. The inspection report talks about our pastoral care system. We need to establish contact. We are lucky because, unlike Carmel McCartan, who talked about the location of her school, we are situated on the edge of east Belfast, which is quite easy to get to and there is no flashpoint to go through. At the year 12 meeting yesterday, only six parents did not turn up, and we got them this morning. [Laughter.] I did not mean it like that.

879. The Chairperson: I am glad that you clarified that.

880. Ms Ashenhurst: We also have an open-door policy. Parents are made very welcome and, if they want to drop in, it is not a question of having to make an appointment. We usually try to accommodate them, because their worry is immediate and if we can address it instantly, we do so. If we cannot, we make sure that they go away in the knowledge that their worry will be addressed within a very short period. That helps to build relationships.

881. Mr B McCrea: Mr McMorran, run that past me again. You are happy with selection, but not with the 11-plus.

882. Mr McMorran: If a child has spent seven years in a primary school, are you telling me that, by the end of P7, their teacher cannot say whether that child is suited to a certain type of school?

883. Mr B McCrea: In their submission, the representatives from St Louise's said that the 11-plus is morally and educationally wrong.

884. Mr McMorran: I know, but, as I said at the start —

885. The Chairperson: That is why we do not want to get into that.

886. Mr McMorran: There is a lot of testing going on throughout the primary school sector. InCAS is a perfective example of that. Putting kids through a test on a Saturday morning three times in a year is obscene. Of the kids who come through my door, there are the boys who have not sat the test and the kids who, in their minds, have failed it. Our primary school induction team spends the first six months building up children's self-esteem. The rest is history. What happens after five years is there for all to see through the GCSE and A-level results. Then we have the kids with special needs, who may have been pushed out. In that case, I agree totally with Carmel McCartan about the 11-plus, but I do believe that, sometimes, we are very hard on our system. We have some very good grammar schools and high schools. We have no such thing as a bad school; we have schools that need support and guidance. If they do not have the population, close them.

887. Mr B McCrea: I know that we do not want to get into the debate, but the issue is germane to our discussion. I can buy into a situation where, in certain parts of the country, the grammar or main school is sucking in all the population and, therefore, other schools have to deal with a different —

888. Mr McMorran: I have a waiting list for second year of 93 pupils, 36 of whom are at a grammar school and want to come to me.

889. Mr B McCrea: That is the positive thing about you, and I take my hat off to all the principals here. However, Stanley Goudie came out with statistics that, frankly, I was shocked by. Those statistics were to the effect that 35% of our schools, including primary and secondary schools, are failing because of leadership. How do we fix our educational underachievement? The question of selection is a complete red herring, and with finances, we have to manage with what we get. The real issue is leadership. If we get principals and staff such as the folk who are here today, we will get good outcomes. That seems to be the lesson, and I am absolutely for it. There is a case for having horses for courses and having different styles in different places. As the schools that are represented today are really successful, I want to learn from you about what we should do. You tell me: is it OK that we have a diversity of provision?

890. Mr McMorran: I am not a systems person; I am a principal of a school. I deal with people, whether it is pupils, parents, educational psychologists or community workers. You are into systems; that is fine. Everybody can talk me through the systems. I believe in on-site solutions, and I cut my cloth to suit my kids. The first day that I walked into that school, my reaction was, "What I am doing here?" The first child told me to go somewhere, and I noticed that the kids' self-esteem was down and the teachers were not attending school. I was not worried about the education system in Northern Ireland. I was worried about people in the school.

891. Mr B McCrea: Here is the hard question. A PAC report showed that the achievements of Protestant, working-class boys are pathetic compared with other places; it was 5%.

892. Mr McMorran: I attended that committee; I agree.

893. Mr B McCrea: We wanted to, without going into gender or religious background, look at underachievement and identify the problem. I know that you have achieved fantastic results, as have the others here. I am absolutely in favour of good schools. However, we have only a certain amount of money, and we cannot afford to fritter it away. The one thing that worries me about you — apart from how to take a blood sample and clone you — is that it cannot be right, as the Chairperson said, that educational success depends upon the innovation of one head teacher. The Big Lottery Fund is good, but everybody should have access to it. If extended schools is the right way to go and St Louise's should have that on a pro rata basis, that is the issue that we need to look at. I am sorry, but we have to go into systems.

894. Mr McMorran: About 700 children walk into my school, and 1,500 walk into Carmel's. How many do you have, Johnny?

895. Mr Graham: Just under 1,000.

896. Mr McMorran: Every one of those kids is different. Therefore, when you put them into a school, that school will be different. Every school in Northern Ireland is different. They all have a heart and a certain way of running. Some of them need support, and others are going really well. That decision has to be looked at so that that cannot be stopped.

897. I mentioned Every School a Good School in my submission. I sat on the literacy and numeracy task force for the past four years and the findings from that document keep getting thrown at me and I would love that to stop. I was doing all that 12 years ago. I looked at what I had and thought then that we had to do that. The document is the biggest load of logic that I have ever read. That is all it is: logic. Every teacher that reads it asks, "What is that about?" However, it is nice to be able to refer to it, and it is now being called ESAGS. It took me two days to work out what that meant. Every School a Good School is what has been going on in those schools for the past 12 years. St Louise's is a perfect example.

898. Mr B McCrea: We might have to get you into the diplomatic corps now that you have resigned. [Laughter.]

899. Mr McMorran: I am retiring to Florida.

900. Mr Lunn: I am sorry to mention the word again, but what form of selection are you advocating, if it does not involve a test?

901. Mc McMorran: If a child is in a primary school for seven years, the school should be able to say where that child should go. The problem is that middle-class parents are walking into a school thinking that their child is a level 5, but they will never be level 5. They are level 3. However, the parent has sat in a middle-class primary school with the principal and has been told that the child is level 5. Why? To avoid an argument.

902. Mr Lunn: I knew that I would start him off again. Who makes the decisions about what school they go to?

903. Mr McMorran: That decision has to be made in the primary school.

904. Mr Lunn: So the primary school makes that decision?

905. Mr McMorran: I decide who goes into my top class and who goes into my bottom class, because we stream rigidly. I decide who is selected for A levels and who is not. I have those decisions to make, and they are big, hard decisions. I agree that early years and primary should get more money, but they are going to have to earn it.

906. The Chairperson: People will see me as being in one camp in the selection argument, but I have always said, and I am now totally convinced, that it is not a case of either/or; it is a combination of both. We have destroyed ourselves, we have argued this thing to death and we have caused further division as a result. We have allowed a situation to develop in which we are still hanging on to clichés and phrases and definitions. To some people, the concept of comprehensive schools spells disaster because they do not understand what it is, but if I talk about an all-ability school, that changes the whole dynamic. We need to change the language that we are using. We fought each other for 40 years and then we said that we had to change the language that we used to talk to our neighbours. We need to change the language that we use to talk to our children and the people who run our schools.

907. Mr McMorran: Johnny Graham brought up the point about the standard dropping. There are two big grammar schools in east Belfast. Out of a total mark of 140, the cut-off point was set at between 88 and 92. Those grammar schools took all those kids because the population is dropping. We take the rest. There are less able children going into those schools, so they will become all-ability schools naturally.

908. The Chairperson: If we allow that to happen, it will be driven more by what has to be done for the child rather than what has to be done for the institution.

909. Thank you, Andy. William, you got it easy.

910. Mr William McCullough (Ashfield Boys' High School): Yes. [Laughter.]

911. The Chairperson: We will talk to you over lunch. Andy and Jill, thank you very much.

912. We will move on. Micheál, you are making the final presentation, but do not think that it was deliberate or that you have any less time than anyone else. Along with your colleagues, you bring a different perspective to the discussion. Obviously, coming from an Irish-medium school, you face challenges and issues that have a different emphasis. At the end of the day, your pupils still face barriers and challenges, and you have to address those in the context of the specific issue of underachievement. We will try to stay away from the debate about selection and funding, although I am sure that you have many concerns about the funding issue.

913. Mr Micheál MacGiolla Ghunna (Coláiste Feirste): First, I thank you for the invitation. We are extremely pleased to be here and have our success recognised by the Committee. We do not often look at our success; we look at where we are failing, so that we can try to improve those areas. I also welcome the opportunity to listen to the representatives of the other schools. Andy talked about sharing good practice and listening to what is happening in other schools and learning from them. We do not get enough opportunities to do that.

914. I am joined by Emer Mhic an Fhailí, who is our SENCO. She does an awful lot of work for us in the area of learning support, and she will talk about some of the details of that. Diarmuid Ua Bruadaire is our head of Key Stage 4 and has done a great deal of work in raising our GCSE results. He will go into more detail about that.

915. I will run through a few general issues relating to the school's success. Coláiste Feirste was founded in 1991 with six pupils and no funding whatsoever, by a very dedicated group of parents and teachers who wished to have post-primary provision through the medium of the Irish language. The school was founded as a co-educational school; and that is very much a part of our success. We are the only co-educational school here today. We are an all-ability school, which is also a part of our success. We cater for the widest possible range of ability in the school, which is also a part of our success, as is the fact that we are a school for 11- to 19-year-olds. We provide a seven-year process as opposed to a five-year process. We encourage all our pupils to come back post-16. We find ways for them to come back and, at present, we take back about 80% of our pupils.

916. We have 551 pupils in a building that is designed to house 350. We are very, very cramped. We got one new building, but we are still using a former hospital building and 10 mobile classrooms. Of our pupils, 83% come from neighbourhood renewal areas, which may be a better indicator of their social and economic background than free school meals. However, 33% of pupils are on free school meals. Over the past 20 years, we have experienced great difficulties, such as a lack of facilities, a lack of teaching resources for the Irish medium and a lack of support for staff development. However, we have managed to find ways of overcoming a lot of those difficulties. Nevertheless, significant challenges remain for Irish-medium post-primary education.

917. Having said all of that, we have had year-on-year improvement in our examination results, with 78% now achieving five GCSEs, and we have similarly good results at A level. However, our work is not simply about GCSE and A-level results; it is about giving pupils the skills, confidence, choices and qualifications necessary to have successful and happy lives after they leave school. Part of that is to do with academic qualifications, but, as the other schools pointed out, there is an awful lot more to it.

918. So, what makes us successful? We had to sit down and think about that for a while. One of the biggest reasons for our success is our ethos. We have a very strong Irish language ethos. If a school's ethos is strong and clear and motivates people, it will be the basis for all other school improvement work. Our strong Irish-medium ethos means that our pupils have a very positive identity, good self-esteem and a sense of belonging in the school. It is important that pupils feel that the school belongs to them and that they feel a commitment to it through the Irish language. The fact that the pupils have a better commitment to the school means that they also have a stronger commitment to the learning process.

919. Our ethos also motivates the staff to give that little bit extra. As teachers and professionals, they have good relationships with the pupils, but they also have an extra link with them because of the Irish language. That motivates them to do extra work on weekends, learning support days and so on. It also creates a very good basis for the school's relationship with the parents, who have chosen an Irish-medium education for their children. The parents, too, are committed to the Irish language and that commitment makes them more committed to the school. They set up the school, and that gives them a sense of ownership. That makes it much easier for us to work in partnership with them to support the children's learning.

920. Our pastoral environment is quite different from that of many other schools. For example, the pupils address us by our first names, so if a first year pupil came to me, they would call me Michéal. There is no "Sir", "Miss" or "headmaster". That means that the pupils, particularly those from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, feel very comfortable. They feel comfortable at the school because of the family atmosphere. However, that is not something that simply happens. You have to work very hard at relationships in schools. We place great emphasis on that, and we are constantly trying to look at ways of improving relationships between teachers, parents and pupils.

921. As Basil mentioned, leadership is also very important. In 2007, we restructured our senior leadership team, and, as a result, we brought in a lot more people and gave them particular projects to look at. At that time, we recommitted ourselves to a vision of child-centred provision. We developed a culture of self-evaluation and strategic planning. Most importantly, we placed an emphasis on building middle-leadership capacity, because there is no point in having a principal at the top if there is no one in the middle to implement all the great ideas and visions. That was very important.

922. We believe that a commitment to our staff is also very important, and we do a great deal of work on that. For example, a couple of weeks ago when the staff came back after their Christmas break and were very depressed, we provided them with some therapies. We look after staff welfare. We brought in Colour Me Beautiful image consultants, for example. It might not seem that that type of thing concerns the learning process, but it is about re-motivating and re-energising staff. It is important to look after staff welfare as much as pupil welfare.

923. My wife works for BELB and travels around various schools, including my own. For her, the biggest thing that stands out is the calibre of our parents. She notices that the parents of the children in our school are different. They have very high aspirations and they are very motivated and involved in their children's learning. That is not to take away from the parents in any other school, but I am as proud of our parents as our pupils.

924. We have tried to do a great deal of work on extended schools. We would like to have a full service network, but we do not. Nevertheless, a couple of years ago we took the decision to appoint a full-time person from a community development background to lead our extended schools work. That involves building relationships with community groups, with those groups offering learning opportunities to our pupils, and it also involves raising money for specific projects.

925. We also looked at the curriculum choices that were available for our pupils. That is one of the things that has made the biggest difference. We now offer 25 GCSE subjects. We have 17 level 3 courses for post-16 and another five at level 2, which are not recognised as post-16 but should be. Perhaps we will discuss that later.

926. Most of all, our success is based on good teaching and learning. You cannot get away from that. We can talk about all the other things, but if you have a good pastoral system, good relationships in the school, good teaching and good learning opportunities, people will go on to succeed. I will pass you over to Diarmuid, who will discuss what we do at Key Stage 4.

927. Mr Diarmuid Ua Bruadaire (Coláiste Feirste): Go raibh maith agat. As Micheál said, over the last four years there has been a significant year-on-year increase in the percentage of Coláiste Feirste students who attain the benchmark figure of five GCSEs. It was 36% in 2006 and 78% in 2010. As head of year 12 initially, and as head of Key Stage 4 over the last three years, I have been part of that change.

928. The Key Stage 4 team — principally me and two year heads — recognises that, although good progress has been made, there is still lots of work to be done. We look at our current position as a step along the way rather than our destination. A lot of the work that we do is about raising expectations and keeping them high. We begin the work of raising expectations during year 10, when students are encouraged to consider what they would like to achieve in their lives, what type of jobs they might want to do and the impact that that will have on their GCSE choices. The Key Stage 4 team takes assemblies with year 10 students and highlights the issues of subject choices and the increased work and study expectations at Key Stage 4.

929. The curriculum is very important. At the start of this journey it was recognised that our curricular offer did not meet the need of all our students. In fact, some of the arrangements were such because things were always done that way, rather than being what was best for the student cohort of that particular year. The structure of Key Stage 4 was changed to accommodate a wider range of student ability and need. Three pathways were identified: academic 1, academic 2 and vocational. New courses were adopted and taught to meet the needs of vocational students especially. Career guidance was enhanced to match students with GCSE subjects in which they have a better chance of succeeding.

930. It seems like a small detail, but we put a lot of work into compiling the Key Stage 4 calendar in August. We present it to parents and pupils in a very readable and pupil- and parent-friendly fashion. We laminated it so that it can be stuck on the fridge or put in some other prominent position at home. The calendar includes all the information about coursework deadlines, exams, meetings, study days, seminars and so on. That begins the process of encouraging parents and pupils to participate in all the activities that are organised.

931. We have regular reporting to parents and students about progress in their attitude and work. That helps to create a focus and also identifies students who are underachieving. The reports are easy for teachers to complete and easy for parents to understand.

932. The role of the SENCO is essential in raising achievement at Key Stage 4 in Coláiste Feirste. The Key Stage 4 team works very closely with the learning support centre and its co-ordinator, Emer. She will talk about that a little bit more. However, it is worth noting that the breakdown of the stigma attached to receiving support has been extremely important in raising achievement at Key Stage 4, as has tailored individual support for students.

933. An example of our working in partnership with parents is the form teacher meetings that we hold. We have a system where we hold two series of meetings with parents. The meetings are attended by a form teacher or a year head and at least one parent and the student. The first meeting is held in September of year 11, and the expectations of the student and the school are explored, objectives are agreed and study strategies are discussed. At the second meeting, held after the mock exams in year 12, progress and mock exam results are analysed and targets are set for the GCSE exams. All of those meetings are held along pro formas and they are agreed with the form teacher. Emphasis is placed on study skills, not just with pupils in the classroom but with seminars, and there are opportunities for parents to become aware of them.

934. Motivating teachers is an essential part of our success. A culture of accountability has been developed whereby exam results are analysed by staff and ambitious departmental and whole-school targets are set. Teachers have the opportunity to illustrate how they have raised standards in their own departments in order to disseminate good practice and ideas.

935. Practice makes perfect. In exams, maths and English were identified as areas for improvement, and a series of practice exams were organised. They were carried out under real exam conditions in the assembly hall. Emphasis was placed on simple things such as the equipment that was required to sit the exam; for example, a calculator. It was amazing how much an emphasis on having the right equipment and learning to use that equipment under exam conditions affected the success of the exams.

936. We provide tailored support. Study days, revision and support classes are organised on a regular basis. We use the extended schools system to facilitate those. We value community support, as was mentioned in other presentations. We have made use of a wide variety of services in the community to raise confidence, primarily, and to raise participation in school. That has been essential in improving performance in areas of underachievement, especially for boys, but not exclusively so. We organise key programme motivational speakers and study skills seminars, etc, and students are participating very well.

937. Celebrating success is another aspect of our work; for example, through students seeing their picture in the paper. To keep expectations high, it is important to celebrate the good news stories in the school, particularly Key Stage 4 good news. Assemblies are used to recognise the achievements of our students, and we have raised the profile of prize night over the past number of years. Noticeboards, newsletters and the local press are full of stories celebrating our students' endeavours, and there is always a large turnout of students and staff at our end of Key Stage meal, which is held in Cultúrlann. That is an opportunity to celebrate the relationships that have been built and the respect that staff and students have for each other.

938. Pastoral support is important. Students listen to us because they know that we care. We had Billy Dixon, a motivational speaker, in Coláiste Feirste recently, working with our year 11s and year 12s. In his presentation he told them that communication is much more than just words. Our pastoral care system is well structured and organised, with clearly defined roles. We have endeavoured to become more proactive, rather than reacting to situations as they arise. That approach has been largely successful. However, the most important aspect of our pastoral care system is that we care about our students and they know that we care. We tell them and show them that they are important to us and, as a result, our students are more inclined to listen.

939. I will finish by discussing support from the Key Stage 4 team and implementing the plan. Raising achievements at Key Stage 4 is rocket science, and it requires continuous hard work. It is the most challenging period in young people's lives, where hormonal change, social conditions, personal development issues and educational choices all combine. To meet the key challenges, the Key Stage 4 team must work together and work to a plan. However, what works for one student may not work for another, so flexibility is essential. And the hard work should not be forgotten. We heard before from the speaker from Ashfield that after parent-teacher meetings, he calls the parents who do not show up. We could organise a maths day on a Saturday, with all the teachers lined up, but if there are no students there, it will not be a success. The letters, the assemblies, the profile-raising and the phone calls on the morning itself are what make the plan work. Go raibh maith agat.

940. Ms Emer Mhic an Fhailí (Coláiste Feirste): As Micheál said, I am the school's full-time SENCO. I am a non-teaching SENCO, which is a huge drain on resources, but it shows the school's commitment to special needs, given their importance in the school context. Pastoral care is the scaffolding to any school, and the special need in the school is the nuts and bolts of that scaffolding; that is how I see it.

941. I make no apologies for being a firm believer in aesthetics. There is an aesthetic association to everything in life, and when I joined the school in 2008 my priority was to find the perfect place in which to base the learning support centre in the school. It is very important for the learning support centre to be a nurturing environment. It has to be somewhere where the children want to go. If you put special needs facilities in the old classrooms at the back of the school, no one will want to go there. I am also a strong believer in what we have heard about this morning, which is good practice. However, we do not call it good practice; in our learning support centre we call it "magpieing", in which we go round to other schools, find out what the best practice is and steal it from them. [Laughter.] That has been incredibly useful for us, and I recommend it to everyone.

942. As Micheál has mentioned, the school has been incredibly supportive and innovative in its approach to special needs. We have a gorgeous, newly built centre. The school has had a new building in the past few years, and we got the nicest room in the school. We are pivotal to the school. I use the word "centre" and not "unit" deliberately; there are too many negative connotations with the word "unit", so it is important that children see it as a learning support centre.

943. That negativity meant that it was very important to create an inclusive environment. Initially, our remit was to look after the additional learning needs within the school. Now we look after absolutely anybody and everybody in the school. As Andy said, everyone has a special need, everyone has an additional learning need, because each child learns in a different way. On any given day, we can have the high-flying A-level students who want to come in to get a bit of coursework proofread, and children who are simply so frustrated by not being able to read and write in year 9 that they come in to get a wee bit of support. We have to drop tools at that stage and commit to them, which is what the school has done in committing a full-time SENCO, in me.

944. Our varied choice of paint in the centre was researched. Again, I make no apologies for that. We had a beautiful, newly built, white suite in the centre of the school. However, we did a bit of research on Google and found that if you use lilac when children first come in, it works as a calmer, and we have a gorgeous teal colour in the main room, which acts to motivate learning. It is true; it does work.

945. Anecdotal research shows that mainstream pupils are reluctant to have any association with centres or units because of how their peers may perceive them. Therefore, it was crucial for us to employ an open-door policy. In this, our third year, we are beginning to see an influx of pupils who have no named learning need, as I have said, but who know that they will get the extra TLC when they come to the centre. I am the hug in this equation, which can sometimes be very annoying to my colleagues, but I think that it works for the school.

946. The learning support centre is staffed by 2·5 teachers. There are two full-time teachers and one part-time teacher, with myself as full-time manager, as SENCO. That is funded entirely by the school, and principals here know how expensive that is and what that means for the school's budget. As things stand, to qualify for funding as a unit, you must comply with the Department of Education criterion, which is specific to x number of children with a recognised diagnosis of moderate learning difficulties. I will deviate and explain that briefly.

947. With a dearth of accurate and relevant diagnostic tools for Irish-medium children, it is impossible to diagnose them as having moderate learning difficulties at primary level. Therefore, most of the children who come to Coláiste Feirste, although they may have been on a code of practice, have not moved up significantly enough to be statemented. Unfortunately, we are disadvantaged as a result of that.

948. As there is a dearth of accurate and relevant diagnostic assessment tools through the medium of Irish, or at least any with an understanding of the cognitive alteration in Irish medium, there are not, as yet, any pupils coming to us who have an assessment, diagnosis and subsequent statement under that criterion. However, our own experience in this very short period has shown us that the current model for special needs provision needs to be urgently addressed, with a duality of service provided.

949. Our centre takes a three-pronged approach to support. I will talk about that briefly, because I have been asked to talk about something that works. Currently, although it will undoubtedly change, our academic approach employs the methodology of Dr Jim Connolly, who recommends that extensive academic learning needs must be addressed in a significantly reduced and controlled learning environment. Therefore, our high-support learning classes in years 8 and 9 are capped at 15 to 16 pupils. That class is then further divided, with a group of six children being taught English, maths, Irish, geography, history and learning for life and work within the centre by centre staff. We call that group the "dream team", which they absolutely adore. They think that they are the elite of the school, which they are to us; they are fantastic people. The other 11 pupils in the class are taught in the general body of the school by school staff but, crucially, the reduced ratio allows for greater absorption of learning.

950. Traditional methods of support have also been employed. In the last two years, small groups were taken from year 8 to year 10 classes for group work in English literacy, Irish literacy and numeracy. However, we are now offering those on a whole-school and a whole-class level, and we are teaching Irish literacy, English literacy and numeracy to all of our year 8 and year 9 classes.

951. We have outside agency support as well, which has been alluded to by different schools. St Gerard's Educational Resource Centre provides outreach support for children who score significantly under 70 in reading assessments. Again, it is very difficult to assess our children; we have to take everything with a rule of thumb. As a psychologist mentioned to me recently, when she was doing an assessment with one of our children the child recognised the word in Irish but was not able to say it in English. That can also happen the other way around with some tests. It is very difficult to pinpoint whether the child has passed or failed the assessment. Therefore, it is necessary for us to have some type of diagnostic tool that can read our children properly.

952. Our autism spectrum disorder (ASD) provision has worked beautifully over the past few years. Pupils with a statement of special educational needs or a diagnosis of ASD — that goes from Asperger's syndrome to attention deficit disorder to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — are supported. I co-ordinate that support and appoint a classroom assistant to our children, but we have a very open approach to our classroom assistants within the school. Therefore, although some of our children may need a classroom assistant assigned to a specific lesson, we are very much about sharing the love, and we share the assistants with other classes when we need to.

953. We have a large team of assistants who provide support, not only to the appointed child but to individual classes for reading programmes and for behavioural support in other classes. Each pupil has what we call a success diary, where the classroom assistant records daily achievements. That is key to our success. I meet each student and classroom assistant weekly to review those achievements and plot success against a success chart, which is visible in the centre. I have big 17-year-old boys who will remind me on a Friday afternoon if their stars are not on the success chart.

954. Our lunchtime clubs are an amazing hit with our ASD children, who do not cope well with the social restrictions within the school yard; it is a very stressful time for them. We provide a lunchtime club with board games. We have a club called the "war hammer club"; I do not know whether anyone knows what that is, it is basically tiny little soldiers and a huge army. If my boys heard me describe it in that fashion, there really would be war. There are lots of games, lots of looking after and lots of work with the staff. Instead of us assigning who should go to the club, we find that the pupils who need us arrive with us organically, although we do have some teacher referrals.

955. Lastly, I will talk about our nurture approach. We support students who have difficulty with completing homework at home or organising themselves for school. We are currently providing link sessions with referred year 12 to year 14 pupils who are feeling the pressure of the academic push towards GCSE. Those can be children who are not achieving their targets or children with real aspirations who are making significant improvements. A number of boys and girls who feel that they simply do not fit in have the use of our centre rooms and offices at lunchtime, when we are kicked out. That allows them to escape the noise and social restrictions of the large school setting.

956. Parents have commented on the peace of mind that our approach has created for some of our very vulnerable year 8 transfer pupils. How do we find who is vulnerable at year 8? We have a fantastic transition programme that we initiated two years ago and that we feel very confident is now beginning to hone in on those children. We start links with the primary schools very early on. We have two to three visits before the children arrive with us in June for their first taster sessions of going into year 8, and we meet the children three times between June and December. The year 8 transfer transition programme has gone very well.

957. We use the lunchtime duties of our centre staff very creatively. Teachers provide extra maths, English and Irish support at lunchtime instead of doing duty in the yard.

958. The gifted and talented pupils are always the poor cousin in special needs, so that is something that we have been keen to address over the last few years. Mentoring programmes with staff assigned to pupils who are doing very well has again added to the success at Key Stage 4, which Diarmuid commented on.

959. Mr Mac Giolla Ghunna: I do not know how much time we have. I will conclude with a couple of points. First, there is nothing secret in what Diarmuid, Emer or I have said; we talked about more or less the same things as the other schools here. We may have done that work within our own particular context, but we have done it to the best of our ability. It is about the ethos; pastoral care; teaching and learning; curriculum choices; communication and partnership with parents; and opportunities for pupils to develop self-esteem, leadership skills and their own engagement with the community.

960. I will finish with one final point. We still face a number of challenges. We faced an awful lot of challenges to get here, but we still face a number of challenges that make things increasingly difficult. As I mentioned, we have a building for 350 pupils, but we have 550. Some people are talking about empty desks; we almost have two pupils to a desk. We have the top marks in BTEC sport in Belfast this year, yet we have no sports facilities whatsoever. We are signing for some ground attached to Beechmount leisure centre on Friday, but who knows what the capital funding budget will be for that, and that is urgently needed.

961. Emer talked about special educational needs and the learning support centre with 2·5 teachers that we have set up. That costs us around £150,000 a year overall. That comes out of the school budget and is very difficult to meet. Increasingly, it will become unsustainable. Our governors, who have been very supportive and innovative and have given a great deal of leadership, have said that they are not going to look at reducing the learning support centre and have challenged the Department to find ways for us to continue to offer the sort of work that Emer is doing.

962. Emer also mentioned the development of diagnostic tools. Again, the Department has been quite slow to address just how to diagnose the learning needs of pupils through Irish medium. Teachers are creating curriculum support materials by themselves. We have undertaken a project in conjunction with the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment to look at how we can design or translate text books and other teaching materials. It is a very slow process; hopefully we are making some progress, but there is a huge amount to do.

963. We get very little support for the development of our relationship with our feeder primary schools. There is an awful lot happening within Irish medium at primary level. We see ourselves as having a leadership and support role in that, because those pupils come to us at Key Stage 3. We need to look at what is happening at Key Stages 1 and 2, particularly in literacy and numeracy but also in the wider context of special educational needs, so that learning becomes a continuum. I said that we are looking at seven years; we should be looking at 14 or more years. It is a continuum, and every pupil should have the opportunity to stay on from the age of three or four, in early years, right through to when they are 18 or 19 and looking at their choices after that.

964. Thank you very much for the opportunity to present to you. I hope that we have not taken too long; it is very difficult to condense all that information into such a short period.

965. The Chairperson: Micheál, thank you very much. We do not want to feel that the session is rushed but, unfortunately, we are already well over the allocated time.

966. I failed miserably when I said earlier that I did not want to get into the selection debate, as that did happen. As I have said, I want to come to your school at some stage and have a longer conversation with you. There has been the review of Irish-medium education, and I do not want to start the whole debate about the particular challenges that you face as an Irish-medium school. However, I noticed in one of your inspector's reports that he made reference to the fact that the proportion of pupils in year 14 obtaining two A levels at grade E or above has declined in recent years. Is there a particular reason for that? You have made immense progress, and that is the reason why we identified yours as a school that has bucked the trend in a sense, because you have gone from 36% in 2006 to where you are now. Is there a particular reason why that issue has arisen?

967. Mr Mac Giolla Ghunna: It is a much more complicated than that, because you cannot look at just the bare statistics. What we are doing now at sixth form is bringing back 80% of our pupils to study a range of subjects. Some of our pupils will do three or four A levels, and, of that group, last year only two did not go on to university. We bring back another group of pupils who will do their A-level Irish and a series of, quite often, level 2 courses. That is a progression, and they will go on to progress to level 3 courses after school. We are keeping them in the education system, motivating them and giving them the skills to help them to progress. The Department is saying through the entitlement framework that pupils at age 16 should be ready to do level 3 courses. Not all pupils are ready to do level 3 courses. We believe that there is an onus on us to offer pupils a mixture of level 2 and level 3 courses to bring them through to level 3. Therefore, when you look at the school's A-level statistics, you need to look deeper, at the actual pupils involved. We have taken a decision that we do not care what the statistics look like; we are working for the benefit for those individual pupils.

968. The Chairperson: That is becoming more and more of an issue. Trevor referred to it earlier and it was mentioned in another presentation, that there is an issue of whether outcomes are the right measurements to use. Some people talk about children being labelled a failure at age 11 and the stigma that that brings. However, we are equally having to deal with an issue of failure if some do not fall into the A* to C category. We face a huge issue in looking at how we deal with that and how to use the right measurements and the right terminology to help with that.

969. Mr Mac Giolla Ghunna: We bring back pupils with their five GCSEs, A* to C. However, we also bring back pupils who might have only two GCSEs. We have 78% of pupils getting the five A* to C, but we also have to look at what to do with the other 22%. We are not going to tell them that they did not get that benchmark so they are not welcome in the school post-16. We look at what courses we can offer them that suit their abilities and their interests, and they go on to be very successful as well. That is what a school is about; it is not just about producing academic results.

970. Mr B McCrea: Micheál, thank you very much. As you know, I have been up to the school and I must say that I was very impressed with the pupils and what I saw when you showed me around. It seems to me that what you are saying is that because the Irish language is particularly important to people, it overspills into the whole area of academic achievement, or at least some form of valuation of education. Is that correct?

971. Mr Mac Giolla Ghunna: Yes, absolutely. In any situation, if a school has a clear ethos, that creates a foundation for a strong school community that, in itself, engages more pupils to a greater degree in the learning process. Certainly, in our experience, we have found that because pupils, parents and teachers are all motivated by the Irish language ethos, that has a knock-on effect on educational standards and attainment in the school.

972. Mr B McCrea: I am not going to take too long because I realise that it has been a long day for us all. I mean this gently, and I will come on to finish with another point. There was a school inspector's report: how did you feel about it?

973. Mr Mac Giolla Ghunna: We had an inspection report in 2007 and a follow-up in 2009. In 2007 it said that the teaching and learning was good but there were significant problems with leadership, school development planning and the whole strategic approach of the school. I believe that that happened due to uneven development; the school outgrew the management structures that were there at the time. As I mentioned, in 2007 we changed the leadership within the school. We expanded it and looked at different structures, such as developing our middle leadership. Diarmuid and I were brought in at that time and Emer was brought in a year later. Since then, there has been a dramatic rise in results. What is behind that is the dramatic rise in other standards in the school that are less easy to measure. The inspectorate came back and was very happy with the follow-up inspection in 2009.

974. Mr B McCrea: The Chairperson mentioned visiting the school. I am also interested in doing that, whether individually or accompanying him.

975. I will finish with this point. I think that there is sometimes a feeling that the Irish-medium sector is over here and everybody else is over there. We need to know a little bit about what is going on in that sector. I know that there are some difficulties with doing that, but looking at how we build bridges would be a useful exercise.

976. Mr Mac Giolla Ghunna: As Emer said, we try to go out being magpies and looking at good practice in other schools. It is more difficult for us to explain what is happening in our school because, obviously, much of it is done through the medium of the Irish language. That is why we welcome this opportunity to discuss exactly what is going on in the school.

977. Mr B McCrea: I agree that there is a language issue, but it is a challenge worth tackling. When you engage with people, all people, you pick up more just from being around the place, even if you do not necessarily understanding what is going on.

978. Mr Mac Giolla Ghunna: I agree absolutely, Basil.

979. The Chairperson: Emer, you referred to the paint: we can conclude that paint and parents contribute to a good school. We may have to look at a repainting programme.

980. Ms Mhic an Fhailí: Undoubtedly.

981. The Chairperson: Micheál, thank you very much for coming today and for being part of the inquiry. It is very important that you were part of it. You have made a contribution and we have your submission, and it will form part of our considerations on the inquiry.

2 February 2011

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Mervyn Storey (Chairperson)
Mrs Mary Bradley
Mr Jonathan Craig
Mr Trevor Lunn
Miss Michelle McIlveen
Mr John O'Dowd
Mrs Michelle O'Neill

Witnesses:

The Very Rev Dr A W G Brown
Mrs Carol Stewart
Mr Ian Williamson

 

Ballycastle High School

982. The Chairperson of the Committee for Education (Mr Storey): Ian, you are very welcome. Thank you for making the journey from Ballycastle to Magherafelt today. We are delighted and glad that Dr Brown and Carol are also with us. Ballycastle High School is in my constituency, and we value the work that it does.

983. Mr Ian Williamson (Ballycastle High School): Ladies and gentlemen, before I commence, I wish to apologise on behalf of Craig Whyte, one of our parent governors, who, unfortunately, has been unable to attend at the last minute. I intend to deliver the presentation on behalf of Ballycastle High School, and my two friends and I will answer your questions.

984. In many respects, there are no huge surprises to be discovered in Ballycastle High School about the requirements for effective leadership in a school serving a disadvantaged area. The six key areas of headship are well-documented, and when those are effectively implemented, they make a difference. I feel that those key areas and associated qualities are significant in making a school successful.

985. Ballycastle High School has a strong sense of shaping the future and is celebrating its centenary this year. We have a strong sense of the successful history enjoyed by the school and the pupils who have attended Ballycastle High School over the years. Although designated as an urban school, Ballycastle High School's pupils are drawn mainly from the rural hinterlands surrounding the town. We enjoy a high level of loyalty from the community with, in many instances, several generations of families having attended the school.

986. While enjoying that sense of history, we are very well aware of the role played by Ballycastle High School and our neighbours Cross and Passion College in having helped to shape the future. Our vision of collaboration, efficient use of resources and increased choice has proven to be a highly beneficial story for pupils, parents, schools and the local community. That vision continues to grow through our involvement with the shared education programme, the Atlantic Philanthropies and Queen's University Belfast. The project has enabled further advancements of our vision and enhancement of shared provision for post-primary pupils in the Ballycastle area. Significant progress has been made at Key Stages 4 and 5 on meeting the requirements of the entitlement framework and furthering cross-curricular activities.

987. Our vision and ethos have grown organically within a heartfelt context of mutual dependency and respect for each other's differences. The non-threatening sense of shared purpose and simple good neighbourliness has impacted significantly on cross-community relations.

988. In socially-deprived areas such as ours, many parents still just want the best life-chances possible for their children. That is the prevailing attitude of most parents, but the sense of aspiration and expectation has to be nurtured by effective communication and genuine, open, caring relationships. Parents know that every child in our school matters. We consider ourselves to be an all-round school and, at Ballycastle High School, we earnestly endeavour to show parents that education has provided and can provide the vehicle for their children's advancement.

989. We are a small, non-selective school, currently with an enrolment of 363 pupils, which covers the full range of academic ability. As a school, we benefit hugely from that diversity and wide range of talents, characteristics and personalities presented by our pupils. Our location and degree of geographic isolation has also been of benefit, with parents choosing to send their children to us instead of perhaps transporting them elsewhere. We cannot take that for granted, and our staff are keenly aware of our need to continue to be a successful school.

990. In relation to leading, learning and teaching, setting and communicating high standards of teaching and achievement for teachers and pupils is critical. Promoting a culture of high expectations and successes from all pupils of all abilities is fundamental to the ethos of the school. Fostering a work ethic in the school among the pupil body is again central. We closely monitor standards of work-effort on a monthly basis for each pupil and share the results with pupils and their parents. They are frequently communicated to provide immediate feedback to pupils on their progress and allow parents to feel part of the achievement process. Hard-working pupils are rewarded. There is no drug like success. We continue to develop the effective use of data to inform target-setting and we see further potential in developing that.

991. As a new principal, and having witnessed the work of my predecessor, Mr Bill Harpur OBE, I feel it is important to be aware, as a leader, of one's own need to develop professionally and to work effectively with others. By continually striving to develop a collegiate approach among our staff, to whole-school issues such as discipline, extra-curricular and enrichment activities and raising standards, the school works as a team for the good of its pupils, enabling senior colleagues to have their leadership skills fully-realised and utilised to empower them to develop their strategic views and opinions that are essential to the school and its future.

992. A culture of proactive pastoral care and a firm fair and compassionate approach to discipline is very important to pupils, parents and guardians. Maintaining effective discipline in the school avoids many time-consuming problems of a pastoral/behavioural nature which dissipates teachers' energies, frustrates pupils and parents and dilutes the education process. Those discipline standards come from the top and need to be implemented in a firm, fair consistent and compassionate way.

993. In relation to school engagement with parents and the wider community, and strengthening community, as a first-time principal, I am increasingly finding that my job is:

"people at work and paper at home".

994. I suspect that this is the way it has been and will be in a school that places such priority on relationships. Parents are encouraged to keep in regular contact with the school. There is a proactive pastoral system in the school and parents know who to contact for advice or to raise a concern. This approach is emphasised in year 8 and maintained throughout the school. The quality and commitment of year tutors is paramount to a successful discharge of the pastoral relationship with parents.

995. Our school-based care team meets monthly and that is of significant importance in monitoring and reviewing pupils with particular needs. Close liaison with other agencies is critical to addressing those issues and providing the support needed by some pupils and families. It also helps to monitor pupil attendance closely, with quick intervention when problems are identified. Time spent on that, with the active involvement of senior management, is a good investment of resources.

996. The school benefits immeasurably from extended schools funding. A wide range of extra-curricular activities are available, not all of which are taken by teachers, which enriches pupil education and helps to engage parents and members of the wider community in the school.

997. Ballycastle High School is, largely, a rural school with regard to pupil domicile despite the Department's insistence that it is an urban school. Therefore, I do not believe that there are, perhaps, the same opportunities to host, for example, the local health centre, Probus club or evening classes that may exist in a more urban setting. However, the school engages with the community on the use of its premises for training by sports teams; performances that are hosted by local amateur dramatics groups; youth clubs; use of its facilities by summer camps; and occasional one-off events.

998. Again, extended schools funding has provided for a wide range of quality experiences for pupils, parents and the wider community, with 14 different activities being held through extended schools. We also have significant involvement with 10 local primary schools in that regard and serve as the lead school in our cluster activities. The wide range of activities on offer provide for a significant level of involvement by parents, pupils and the community. That level of parental involvement has a positive impact on building interest in school life from parents at the post-primary level.

999. The fact that we have that medium to establish cross-phase networking and support is very important. The framework promotes close relationships with primary schools, which, I believe, can be further developed to bring about future improvements in pupil experiences in our school. Although difficult to quantify with regard to wider school improvement, those activities have added significant value to pupil experience and community involvement. At this time of financial constraint, it is important that the benefits of extended schools are not forgotten.

1000. Our parents' association is a small, but dedicated, group of volunteers who provide significant assistance in running fundraising events, which are important. Those events also help us to build our links with more parents and people in the community by providing enjoyable social functions. We currently see the need to develop our social capital as a priority. This year, we will be hosting a range of activities such as quizzes, musical concerts and a charity fashion show. Those family events are accessible, affordable and, perhaps, provide socially deprived families with a much-needed focus on school life beyond the academic.

1001. With regard to the academic, we place importance on individual parent interviews after mock examinations in year 12. Those interviews are in addition to the normal run of parental consultations. They are a useful tool to involve parents in their children's examination success. It is also a good opportunity to discuss career choices with parents and encourage the motivational benefits to pupils of effective career planning and goal setting. That makes parents feel and see that the school has their children's best interests at heart.

1002. Involvement with local primary schools with regard to reading partnerships and STEM subjects, particularly science and technology-related activities for p6 pupils, has also proven to be most beneficial. Finding the time to engage meaningfully with other external agencies in the community is central to the dynamics that exist in the town of Ballycastle. Charities, schools, churches, social services, the PSNI, the council, and so on, all have their own agendas. The combined synergy of their interactions benefits significantly certain individuals in school and in the community. If co-ordinated and funded appropriately, those combined actions can bring significant benefits to a socially deprived community.

1003. Addressing underachievement in disadvantaged communities is closely aligned to the key area of securing accountability. Monitoring of statistics and benchmarking data is necessary to reveal the extent of any problem and also to promote and develop a culture of self-reflection and school improvement by making effective use of the data available. In the past, Ballycastle High School offered supportive literacy and numeracy classes to pupils who showed underachievement in the first three years. Work that is also currently under way to develop the use of cross-curricular skills for levels of progression has the potential to further support literacy and numeracy in and across the curriculum. We endeavour to make effective use of ICT resources to support literacy and numeracy. That emphasis, coupled with purposeful whole-class teaching and, where appropriate, individual personalised support is an attempt to ensure that all pupils are supported to reach their potential.

1004. MidYIS and YELLIS standardised testing will help to identify pupils who experience difficulties with basic skills, and remedial action will become increasingly more effective as the years pass and the current systems of support and identification become increasingly embedded in school life. The curricular choice offered at Key Stage 4 has been expanded and hopefully now includes subjects that are likely to attract boys, and that will continue to evolve. Significant investment in and effective use of ICT in the school has also been beneficial in that regard.

1005. The review of performance and provision in the school is evolving, developing and constantly being tweaked. The benefits at micro or school level and macro or system level could be significant. However, those benefits must be managed in the context of the dynamic and vibrant environment that is a school. We need to secure a balance between the restrictions and pressures of time constraints and not losing sight of the fundamental importance of positive relationships in bringing about effective change in the school.

1006. The Department of Education's school improvement policy Every School a Good School and the Together Towards Improvement documentation are beneficial and useful in securing accountability, particularly the latter document, which spells out what good practice looks like on the ground. It must be recognised that a large number of initiatives and policy documents have to be read, understood and acted on by principals. However, the booklets that accompany every initiative, each with many pages of information and, on occasion, not always a great deal of content, are time-consuming to read. Sometimes more significant and important aspects can prove difficult to find. Effective practical support is essential from external agencies, such as CASS and CCEA, to support effective and co-ordinated implementation of those strategies. There is a real danger of overwhelming staff with information that can create confusion. Gaining and retaining staff ownership of initiative implementation are essential to sustaining a positive working culture in the school. However, the situation is not helped when changes come about during the implementation phase that necessitate replanning and rescheduling and impact on the efficient management of the school.

1007. The quality of support from RTU is important for the two schools. The assistance provided to the schools is particularly important at a time of significant staffing changes. Therefore, anything that eases succession planning and transition in relation to leadership and teaching changes in a school is important.

1008. Finally, I would like to comment on the fact that my school is considered to be relatively successful in an area of social deprivation. That fact is testament to the hard work of the staff, parents and pupils in sometimes difficult physical conditions. We are in dire need of suitable, effective and, at times, a healthy and safe working environment. A school building should not make socially deprived children feel as though they are second class. At this time of financial constraint and economic downturn, it is important that we do not lose sight of the urgent need for school refurbishment if not school replacement.

1009. We are already witnessing increased interest in our post-16 courses from pupils who may have considered vocational training or work in the past. Those pupils are often from significantly socially deprived backgrounds and benefit educationally and socially from a prolonged experience of full-time education in school. However, they need higher levels of personal support and guidance, which means increased cost. Such pupils can become disengaged and drift if they are not appropriately supported. We want our pupils to succeed, but to help them to do that, we need sustained investment in infrastructure, but not necessarily on a huge scale. Pupils also need the sustained benefits and encouragements brought about by, for example, the education maintenance allowance, which is of significant financial benefit to nearly 50% of our sixth form. If those pupils do well and are seen to do well, they serve as role models in the community and as effective ambassadors for our school.

1010. In conclusion, Ballycastle High School, although small, is successful and serves its community well. Its strength is very much in its collaboration with Cross and Passion College and, indeed, with Coleraine Area Learning Partnership. Whatever changes are afoot to the support provided by the mechanisms in place, it is important that they are not detrimental to the quality of provision that currently exists.

1011. The Chairperson: Dr Brown, would you like to comment?

1012. The Very Rev Dr A W G Brown (Ballycastle High School): We are a very new team, and I am, perhaps, the old hand in that I have been a governor for far too long. We have a new headmaster and an acting vice-principal, and our chairman, who cannot be with us today, is new. In a sense, therefore, we are presenting something that has just been handed over to us as a very good going concern. Speaking as a governor, we are now in very good hands. Our present headmaster has been vice-principal in the school for a couple of years, and he has made a great contribution. He is very gifted in relating to the pupils, and it is in that relationship that our strength as a school has existed.

1013. For that reason, we are reaching out to and making an impact in a community where there is a very real measure of social deprivation. If you were to drive into Ballycastle, you would not think of it as a socially deprived community. It is a plush seaside town with lots of well-heeled individuals, but there are many people who are living in difficulty, who have social problems in their background and whose homes are dysfunctional. They are not huge in number, but they are there, and that is also true in the rural community. Over the years, the school has made a good contribution and is increasingly doing so. It is in that context that we have our presentation today.

1014. The Chairperson: I have known the school, and you will probably have been thankful for an act of providence that resulted in my parents deciding to send me to Ballymoney High School rather than Ballycastle High School. That was because my dad worked in Ballymoney and the transport from Armoy was easier. In this inquiry, we are keen to drill down to identify the challenges but also to see where schools have been successful. Despite the fact that the Department says that Ballycastle High School is an urban school, it has a huge rural hinterland. Geographically, it sits on the edge of Northern Ireland.

1015. Earlier, John O'Dowd asked the question: what is education about? In your experience, what is the key ingredient that you have to have in place for the pupils who have difficulties and challenges, as opposed to other young people who may find life at school a lot easier and less challenging?

1016. Mr Williamson: From my experience as vice-principal and now as principal, I have been struck by a heartfelt sense of the school's ethos of being an all-round school at which every pupil can succeed and is expected to succeed. All of our pupils enter for GCSE or equivalent qualifications, and there is an expectation of success in those qualifications. I have been struck by the fact that pupils from a range of social backgrounds and academic abilities share together and are in classes together. That creates challenges for teachers in the provision of their teaching resources and the way in which they deliver lessons to a range of abilities, but it is the norm. It is the custom and practice, and it is what we do. It is incumbent on every member of staff that we are aware that pupils at Ballycastle High School need to do well, and, in the local community in Ballycastle, they need to be seen to be doing well. That sense pervades. Pupils are aware of that, and that sense of pedigree is in the community. They come to us with an expectation that they will succeed to their potential in their achievements and qualifications that carry a degree of currency when they leave school.

1017. Mr Craig: I listened with interest to your comments about how you involve parents. Was lack of parental involvement in the past an issue that you overcame? That seems to be an issue in many controlled sector schools, particularly in inner cities. Common sense tells me that your school must have a huge intake of pupils from rural areas. Therefore, it may not be as big an issue for you. How do you keep parents involved? I was intrigued by your interviews with parents after mock-exam results. It is probably more important to interview the parents than the child in some respects.

1018. Mr Williamson: That has been custom and practice in the school for a long time. The size of the school probably helps in that regard. That engagement with parents, getting them on board and talking about their child on a one-to-one basis is worth its weight in gold.

1019. With regard to engagement in the wider context of community involvement — perhaps, Dr Brown could comment on the situation in years gone by — I suspect that there have been periods of peaks and troughs. At present, we are very aware of the need to engage. It has been referred to as social capital. We have a buoyant parents' association. If people have talent in that regard, I let them get on with it. They do an outstanding job. In the current year, we have already seen major advancements in engagement with the local community — or communities, I should say — in the area.

1020. Engagement between the two schools is also imperative. We have a music concert coming up in celebration of our centenary. There will be representation from Cross and Passion College because that essence of involvement is a significant part of our history. Therefore, everyone is mindful of the need to involve all aspects of the community.

1021. In all honesty, engagement of socially deprived families presents a challenge, particularly in rural hinterlands. However, you have to be proactive. The parents' association is very good in that regard.

1022. Dr Brown: The business of engagement between the two schools in Ballycastle is a marvellous thing. We are physically across the road from each other. Therefore, there are no problems with transport and the time wasting that that can involve sometimes. The sixth forms essentially operate together now. That is being extended into the GCSE years. It has been good. There is much evidence that it has been very popular with pupils.

1023. Mr Williamson: I referred to that in the presentation. We have further advanced Key Stage 4 provision with regard to the entitlement framework through working closely with Cross and Passion College. There is a long tradition of post-16 provision. Again, we already see the benefits of that in the cross-community aspect and in the range of courses to suit boys and girls and to suit all abilities. The vocational aspect of some of those courses, for example, BTEC extended certificates in countryside management and sport, mean that they involve the community. Engagement is part of their very nature. We see that adding significant value to community involvement.

1024. Mr Craig: I want to ask about that issue. Does the fact that you are somewhat geographically isolated — any further and you would be in the sea — work as a disadvantage when it comes to linking yourselves with third-level education and the technical college?

1025. Mr Williamson: It has been. Again, our allegiance and affiliation to the Coleraine area learning partnership is long established. Pupils from both schools go to the Northern Regional College, to its Ballymoney and Coleraine campuses. There is a long-established relationship. Pupils take up courses in construction, engineering, media, and ICT, for example. That is a fundamental part of our provision.

1026. Transport costs are an issue. Both schools have been working alongside our partners in the area partnership to try to mitigate that. For example, instead of bus loads of pupils going from Ballycastle to Coleraine, perhaps a lecturer will go from Coleraine to Ballycastle. Therefore, we have moved towards that pragmatic and effective use of resources. We hope to improve that.

1027. The hope and desire is for effective use of ICT, blended learning and video conferencing. We are still a long way from that being an effective tool across the board. However, it lends itself to specific areas of the curriculum. I see significant potential in that regard in the short term.

1028. Mr Craig: You probably heard, during the previous presentation, mention of the use of banding in the school, which is intriguing. Do you use a similar process?

1029. Mr Williamson: It is similar, but we have a looser interpretation of banding in the context of individual year groups and pupils. Perhaps Mrs Stewart, the vice-principal, will comment on that.

1030. Mrs Carol Stewart (Ballycastle High School): Our banding is much more flexible and works on a year-to-year basis. We spend a lot of time with the primary schools before the transition. We go out and visit the primary schools and talk to the principals. We find out about the nitty-gritty of the children who are coming to us so that we are prepared. We set the children a little test to get a baseline of where they are. However, if a primary school tells us that a child has pastoral needs, we do not just put that child into a class based on his or her academic score. We look at the person as a whole, and, if that child needs to be with a friend who will support them, we keep them with a friend.

1031. We also rely on the expertise of our staff. We do not like the idea of moving up and moving down. We do not promote that to our children at all. We promote their coming into the school as a fresh start. We promote the idea that they are all equal and that they will all find their niche here and leave having achieved something, whether it is academic or sporting success or self-esteem and self-belief. That is a very important part of our school. Our staff's expertise allows us to deliver a curriculum to all three of our sets to allow them to progress to the GCSE subjects that suit them. There is not a different timetable at Key Stage 3. All the pupils study the same subjects. We do not move pupils down, as we find that that is demotivating. We have also found that our experiments to move pupils up have not been good for them, socially or personally. Leaving pupils alone and supporting them in the class works best for us and our pupils.

1032. Mr Craig: I am intrigued by that. The system in which I was brought up was more akin to what we heard about in the previous presentation. Could it be that the scale of the school dictates that approach?

1033. Mrs Stewart: We have a small school. We change what we do from year to year when we bring children into year 8. Sometimes we have a clear top set. Sometimes we have a clear weaker set. Sometimes we have two equivalent sets. We are flexible from year to year to meet our pupils' needs.

1034. Mr Craig: I am always careful about the terminology that I use. I never get into the idea of who are the real achievers. Some children are just inclined to go in a different direction. Maybe, in a smaller school, you do not have the luxury of streamlining pupils into a specific area and giving a pupil who wants to go into a vocation, for example, a more vocation-based education.

1035. Mr Williamson: We are aware of that. As we do from year to year, we are looking at that in relation to our Key Stage 3 offers. Increased collaboration and the benefits of economies of scale also help us in that regard, particularly at Key Stage 4. Collaboration at that level has necessitated a cultural change. We put a lot of time and effort into having good induction systems for pupils going into Key Stage 4 to ensure that nothing goes awry in the relationship between pupils and schools.

1036. As was referred to in the last presentation, such issues as timetables increasingly have to be dovetailed. However, they have to dovetail in a way that is effective for both schools and both sets of pupils, and that is the key. We do not want staff, pupils or parents to feel threatened. It is about increasing provision and having the structures to support that. Pastoral support is another dimension of collaboration. Ensuring effective pastoral support between the schools is another key aspect of what we do. We are mindful of that and working on it increasingly.

1037. Mr O'Dowd: Thank you for your presentation — and fair play to you for travelling down from Ballycastle.

1038. The Chairperson: They could not have come from a better place.

1039. Mr O'Dowd: I just wonder what would have happened if Ballycastle High School had gotten hold of Mervyn. [Laughter.]

1040. Unsurprisingly, there is a common theme coming through in the evidence that we have been gathering. Where schools are succeeding, it is down to leadership. I am not just saying that because the leadership of your school is here. How do we, as politicians and decision-makers, assist leadership in schools? In your presentation, you said that you are getting a lot of documents and that there are useful pieces of information hidden in them somewhere. The issue is finding those useful pieces of information. How can we assist you?

1041. Mr Williamson: As a first-time principal since September past, I have found the support from the education and library boards, the North Eastern Education and Library Board in particular, invaluable. External agency support is, without a doubt, a benefit. We cannot overlook that and the importance of engagement with the education boards, CCEA and RTU.

1042. In developing leadership within a school, the collegiate approach gives staff the opportunity to develop their leadership skills. With distributed leadership in a school, people have a sense of responsibility for taking forward strategies and initiatives. That gives schools the space to allow them to explore certain aspects of education, as well as tweaks and changes that they may want to implement, against the background of accountability and being answerable. We want to be accountable, but we also want to have a wee bit of breathing space to maybe take risks for learning on occasions and explore other options.

1043. That is particularly important for pupils who are not necessarily gifted or talented academically. Promoting other opportunities for them to develop their talents is important. We need space and time to explore how we can do that and consolidate what we are doing currently.

1044. Effective external support is critical, as long as it is not overburdening. Sometimes, when initiative after initiative lands on my desk from various agencies, I wonder whether they have spoken to one another before sending them out.

1045. Mr O'Dowd: In the political system, the Civil Service and politicians require something to measure success or failure against. That goes back to my question about exam results and the performance of school leaders; we are always looking for something to measure success against so that we can say that we did a great job or whatever. That is the way the system works.

1046. The question of whether a grade D is a success was raised earlier by myself and the Chairperson. I am not saying that he was being critical, but it goes back to the point that politicians need something to measure success against. If we say that a grade D is a success or a grade E is success and that each individual pupil should be counted on his or her own, how do we measure our schools' performances? What is a better way of measuring our schools' performances than simply setting a statutory grade against each child and using that to measure whether a school is a good school?

1047. Mr Williamson: Obviously, one cannot get away from the need for measurement through quantitative data. Everybody welcomes that, including parents and pupils, because it secures accountability. However, there needs to be a promotion of a feeling of self-worth in the children. They need to have the opportunity to develop — we mentioned essential skills and employability skills — and gain the range of qualifications out there. There could even be awards for pupils that are not necessarily qualifications. The currency value for certain awards should be recognised and given increased kudos, so that pupils can use them and take them to employers.

1048. One cannot get away from the importance of the development of an individual child and his or her talents, whatever they are. If a child leaves Ballycastle High School as a competent, all-round individual who can communicate and converse and has ICT, literacy, numeracy and communication skills, that in itself is a measure, although it is not necessarily a quantifiable one. Increased use of essential skills and key skills should be rewarded.

1049. With regard to the measurement of leadership, the six key areas of headship expounded by RTU would provide a useful tool for measuring leadership, because they would relate to specific quantitative measurements as well as wider aspects, such as community involvement. There might be a vehicle for measurement there.

1050. Mr O'Dowd: That is useful. Reverend Brown, you said that you had been involved with the board of governors for many years. Have you seen a change in your role over the years? There has been an emphasis on the boards of governors taking on more of a leadership role, rather than simply a support role. Have you witnessed that and do you think it is effective?

1051. Dr Brown: Partly, it is. However, in the long run, most governors assume that the ultimate responsibility will lie with the professionals. After all, we are amateurs in this field, and, at times, government has perhaps tried to put too much weight of responsibility on the governors to do things for which they are not really qualified. Our role is a more general one. There is perhaps a tendency at the moment — perhaps I have misunderstood it — in the desire of the government to assess and check on the effectiveness of what we are doing with too great a reliance on statistics, which are often very time-consuming at the teacher end and, therefore, detrimental to some human aspects. How do you measure the success of a school? It lies in the happiness of pupils, in the values that they come to adopt and in their ability to have a sense of worth in other people across community divides so that they respect people for who they are and what they stand for and do not judge them on the labels that they wear. We need to leave schools a little freer and a little less inhibited by statistics, percentages, jargon-ridden documents and so on. I hope that I am not being unfair, but that certainly is the gut feeling of many governors who I know.

1052. Mr O'Dowd: It is a fair and useful comment.

1053. Mrs M Bradley: Your paper talks about addressing the achievements in a disadvantaged community and the need for adequate school buildings and refurbishment. How do your pupils avail themselves of all the sporting facilities that other high schools have? Do they miss out on any of that because the schools are so rural?

1054. Mr Williamson: Through effective management and the goodwill of teachers and the community, we strive to ensure that they do not miss out. One very real example relates to PE. In the town of Ballycastle, there is no swimming pool. The one in the hotel has recently closed, so I now have to hope that somebody buys the hotel or reopens it by the end of this academic year, or I will face considerable transport costs to bus pupils to Ballymoney to use a swimming pool. That is a live example of that problem.

1055. Mary asked about the buildings. We have a strongly north Antrim culture of making the best use of what we have and putting our heads down and getting on with it. However, there is a sense that we can sometimes be a wee bit overlooked. That is the sense in Cross and Passion College. I do not want to speak on behalf of its principal and governors, but we have close enough relationships to understand that we feel that the area in general is deserving of more investment.

1056. Because of the effective management of finance under the previous principal, we have been able to invest significantly in ICT resources. We make best use of what we have, but we cannot get away from the fact that the North-Eastern Education and Library Board's property services have had a significant impact through a desire to move things forward for us. However, we tend to feel that, in certain situations, it is a case of firefighting and that the board is restricted by financial restrictions.

1057. Mrs M Bradley: Does it disadvantage the pupils?

1058. Mr Williamson: Yes. You cannot escape from that. We make the best of what we have. We are a successful school, but life would be easier if we could sit in a salubrious, modern environment.

1059. Mrs M Bradley: The pupils who want to become sportsmen all —

1060. Mr Williamson: Without a doubt, sport is a major area for us. We want to offer greater vocational provision to be able to invest in and have adequate resources for that. We currently make do and make the best of what we have.

1061. Mr Lunn: Thank you for your presentation. In the information you gave to the Committee, you emphasised the role played in promoting social and cross-community cohesion, and Dr Brown mentioned the importance of trying to bridge cross-community divides. In the handout for your open night, you stated that your intake comes from the entire community, and it also refers to mutual respect and tolerance. That is music to my ears. Does that mean that you attract an intake from that community that might normally be expected to go to the Cross and Passion College?

1062. Mr Williamson: Yes.

1063. Mr Lunn: You do.

1064. Mr Williamson: I could not put a percentage figure on it. Taking into account the demography of the area, we have representation from all communities, as would any school that represents the community and the area. When I went to the school, I was struck by the delight of teaching a learning-for-life-and-work class where pupils who played camogie were sitting alongside members of a loyalist flute band and engaging in a meaningful and friendly way. I thought it symbolic the other day when I saw a hurling stick standing alongside hockey sticks in the study. In a very simplistic way, that says a lot about what Ballycastle is like. We are mindful of that and we are careful that the ethos of the school and what goes on in the school will maintain, support and promote that.

1065. Mr Lunn: As regards the holistic attention given to children, it must be beneficial that they are not educated purely in one setting. I do not mean any disrespect to the previous contributors because there is plenty of opportunity for collaboration at sixth-form level. I am not making any point. It must be a north-coast thing.

1066. Dr Brown: It comes naturally to the north coast.

1067. Mr Williamson: It is. There is uniqueness to the community. It may be something to do with the geographical isolation. Our collaboration with Cross and Passion College is non-competitive and non-threatening. It is genuine organic, heartfelt, mutual respect. There is a lot of connection between the pupils and the school.

1068. Mr Lunn: I suppose it has nothing to do with the over-subscription of Cross and Passion College.

1069. Mr Williamson: I do not think so. Perhaps one or two pupils might investigate their options but, because we work quite effectively, pupils can pick courses in one school and still pick courses in the other school. However, I do not see that as a particular issue further down the school in years 8, 9 and 10.

1070. Mr Lunn: Long may it continue.

1071. The Chairperson: Part of it is probably due to the MLA for the area, who is always known for his tolerance and inclusion, and that may have rubbed off on them. Ian, Carol and Dr Brown, thank you very much. I am sorry that we have had to rush the meeting a bit, but we appreciate your presence.

1072. As MLA for the area, I can say that your contribution is extremely valued. Unfortunately, that is used sometimes in a glib way. Glib may not be the right word: perhaps an offhand way. The value of the work between Cross and Passion College and Ballycastle High School stands as a testament to all that has been achieved. If people were to take a look at the area and community of Ballycastle, the stability of that area — despite all the years of the Troubles — is, by and large, down to the immense work done between Cross and Passion College and Ballycastle High School. When collaboration was a new thing, it was not new in Ballycastle. You are to be commended. We thank you for your efforts. We trust that you will continue to do the job that you have been doing.

1073. Mr Williamson: Thank you.

2 February 2011

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Mervyn Storey (Chairperson)
Mrs Mary Bradley
Mr Jonathan Craig
Mr Trevor Lunn
Miss Michelle McIlveen
Mr John O'Dowd
Mrs Michelle O'Neill

Witnesses:

Mr John Mulholland
Monsignor O'Byrne
Mrs Edwina Toner
Mrs Mary White

 

St Pius X College

1074. The Chairperson (Mr Storey): I invite representatives from St Pius X College to come to the table. If the room gets too cold, the heat can be put on again, and if it gets too warm it can be turned off.

1075. Mr O'Dowd: That sounds logical.

1076. The Chairperson: Yes, and there is not often logic. Are members and guests happy with the temperature of the room? If anyone gets too cold, just put your hand up.

1077. I welcome Monsignor O'Byrne, the chairperson of the board of governors; Mary White, the principal of the college; Edwina Toner, the vice-principal; and John Mulholland, who is also a vice-principal. I refer members to their papers. I thank the school for providing the Committee with an informative and useful document, which members will find on their desks. Thank you for taking the time to host the Committee today. I ask Monsignor O'Byrne to make a presentation.

1078. Monsignor C O'Byrne (St Pius X College): Thank you. I will give the Committee a few facts about the school. St Pius X College was opened in 1964 when it was known as St Pius X Secondary Intermediate School and was built, like so many others, after the 1947 Education Act. As the Chairperson has said, education has changed a great deal since those schools were established. We had a refurbishment and a newbuild at the beginning of 2000, although we had been agitating for it for about 10 years. We eventually wgot started, and the present school is the result. It looks very well and has great teaching and technical resources. The refurbishment took about three years, and we had the official opening in November 2003.

1079. As you know, it is a co-ed maintained college, and the catchment area is within a radius of approximately 10 miles. When the school opened in 1964, it enrolled about 400 pupils. At the moment, our enrolment is over 900. We have a teaching staff of 64, with 22 classroom assistants. Of our 900 pupils, 53 are statemented pupils. Although the school is in the North-Eastern Education and Library Board area, 40% of its pupils come from the Southern Education and Library Board area. The school stands very high in the community and has third-generation pupils, whose parents and grandparents also attended the school. It is a great opportunity for pupils to develop their talents to the full. That is a brief account of the college.

1080. Mrs White will begin our presentation, followed by Mrs Toner, the vice-principal, who will then be followed by Mr John Mulholland, the second vice-principal.

1081. Mrs Mary White (St Pius X College): I have been principal of St Pius X College for six years. My management team includes my two vice-principals who are with me today, and three key stage co-ordinators. Monsignor O'Byrne has been very supportive as chair of the board of governors for many years. Our governors play an important role in taking forward our focus on standards and improvement in our college.

1082. We thank the Committee for the opportunity to make a presentation, and I am pleased that our pupils will also have an opportunity to present their views later today. They are our future, the foundation on which every developed economy is based, and it is right they should have a voice. It is also noteworthy that the views of schools in rural areas are being sought and I commend the Committee for that.

1083. The Committee received our written submission last term. I will identify the key ingredients that we believe are pertinent to our submission to the inquiry. My colleague, Mrs Edwina Toner, will outline strategies that we employ to promote our engagement with parents and the wider community. Mr John Mulholland will address under-achievement through curriculum provision in Key Stage 4 and sixth form. Our presentation will conclude with some challenges we face.

1084. Although we are dividing our presentation for the purposes of the meeting, we, as a team, work closely together. The pastoral and curricular domains are closely linked. We believe that that approach is fundamental to our success. We are fortunate to have an excellent building and resources, but those are useless unless the quality of learning and teaching is evident. Our staff are our most important resource. We care for the welfare of our staff, who go that extra mile to ensure that our pupils get every opportunity to succeed. Our mission statement, "to promote partnership, develop talents and encourage participation", underpins everything that we do.

1085. Continuous professional development of staff, appropriate to the needs of the college and the individual, is encouraged and facilitated. We provide quality INSET days for all our staff based on sharing good practice. Our open-door policy facilitates sharing, and all respond well to that approach. We support the universities by providing learning opportunities through student placement. We support our newly-qualified teachers. Our pastoral vice-principal and INSET co-ordinator ensure that strengths are recognised and perceived weaknesses supported at all levels.

1086. We have invested heavily in ICT. Last year, we were awarded overall winner in the "best whole school" category for Northern Ireland at the Becta ICT excellence awards in Birmingham. The award recognises the imaginative use of technology to enhance lessons and support all college activities. Everyone connected with the college had an input in that achievement and take great pride in it.

1087. Introducing sixth form to our college seven years ago has added to our success. Those pupils provide positive role models, in particular for Key Stage 4 pupils, who strive to "wear the black uniform" of sixth form. That motivates them to succeed at GCSE as they are made aware that places are limited. Our sixth form continues to grow and we provide a quality education for them all.

1088. In 'Every School a Good School' the Minister states:

"My vision for the future is one that sees schools as vibrant, self-improving communities of good practice, meeting the needs and aspirations of individual pupils through high quality teaching and learning."

1089. That is the reality for us. However, we do not remain complacent. Our college recognises that good leadership is second only to classroom teaching in raising standards. The model that we employ is shared leadership. I pay tribute to all staff, in particular to leadership and middle-management teams, which work in partnership to set high expectations for all aspects of experience for our pupils.

1090. Our college is, first and foremost, child-centred. We believe strongly that every pupil deserves the same opportunity. Everyone at the college buys into that. Our senior and middle managers have clearly defined roles and responsibilities. We are open to ideas and encourage staff to take on responsibility. We recognise the work and contribution that everyone makes to our college community. We work together to ensure effective governance and management of the college at all levels.

1091. Our vision is achieved through college development planning, and all who work in the college have contributed to, and implement, the plan. Teamwork is an important dimension of our work. We believe in "united we stand", and we work together in promoting the needs of our pupils. Our plan is in the second year of a three-year cycle. We used Every School a Good School and quality indicators from the Together Towards Improvement strategy to inform our decisions, and I welcome the revision of that resource as it is a helpful tool for self-evaluation.

1092. Clear channels of communication are vital in raising achievement and supporting learners. Our open-door policy extends to all stakeholders, parents, staff and pupils so that they are kept informed. We host daily meetings for our leadership group followed by a staff briefing that facilitates individual input from staff members. Our special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) also has a daily meeting with the classroom support team to ensure that everyone is aware of what is happening in the college.

1093. Celebrating success is another aspect of our work. Our e-learning co-ordinator strives endlessly to update our website to share information and to recognise and celebrate the college's many achievements. Weekly assemblies with individual year groups also focus on celebrating success. We schedule monitoring meetings to review the action plans of all post holders, and that provides them with a platform to inform the discussion about future planning and meeting the diverse needs of our pupils.

1094. Our school's success criteria are based on value added in all domains. I will provide some statistics that show the strength of that success. This year, in Key Stage 3 English, 68% achieved level 5 and above and 30% achieved level 6 and above. In maths, 67% achieved level 5 and above and 28% achieved level 6 and above. At GCSE, 76% of our pupils achieved A* to C grades in five or more subjects. Those results are already above the short-term and long-term PSA targets. At GCE, 65 students achieved A* to C grades in three or more subjects. Each year, many of our students are ranked in the top three across Northern Ireland at GCSE and GCE level. Ninety-six per cent our leavers progress to further and higher education. In all cases, we are well above the Northern Ireland average.

1095. As I said earlier, we cannot become complacent. To sustain success we need support and more clarity on the way forward. The future of children is paramount. I will ask Mrs Toner to speak to the Committee for a few minutes about engaging parents and the wider community.

1096. Mrs Edwina Toner (St Pius X College): Good morning. My address will focus on how our pastoral care system and our engagement with parents and the wider community have contributed to our college's success and ensured that our students get the best opportunity to develop to their full potential.

1097. Pastoral care in the college is very strong, and we are renowned for our positive and caring relationships within the college community. Our ethos is built on respect and achievement for all, and all stakeholders buy into that. Visitors and Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) reports have paid tribute many times to our very open, excellent and caring approach. Pupils are at the heart of all that we do. Our pastoral system has been pivotal to our success and, as the principal mentioned, has a high profile in our school development plan. It takes account of the uniqueness of pupils and their holistic needs; pastoral, religious, social, health and academic. Students' learning is catered for through the commitment, dedication and hard work of all staff, who are the key resource to our strong pastoral care. Many programmes and projects are set up to support pupils' learning.

1098. We promote positive discipline through an effective code of conduct and reward schemes. Pupils with specific behavioural needs follow individual behavioural plans that are drawn up in consultation with the pupils and their parents or guardians. We seek support from many other organisations such as counselling support, Youth Service, the EOTAS scheme and Choices.

1099. Data analysis, target setting and value added are used to promote improvement in all aspects of a pupil's development. We have high expectations of pupil performance and use a range of testing mechanisms including MidYIS, YELLIS and Assessment Manager. We use schools information management system modules, and data and comparative analysis tools to gauge student performance and to set in place intervention programmes, such as mentoring schemes and individual education plans (IEPs) in order to promote success.

1100. The college openly embraces an inclusive approach to education. We currently have 53 students who hold a statement of special educational needs ranging from physical, emotional to learning. The very high number of statemented pupils reflects the high esteem and recognition in which our college is held, especially as it is parents who choose to send their children to our college. Our SENCO effectively manages the college's provision for pupils with learning needs through the use of the code of practice, IEPs, relevant INSET for all, consultation with parents, the team of 22 classroom assistants, external support agencies to include educational psychologists, care team meetings, occupational therapists and literary teaching and support service (LTSS) support. Literacy and numeracy standards are raised through specialised programmes such as fun maths, Lexia reading delivered through ICT and Toe by Toe, which is a one-to-one phonic programme. Access arrangements are put in place to allow pupils with specific learning needs to access exams while not compromising the assessment procedures. All efforts are made to ensure that pupils with specific learning needs are fully integrated into college life.

1101. As I mentioned earlier, pupils are at the heart of all that we do. We try to ensure that they are happy and content in the college, and, as a result, we have many programmes in place to make sure that that is the case. We have organised induction and residential programmes that promote team building for the new intake, which is extremely important as we have pupils from over 20 feeder primary schools. Our Key Stage 3 co-ordinator manages that programme and liaises with our feeder primary schools on all aspects to ensure that we are fully prepared for the new students who will be in our care. All Key Stage co-ordinators ensure that ongoing support is available for pupils so that their needs and aspirations are catered for. That includes transition programmes and outreach support from agencies such as Sentinus, Young Enterprise and Tree of Knowledge, which develop life skills and promote self-esteem.

1102. Our extended learning and healthcare co-ordinators provide an extensive and diverse range of opportunities and extra-curricular programmes to promote health and well-being and positive self-esteem and to develop talents. The activities include many types of sport, dance, drama, ICT and fitness clubs, to mention but a few. Pupils engage fully in those over break, lunchtime and after school.

1103. Parental involvement is a very high priority. We fully engage parents in all aspects of college life through meetings, home school link programmes, paired reading programmes, online evaluations and intergenerational programmes — for example, afterschool ICT and cookery classes. Parents are fully informed about all aspects of college life, using various methods, including meetings, school diaries, our college website and truancy call to promote attendance.

1104. In addition to our college community triangle of parents, pupils and all staff, we have extensive wider community links. Our schools co-ordinator manages the development of collaborative links with schools in the community. We work closely with our feeder primary schools and have established strong links with the development of initiatives to include sports coaching, STEM-related competitions, tutoring in modern languages and the use of virtual learning environment for project work. Our links with post-primary schools are also well established through the Magherafelt learning partnership programme, which Mr Mulholland will talk about in more detail. We are also part of the shared education programme scheme, which offers many courses to develop pupils' life skills and talents at post-16. It provides enrichment to students, and choices include online university courses, computer courses and introduction to law, health and safety and aromatherapy.

1105. We have strong links with the business community. It provides support to us and, in turn, gets future expertise. School involvement takes the form of work placements and project work for vocational studies, especially STEM-related studies. We want our pupils to achieve and develop the necessary skills that will support business in the future.

1106. Education at primary and post-primary years is invaluable to future generations. All pupils, irrespective of their abilities and background, deserve to get the best. We are continuing to strive in the college to meet the PSA targets as set out in 'Every School a Good School'.

1107. Mr John Mulholland (St Pius X College): As curriculum vice-principal, I will provide an overview of our curriculum provision at St Pius X College and then outline curricular initiatives on which we have focused in addressing underachievement.

1108. Our overall curriculum planning reflects the aims of the school and the priorities outlined in the school development plan. The school has a clear, coherent plan for all areas of the curriculum, which effectively guides the outstanding work of our heads of department and individual teachers as a whole.

1109. At Key Stage 3, our curriculum is infused with thinking skills, personal capabilities and the cross-curriculum skills of communication, using mathematics and ICT. At Key Stages 4 and 5, our broadly-based, balanced and flexible curriculum is tailored to meet the needs of individual pupils and ensures appropriate curriculum progression routes. It is important to stress that we promote a socially inclusive curriculum that ensures participation in education for all our pupils.

1110. Curricular initiatives used in addressing underachievement include the following: banding; these arrangements enable pupils with differing abilities to be taught in ways and at speeds suitable to their abilities, thus enhancing the progress of all our pupils; an increase in our vocational and applied portfolio of courses at Key Stages 4 and 5, for middle and bottom band students, has provided greater breadth and balance; the introduction of the new ACETS qualification, which encompasses employability, essential skills, occupational studies at Key Stage 4 and certificate of personal effectiveness at Key Stage 5. Those qualifications are more consummate with a pupil's ability in middle and bottom bands. Innovative timetabling has created more opportunities to create more practical experience from middle and bottom band pupils, especially boys, at Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4.

1111. The aim of the careers education, information, advice and guidance in the college is to help our pupils develop their knowledge, understanding, skills, and experiences of opportunities in order to manage their career development and make relevant informed choices, ensuring successful transition into education, training or employment.

1112. Our college is actively engaged in trying to use STEM education in promoting an integrative approach to learning and teaching that draws on the foundations of each individual subject area in order to form a cohesive course of instruction. STEM initiatives continue to help all our pupils, especially boys, gain a solid foundation of critical thinking skills that then can be applied in other areas of learning.

1113. Quality INSET provision across departments has provided the opportunities to share good practice and showcase new IT technologies and teaching methodologies.

1114. In relation to raising achievement, our staff always convey and set realistically high expectations which challenge and inspire the pupils. They use and build upon pupils' ideas, interests and prior learning, and staff use an appropriate range of teaching and learning strategies that motivates pupils and engages them purposefully in their work, collaboratively or independently.

1115. Departmental improvement strategies in place for tackling underachievement include quality learning and teaching. There is less focus on chalk and talk and greater variety in our lessons; there are more practical activities and greater emphasis on the development of the skills-base curriculum; the incorporation of ICT, new software, whiteboard technologies and Learning NI as a home-tuition resource. The introduction of new vocational courses such as essential skills and occupational studies have offered greater qualification choice and flexibility. We have after-school, mid-term, revision programmes, coursework clinics, and the development of a homework club which utilises the use of ICT facilities.

1116. At St Pius X College, literacy and numeracy initiatives have been widely used to tackle underachievement. They have included: greater discussion across all subject areas; the introduction of drama at Key Stage 3, in order to provide role play opportunities for our boys; and greater variety in the use of texts, with more fiction-based texts in order to engage boys as well.

1117. Banding and setting of pupils at Key Stage 3 has allowed us to provide a fast-track approach and a better foundation for the teaching of GCSE and our 'A' level provision. Timetable arrangements facilitate pupil movement at Key Stage 4 for mathematics and English classes.

1118. Achievement strategies adopted at St Pius X College with a particular focus on boys include the use of personalised learning programmes, individual behavioural intervention programmes, the role of academic tutoring and community mentoring. We have also just-for-boys assemblies, specific careers advice, and the use of short-term targets in the classroom environment.

1119. The entitlement framework guarantees even greater choice and flexibility for all our pupils. It provides the pupils with access to a wide range of learning opportunities that are suited to their needs, aptitudes and interests. The recent education and library board audit, which was completed in 2010, shows that St Pius X College is meeting the entitlement framework at Key Stage 4. The college is on schedule to meet the Key Stage 5 entitlement framework quota by 2013, as 30 subjects were offered, in collaboration with the Magherafelt learning partnership, to our current year 12 students, 12 of which were applied.

1120. The role of collaboration in relation to tackling underachievement cannot be understated. The college is an active member of the Magherafelt learning partnership, which includes St Mary's Grammar School, Rainey Endowed School, Magherafelt High School, Sperrin Integrated College, the Northern Regional College and Kilronan Special School. It aims to extend curriculum opportunities for all pupils of the Magherafelt area.

1121. The college is already in a strong position to provide pupils with an extensive choice of courses in sixth form in a range of general and applied subjects. Indeed, our range of courses has further increased through that collaboration. However, it is important to note that our college has made an invaluable addition to the portfolio of applied subjects on offer through the learning partnership. St Pius X has received national acclaim for excellence across business, health and social care and ICT on an annual basis.

1122. School-to-school collaboration has been a powerful means of strengthening the capacity of the college, especially to address the demands of the entitlement framework. Collaboration has widened opportunities and helped to address the needs of certain disadvantaged groups of learners at the college. Some 26 pupils at year 14 study across eight subject areas within the partnership. We have 51 students at year 14 who study across 12 subject areas. Boys at year 13 and year 14 now have access to BTEC qualifications in engineering and construction, as a result of collaboration with the NRC. That has been instrumental in us retaining boys in sixth form. Our students now have access to a broader range of academic specialisms. It has provided access to a more broad and balanced curriculum and increased enrichment opportunities for all our pupils. At key stage 4, collaboration with the NRC has allowed for more personalised learning programmes for some of our pupils who have selected an occupational pathway to follow.

1123. In conclusion, the curricular provision at St Pius X has been designed to ensure that all our pupils have opportunities to receive a broad and balanced education through teaching and learning that has a clear focus on raising standards in literacy and numeracy and allows all our pupils to develop their knowledge and skills in all areas of learning.

1124. Mrs White: Over the years, through strategic planning, we have maximised our budget allocation to ensure that we have teacher resources, pupil resources, ICT facilities and child-centred initiatives in place to promote pupils and to make sure that pupils get the maximum opportunities to succeed in life.

1125. Our main concern is that, with the proposed Budget cuts, our ability to sustain success and contribute to developing the provision that is currently in place could be hindered. We are about building gaps and developing pupils' holistic needs. We fear that those will be seriously compromised with the proposed spending cuts.

1126. This presentation is only a snapshot of what we do. It is impossible to cover all avenues that contribute to our success. The college, parents, pupils and the wider community working in partnership based on mutual respect is the cornerstone of our success. Thank you for listening to us.

1127. The Chairperson: Thank you for those contributions. To set the other witnesses at ease, we do not expect them to have the level of detail that was in that presentation. It was a very worthwhile presentation. I ask members to keep to time because I am conscious that the school has lunch arranged for us, and we do not want to overrun. There was so much in that presentation that we could spend most of the day here. However, we are dealing with what are the ingredients of a successful school. Are there any practical difficulties because your school straddles two education and library boards? The Monsignor referred to the fact that 40% of your pupils come from the Southern Board.

1128. Does that create any managerial problems for you on a practical basis?

1129. Mrs White: Yes, very much so. Transport is one issue; free schools meals is another. However, addressing the behavioural needs of our students is a particular problem.

1130. The Chairperson: Are there different standards in the two boards?

1131. Mrs White: Yes, and that presents difficulties.

1132. The Chairperson: I do not want to go into too much detail about this, but, by way of comment, I suspect that concerns were raised when the commission brought out its report about the proposed merger or amalgamation. Is that issue still being considered? What is this school's view? Some Committee members went to an event at St Mary's some time ago, but that was prior to the commission's announcement.

1133. Monsignor O'Byrne: There is ongoing collaboration between all the schools, but more particularly between St Mary's and us. A decision has yet to be taken on that. At the moment, the idea of academic selection is not a problem for our school. In fact, it does not involve the school at all. Collaboration within Magherafelt learning partnership is very strong, and the collaboration between the two schools, particularly on the cutbacks and LMS, is making that even stronger. However, we are taking things year by year.

1134. The Chairperson: I want to go to members' questions as quickly as possible.

1135. I notice that you have a feeder primary school co-ordinator. Do you believe that that is a key component for feeding into the transition from primary to post-primary education and establishing the various progression routes, be they banding, innovative timetabling or academic mentoring, which John mentioned? If that co-ordinator were not in place, given that the post is probably subject to budgets and that we are facing extremely challenging times, would that impinge on or impede the streamlined transition from primary to post-primary?

1136. Mrs White: That appointment was made just a year ago to promote integration and engagement with parents and the primary schools. Prior to that, we and the Key Stage 3 co-ordinator made and kept in close contact with the primary schools. Given that we are in a rural area, we engage with primary schools quite a bit. The budget cuts would not, therefore, present us with a problem. Do the rest of you agree?

1137. Mrs Toner: Yes. Mrs White was talking about preparing for pupils before they arrive, and that is vital. We need to be well ahead of the game so that we can prepare for those children, particularly because many of them are statemented and have a variety of needs. We, therefore, need to prepare for them well in advance of their coming to the school. We bring them in around June of their p7 year to break down any anxiety that they may have before transferring.

1138. Mrs White: As I said, our SENCO plays a big role in visiting primary schools prior to children's transferring. Our school is large, so we do that work to help those children who come from very small primary schools.

1139. Mrs Toner: Needs are much greater now, and more diverse children are transferring, so it is important that we are able to deal with those diverse needs.

1140. The Chairperson: This is my final question about that transition. By and large, the feeder schools are in rural areas, so your school gets not only rural pupils but rural parents. I notice that the school has a policy of engagement with parents and that you seek and acts on their views. You also talk about the engagement of parents. Has that improved or increased? There is a difference between the engagement of parents and parents having an association with the school. They could believe in their heart that this is the school for their child but have no engagement with the school beyond leaving their child at the school gate. How has that been developed and worked on? What is the key to making that the success that it seems to be for the school?

1141. Mrs White: First and foremost, parents want their child to be at the school. As Monsignor O'Byrne said, we have third-generation children here, whose parents and grandparents are past pupils. Their contact with the school, and the contribution that the school made to their lives, is such that they want their children to go to the school. They know us and we know them. So, it is important to have knowledge of the community. Some of our staff reside in the community, which is important for us as well. We do get good support from the majority of parents.

1142. Mr Mulholland: Engagement has been a great thing in that parents are more informed about their entitlement. The questions about curriculum provision and the benefits of banding and setting would surprise the Committee. We also have our liaison teacher, and our year 8, and we have our Key Stage co-ordinator regularly striking a chord with the primary schools. They and the SENCO work with parents when they come into the school. People's fears can be allayed at an early stage. A big thing about the school is that we are open to engagement with people. At a lot of open nights we give parents feedback and discuss the success of the night. We also seek their opinions about our policy statements. Parents have a big voice at St Pius's and that is one of the school's selling points.

1143. Mr Lunn: In what year was the school rebuilt?

1144. Monsignor O'Byrne: The rebuilding started in 2000 and finished in 2003. The official opening by the Minister was in November 2003.

1145. Mr Lunn: Most schools that we visit give a similar presentation. I am not saying that they are by any means identical but the objectives for activities, outreach, community involvement and parental inclusion are pretty much the same. However, some schools seem to perform better than others, which is why we are holding this inquiry.

1146. Without wanting to give you an opportunity to congratulate yourselves, why do you think that St Pius X College does so well compared with the averages? I asked about the newbuild because the inspection report that we have is dated 2004, which was just after the new school opened. Do you think that facilities are a factor?

1147. Mr Mulholland: Although there were three separate presentations, the sum of the parts makes the place work. We spoke about effective leadership and the vision of the school, the pastoral arrangements and the curriculum initiatives that we have taken on board. The strength of the school is when all those are embodied and all the practices put in place.

1148. The answer to your question about facilities is yes. They have provided a major upturn in attracting students. Not only that, they have raised the motivation of staff coming to work. If you walk down the corridors, we have an open-door policy in the school. With regard to learning resources, we are well-kitted with ICT and there has been major investment in that. The staff are embracing the utilisation of new teaching methodologies incorporating all that ICT. That has been a major selling point for the school.

1149. Mr Lunn: You spoke about attracting pupils. Obviously, you are in competition with the grammar school that we all passed on the way here. That school still operates an academic selection process. Does it have a transfer test?

1150. Monsignor O'Byrne: Yes.

1151. Mr Lunn: Are you still able to compete with it for pupils? That seems to put you at a further disadvantage and makes your performance all the more spectacular in that you have a grammar school so close that, presumably in theory at least, is creaming off the best of the intake. Yet you are still performing well.

1152. Mrs Toner: We have always been used to reaching out to all abilities and are about being value-added. So, that is not new to us.

1153. Mr Mulholland: Our school and probably Oakgrove Integrated College and Ballycastle High School have to work exceptionally hard, especially with regard to the curriculum provision in the selection of courses for the kids to follow so that they can attain a measure of success. That is the big thing, and it is a major variable.

1154. Mrs White: The school sells itself. The public are aware of what we do, and the children still come to us.

1155. Mrs Toner: We are concerned with sustainability. What we do now, we do well, and we do it with the current budget and the resources that we have. Therefore, we are concerned about cuts to the budget, and being able to provide smaller class sizes and the broad range of courses.

1156. Monsignor O'Byrne: The school had a very good standing in the locality even before the rebuild. The rebuild and the resources, particularly in the ICT field, have grown immensely since then. We are lucky, in as much as there are pupils in the area. This has been a great growth area for education. Not only do we have our grammar school, there is a second grammar school, which takes in pupils from both sides of the house. Some pupils who come here have passed the transfer test and have made the choice to come here. There has been a great caring community and a great relationship between pupils and teachers since the school opened, and that caring and going that extra bit by teachers is appreciated by pupils and parents.

1157. Mr Lunn: That has come through in your presentation and in your documentation. Do you have a non-catholic intake?

1158. Monsignor O'Byrne: No.

1159. Mr Lunn: The Committee's figures, which are a few years old, indicate that there were no transfers from here into higher or university education. Is that still the case?

1160. Monsignor O'Byrne: Sorry, what did you say?

1161. Mrs White: Ninety-six per cent of our students go on to further and higher education.

1162. Mr Mulholland: Sixth form has been in place for about seven years and has been very successful. We started with 24 students, and we now have 79 students in year 13 and 67 in year 14.

1163. Mr Lunn: What percentage of pupils goes on to university?

1164. Mrs White: Ninety-six per cent of students go to university.

1165. Mr Lunn: I have completely misread the figures.

1166. Miss McIlveen: Thank you for your comprehensive presentation. We will have to read the Hansard report to get a flavour of all the details that have been presented. I want to touch briefly on the comments made about banding. You referred to academic selection, although that does not necessarily affect the college. You work on academic results for the banding stream. How do you go about banding, how aggressive is it, and do you see a discernable difference between the genders?

1167. Mr Mulholland: In year 8, the students are banded on the standardised scores that we set with them in line with MidYIS data. We have roughly 80 students in the top band, 40 in the middle band and 30 in the bottom band. From an early stage, we promote an ethos of promotion between the bands. As pupils move from year 9 and year 10 we set within a band a top class and a second class for certain subjects such as maths, which I touched on earlier. That is in preparation for GCSE and A level exams.

1168. We are rigorous with regard to the bands themselves. However, the underlying current that we try to promote among the students is the fact that there are opportunities for the kids in year 8 who might start off in the bottom band to move through the spectrum by the time they get to their GCSEs. One thing on which we congratulate ourselves is that one student who was in our bottom band in year 8 left school last year and took up a position on a multimedia course at Queen's University. If there is any qualification for value added, that is essentially what St Pius X is about.

1169. Miss McIlveen: Are the pupils banded when they come into the school?

1170. Mrs White: Yes.

1171. Miss McIlveen: Co-operation with primary schools is obviously critical.

1172. Mr Mulholland: Yes. The nature of the curricular provision is that in year 8 there is more practical provision for bottom band classes in that we offer opportunity for design and technology, ICT and art and design. In order to engage the students, we find that they enjoy more practical-based activity, and it also minimises a lot of behavioural issues.

1173. Miss McIlveen: Is that not academic selection?

1174. Mr Mulholland: No. Children still have the facility to move, and there is an ethos of promotion. They have an opportunity to move to the next band and up to the top band.

1175. Miss McIlveen: What relationship do you have with parents regarding banding? Are there instances where there might be objections to it?

1176. Mrs Toner: At times, concerns have been expressed, and we work well with the parents on that. As John pointed out, it is not rigorous in that the initial scoring puts a child in a particular placement. That is not the case. It is done simply to get the children settled in and started off. Beyond that, we work closely with parents, and they are very supportive. Children move up, and, in some cases, move down. However, we do not promote it as moving up or down. It is moving across the various spectrums.

1177. Miss McIlveen: You both mentioned mentoring schemes and community mentoring. Will you develop that and explain what that means?

1178. Mr Mulholland: We run two programmes with year 11 and year 12 boys in particular. Academic tutoring is essentially for staff involved in mentoring a student. The student selects a teacher, and it may not necessarily be one who has taught them. It may be somebody with whom they have struck an accord during their time at the college. That teacher will work closely with the pupil and look at their performance at Christmas and their examinations, talk about their study skills and how they set aside revision work and suggest strategies so that they can improve their performance.

1179. We have also been involved in community-based mentoring. We have brought in past students of the college who have gone on to become social workers and community workers in Magherafelt. Quite often, we find that some of the boys who do not necessarily engage with academic tutoring will open up more to community mentors because they see them out and about. They may be people in Gaelic or those in the community who run their own businesses, and the children aspire to be like them. As a result, it breaks down the pupil/teacher barrier. Those people tell the pupils that they got to their position through hard work and discipline. They sit with the pupils, set targets, review targets, and, if need be, the period of remediation can last longer.

1180. Miss McIlveen: Are boys more inclined to need additional mentoring than girls?

1181. Mr Mulholland: It works with certain boys. Other boys have difficulty opening up. There is still this laddish thing that it is not cool to do school work, and so it is about breaking down that stereotypical boyish behaviour. We have also invited some role models to the school. Brendan Donaghy, who is an all-star footballer for Armagh, came in to talk to the boys about being brought up on a farm and about not placing any value in education until he got older. You could see that some boys aspire to be like those sportsmen, and, quite often, that can be a great vehicle for breaking down those barriers.

1182. Miss McIlveen: Do boys require more of that type of attention?

1183. Mr Mulholland: It is possibly one of the reasons why the boys do well.

1184. Miss McIlveen: Just to go back to banding, is there still a gender-mix in the bottom band, or is it mostly one gender?

1185. Mr Mulholland: There are more boys.

1186. Mrs White: Yes.

1187. Ms McIlveen: What are the proportions?

1188. Mr Mulholland: It is hard to put a figure on it because the numbers change.

1189. Miss McIlveen: Is it around 60% to 70%?

1190. Mr Mulholland: Yes.

1191. Miss McIlveen: Thank you very much.

1192. The Chairperson: Are there different bands for different subjects?

1193. Mr Mulholland: At GCSE, different bands allow us to facilitate a bigger range of subjects. That has been one of the reasons why our band 2 students at GCSE perform very well. They get additional teacher-contact time with respect to class teaching. In the vocational and applied courses especially, which have a large percentage of coursework, pupils have a greater body of time to do them within the school under the guidance of the teacher. We find that that has been very beneficial in performance at GCSE.

1194. Mrs O'Neill: As a representative of Mid Ulster, I am delighted that the Committee is here today and is taking evidence from you. Mary said at the start that good leadership is shared leadership, and that is very evident from your presentation.

1195. I want to pick up on the issue of boys as well. We are all very aware that boys sometimes have lower attainment levels than girls. Are you able to measure the work that you have done, particularly with boys, through qualifications achieved? Perhaps that is not the way it is done.

1196. Mr Mulholland: If you mean qualitative data, then I am unable to give you a breakdown. However, we could certainly get the figures.

1197. One major thing that we have taken on board is the benefit of the ACETS qualifications that were developed especially through CCEA. That is one of the advantages that schools such as ours have. We can sometimes break away from traditional boundaries and look at those sorts of courses.

1198. When they were introduced some years back, I sat around a table with about 12 people in a hall where 80 delegates were present. After a 10-minute introduction, there were only six people still sitting: George Beattie from the Boys' Model and I were the only two left at our table, because the element of coursework alienated a lot of schools. George and I sat thinking: this is one way in which we can engage the kids. The nature of the programmes is important: they do exactly what they say on the tin. They provide the knowledge, understanding and skills that the kids can bring into the work environment. We have found that there is a major rise in the uptake of vocational courses: health and social care, IT, construction, engineering. That is where the students are performing well, especially the boys.

1199. Mrs O'Neill: I am not sure whether it was you, John, or Edwina who stressed that collaboration is vital in tackling underachievement. We are all aware of barriers to collaboration. What is the biggest problem for your school? Mary mentioned transport. The problem of having two education and library boards is also a problem for you. Timetabling may be one as well.

1200. Mr Mulholland: Timetabling was a fundamental problem, to the extent that the five schools in Magherafelt did not run on a common timetable. Magherafelt High School was out of synch. It ran on a one-week timetable, whereas the other four schools were all on two-week timetables.

1201. We had to establish a two-week timetable and then we set aside a common or collaboration block, at an agreed time throughout the course of the working week. That placed pressures on timetabling in the school, but we weighed that against the pressures of having to move around certain teachers and classes, the benefits of collaboration and the additional breadth and balance that it offers to the students. As I said earlier, our kids are able to avail of the expertise of the NRC and its ability to deliver engineer. It has been crucial to have engineering available. We can bring boys back into our sixth form, so that has been a major plus. Some of our kids who are keen to take a more academic pathway can now follow those academic specialities, possibly at Rainey Endowed School or at St Mary's Grammar School. If anything, it has strengthened our hand.

1202. Mrs White: It is a two-way process. All of the schools work together. Everyone benefits, and it is lovely to see students come to our school from other post-primary schools and see our pupils go to their schools. It has been a great benefit.

1203. The Chairperson: Have there been cost savings from collaboration? One benefit of collaboration is to expand the abilities and opportunities for pupils. In the current climate that we are probably heading into, collaboration will be looked at as a silver bullet for reducing costs. Have you seen practical cost savings from not having to provide a subject in your school because it is provided somewhere else, whether that is at Rainey Endowed School, St Mary's Grammar School or Magherafelt High School?

1204. Mrs White: No, not at the moment, because there is give and take among the schools that are collaborating. However, we are looking at optimum classes, small classes and so on, and, as you say, we have to bite the bullet and move forward and timetable only those classes that are viable. We all realise that, not only in collaboration but in our schools, that that has to be future for class sizes in Key Stage 4 and sixth form in particular.

1205. The Chairperson: I welcome Mary Bradley.

1206. Mrs M Bradley: Apologies.

1207. The Chairperson: We tabled your apologies earlier, Mary, and we are delighted that you have made it here safely.

1208. Mr O'Dowd: Thank you for your presentation. How do you measure the success of an individual pupil, a Johnny or Jane who arrives with you at 11 and leaves when they are 16, 17 or 18? When that young adult leaves the school, how do you measure their success?

1209. Mrs White: For me, success is different for each child. In some cases, it is when a child who comes to the school with low self-esteem is then able to be on our football team or in our musical or is able to go out and face the world. For others, it is coming to the school as a failure and leaving with good examination results. Success is individual to each student. Obviously, there is academic success, but success is measured by the holistic development of the child.

1210. Mr Mulholland: The living proof is that two of our senior students who you met this morning were deemed as failures as part of the transfer procedure before their arrival here. Today, I see them as outstanding young citizens who will leave us with an outstanding set of qualifications.

1211. Mr O'Dowd: I suppose that I got the answer that I expected. I know that it is difficult to judge each of your 900 pupils over the past number of years. For me, this inquiry raises the following questions: what is education about? What are we trying to deliver to our young people? In a previous evidence session, the question was asked as to whether a grade D at GCSE was a failure. Should we be espousing the value-added aspect so that we should say well done to young people who have tried their best and left school with a GCSE grade D?

1212. Mrs White: Yes, I agree with that. The results table is a very raw tool of measurement, but, unfortunately, it is used, so we have to aspire to doing well on that. In this school, it is the value-added aspect that matters, not the grade that the child gets. Obviously, if a child wants to go down a route, he or she has to get the grades to do so, but the child also gets the value-added aspect through the experience and opportunities that are important in this school. We are only a sandwich between primary school and moving on, so we prepare that child for what they will meet in life.

1213. Mr O'Dowd: That is a good point. John talked about schools creating and helping in the development of the good citizen. The debate needs to take place about what education is about. We cannot measure children on a series of exam results, and we should always encourage a child to move forward.

1214. I am going back to the league tables again as regards results, but we have heard evidence from other schools that as grammar schools take in a wider range of pupils, their results fall, which is not a true reflection of the school. Have you found that?

1215. Mrs Toner: Not at present, but it is a concern. As we said earlier, we have been well used to pupils of mixed ability coming through our doors, and we have always been oversubscribed. As Monsignor O'Byrne pointed out, we have been very lucky in that population transfer has not been an issue, but I do not doubt that it may be a concern. My greatest worry is about possible reductions in the budget, but we have expertise, and we have had it for years, in being able to manage that. As we said, it is about value added, so we have always worked with these pupils.

1216. Monsignor O'Byrne: Schools develop the potential of their pupils. That potential could be in different fields and not necessarily the academic field. Our college and many other schools lift the self-esteem of the child, even if it is not in the academic field, because everybody has strengths and weaknesses.

1217. Mr O'Dowd: That is a fair comment.

1218. Mrs Toner: You mentioned the best way to measure success. It is to provide a pathway for pupils at the end of their fifth year. Our careers department works well at ensuring that pupils who do not return post-16 have alternative pathways.

1219. Mr O'Dowd: I noted in your presentation that you referred to pupils aspiring to wear the black jacket of the sixth formers. Is their uniform deliberately different?

1220. Mrs White: Yes, it is.

1221. The Chairperson: How do you package the value-added aspect? I do not subscribe to the idea that a person is a failure unless he has qualifications. I think that there is a real problem with that. That is why we are looking at grades as part of this inquiry. John referred to the successful pupil and his or her qualifications, but if a pupil does not have qualifications, how do you package, present and give to that pupil added value for when they leave the school for the wider world in which they are going to have to live and work?

1222. Mrs Toner: It is about making them aware of opportunities. Our pupils recently attended a special needs conference that was designed specifically to show them that there are avenues for them in the workplace. A lot more needs to be done in that particular area.

1223. The Chairperson: We have heard evidence from businesses, and, a year ago, we had a presentation from Wrights in Ballymena. We were told that school leavers were coming to work for them; however, literacy and numeracy classes had to be set up to help those school leavers to do basic skills in the company. There is a clear failure in the system if young people are leaving post-primary school without core competences. We all know that there is a problem in respect of the transition from primary school, but we have challenges in relation to young people who are leaving post-primary schools without core competences.

1224. We have listened to you, and you are to be commended for many of the elements that you have put into your school, but how can we ensure that in respect of the value-added aspect, employers and society know that pupils will have the core competences essential for them to be successful in whatever they decide to do when they leave this school?

1225. Mr Mulholland: Our curriculum has changed vastly over the years, to the extent that we have made a big drive on essential skills. We had a number of year 12 students in the bottom band, and a percentage of those were boys, and they were studying things they were never going to use, such as algebra, trigonometry, quadratic equations and maths. So, we made a conscious management decision to go down the road of essential skills when boys would look at the surface area of a lecture theatre and work out how many carpet tiles would be needed for it.

1226. That set well with the transition that we bought into as regards essential skills communication because that dealt with young people and how to fill in CVs and application forms. As a result, we insisted that that group of students did a key skills qualification in ICT. Alongside that, we have worked in tandem with the NRC in occupational studies where the girls have access to hair and beauty or business administration and the boys have construction. Even our bottom band students are now leaving with level 1 and level 2 passes in those areas and I think that we have prepared them well for their future career pathways because those will obviously be along the occupational route as opposed to the vocational or, indeed, academic one.

1227. Mrs Toner: That links well to Trevor's query about a grade D being seen as a failure. It is not: it is a level 1 category, a level 2 —

1228. Mr Lunn: Please do not get me wrong. I totally agree with you.

1229. Mrs Toner: Yes, I know.

1230. Mr Lunn: A grade D should be more highly regarded.

1231. Mrs Toner: It is a case of changing that mindset: it is level 1, level 2 and level 3.

1232. Mr Mulholland: Grades Ds are paramount for a lot of our kids for entry into the NRC for programmes such as likes of job skills because they equate their points to that. On that basis, we celebrate their grade Ds.

1233. The Chairperson: This is all about terminology.

1234. Mr Mulholland: Yes, exactly.

1235. The Chairperson: We live in a society in which if you say a certain thing to certain people it will ignite in them joy and elation or else you will be their worst enemy. We all have terminology that we use, and we need to rethink radically how we use that terminology because, in reality, it is not exactly what it means to be.

1236. Mr Lunn: Just to clarify: I asked about transfers into higher education. I was looking at the figures before you had a sixth form. I should read more carefully.

1237. The Chairperson: Is there a sixth form at St Mary's, Rainey, the High and Sperrin?

1238. Mrs White: Yes.

1239. Mr Craig: Mary, I listened with interest about banding. I was doing a bit of mathematics because I was working out how long ago I went to a secondary school. It was 34 years ago when I first went there and they had the exact same system. It would be regarded in my area as one of the best secondary schools in the country so maybe that is a tribute that that system does work.

1240. I am interested in the level of parental involvement in the school. I need to ask a sensitive question because I think the issue plays a huge part: what percentage of single-parent families are in your intake area? What percentage of children coming to the school is from single-parent families? I find that that tends to be a huge problem for a school. Is that an issue for you; do you have a large percentage of them; and how do you deal with parental involvement with regard to those families? In fairness, it is much more difficult for a single parent to get heavily involved with a school.

1241. Mrs White: My answer to that is I could not answer your question because we do not label our parents as single parent families or dual parent families. We treat people as individuals and work with them. If issues arise, we contact the parents and work with them. If a parent is not supportive, we keep working with him or her until we get that support. However, I do not know how many single parents we have.

1242. Mrs Toner: It has never been an issue. It is not something that we would need to look into.

1243. Mr Craig: It is not?

1244. Mrs White: No.

1245. Mr Craig: Well, I do not think that any school keeps a record of it but, would you have a fair idea of the level?

1246. Mrs White: I would say that it is increasing. There are difficulties within families, particularly during the recession, because building plays a big part in this community. Obviously there is a recession. We just make ourselves aware of that.

1247. Mr Craig: How do you get those parents heavily involved in their child's education? You talked about encouragement, but you also talked about enforcement. I am intrigued with both words.

1248. Monsignor O'Byrne: On open nights, or parents' night, the school will be packed. The parents come to see the school, and they get an opportunity to talk to the teachers. It is never a half-empty occasion. We had to run two sessions of the open night recently, although not all those pupils will come here. We also have an open night for parents for the different key stages, and 96% of parents usually come. A few parents will not come, but the percentage that does come is very high.

1249. Mrs White: We have a very strong pastoral system. The form teacher is pivotal in that and will contact the parents of the children with whom we would have concerns. I do not see that there is an issue. Do either of you two?

1250. Mrs Toner: No, and that is because we engage with them right from the start, even during the transfer process. We have an open day in June when parents and pupils come along and see round the school. It is an open invitation, and they feel very welcome. They support us.

1251. Mrs White: They are part of the triad, and they are told that from the beginning. It is the unsaid message in the school.

1252. Mrs Toner: The school is also opened up to the community for various outside functions, and people see this as their school.

1253. Mr Craig: I have asked this question of all schools because I find that there is an intriguing difference between the controlled and maintained sectors. Parental involvement in the maintained sector is much higher than in the controlled sector, and that may be a reflection of the link with the Church. It has been admitted that it is a much bigger problem in the controlled sector, which might go a long way to explaining your incredible success in this area.

1254. The other thing that intrigues me, and John has preached it almost to death today, is how the school deals with pupils who are not academically inclined. I commend him for the efforts, and this is where a lot of schools fall down. Do you link yourselves heavily with the technical college as it would have been called in my day?

1255. Mr Mulholland: Yes. During the inception of the sixth form, we met and liaised with Tony Barnhill, who held the admissions tutor role at the University of Ulster, and Liam Barton, who had been at Queen's University. Both gentlemen were instrumental in moving us forward in sixth-form provision. We were conscious of our geographical setup and the schools with which we were competing for sixth-form provision. We wanted to know what else we could bring to the table and what our students needed to do. Obviously, they will be coming out with three A levels, but maybe not with as high grades as some of the students elsewhere in the town.

1256. Tony and Liam said that we needed to look at our enrichment opportunities and build up a portfolio of additional qualifications that could be added, so that our year 14 pupils would have a plethora of extracurricular experiences and an accreditation that they could talk about. That was instrumental in our putting together a structured and detailed enrichment programme, which runs post-16 as well. That allowed our students to not only deal with people in black and white as regards qualifications but bring additional accreditation and a greater range of skills to the table.

1257. We liaise closely with the Northern Regional College in Magherafelt, and we have work programmes in years 12, 13 and 14 with the college. It has played a vital role in the strength of the Magherafelt learning partnership.

1258. Mr Craig: Another thing intrigues me. A levels are not the only way to get into university. Do you encourage certain pupils to go down the HND route?

1259. Mr Mulholland: We have students who leave with two A levels plus a certificate of personal effectiveness (CoPE), which is worth 70 UCAS points and is essentially a C grade at A level, as an add-on and an enrichment alternative. We say to those people that — we package it like this — it would be best to go down the HND route, even though it may take them another year to get to university, because that is more commensurate with their ability. This goes back to the point that I made to Michelle about banding. I can stand over that statement, because we offer subjects within each band that are in keeping with the kids' ability needs.

1260. Mr Craig: I appreciate that.

1261. Mr Mulholland: We pride ourselves on that.

1262. The Chairperson: Mary, Edwina, Monsignor and John, thank you very much. That was extremely useful.

16 February 2011

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Mervyn Storey (Chairperson)
Mr David Hilditch (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Trevor Lunn
Mr Basil McCrea
Mr John O'Dowd

Witnesses:

Mr Eric Bullick
Mr Nigel Frith
Ms Nicola Gormley
Ms Geraldine McKenna

 

Drumragh Integrated College

Mrs Sandra Cashel
Mrs Anne Moore
Mr Simon Mowbray
Mrs Daphne Watt

 

Castlederg High School

Mr Adrian McGuckin
Mrs Máire Quinn
Mr Seamus Shields
Mr James Warnock

 

Dean Maguirc College

1263. The Chairperson (Mr Storey): The Committee for Education decided to conduct an inquiry into successful post-primary schools serving disadvantaged communities. The Committee has been exercised on a variety of issues in its time, particularly in this mandate, and an issue that was of considerable concern to it, and that was repeatedly brought to the fore, was underachievement, or underperformance, as we have also had it identified as during the inquiry.

1264. We endeavoured to look at positive elements, because we too often dwell on the negatives in our education system. We felt that it would be useful to have an inquiry into what is and what constitutes a successful post-primary school. By using a method of assessment, we came up with a list of schools that we felt covered Northern Ireland's geography and its education system's different sectors. Therefore, we have taken evidence at — the Committee Clerk will keep me right here — the Belfast Model School for Girls and St Pius X College in Magherafelt, and we brought a number of other schools to those visits.

1265. We are here in Drumragh in Omagh, and we are delighted that Nigel will give the first presentation to us. We should each stay within our allotted time, and I will try to lead by example on that. We want to try to ensure that we each have as much time as possible.

1266. Mr Nigel Frith (Drumragh Integrated College): You are all very welcome to Drumragh Integrated College. That includes the visitors: those from Castlederg High School, Dean Maguirc College and many others represented this morning.

1267. I will introduce those sitting with me. Eric Bullick, a member of the board of governors, was until a year and a half ago principal of the integrated primary school in Omagh. I doubt that there is anyone in Omagh who knows more about integrated education and its history. Geraldine McKenna is the college's special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCo). She is the best special needs co-ordinator that I have worked with in 25 years. She loves it when I say that publicly. She deals with a wide range of special needs within her remit. Some 10% of students at this college are statemented — 60 in total — and that leads on to the students on other levels of the special needs register. Geraldine works very hard to cater for their needs. Nicola Gormley is the college learning mentor. Committee members may or may not find this an unusual role. It is one that we crafted very carefully. Her remit is to work with individual children who are in danger of falling through the net, if I can put it that way. They may have a range of social and emotional difficulties — what we call collectively "barriers to learning". Nicola's role includes liaising with parents and external agencies in the interests of those children. It is a very busy life.

1268. I accept Mervyn's invitation to stay within time. I intend to run through some key components of the provision that we offer children from disadvantaged communities. I hope that we can tease out some of the issues through questions afterwards.

1269. Before I begin to make the points that I want to make, I find it refreshing and welcome that the Committee is conducting this study. It seems to me that it is engaging with a very real issue and one that is very live. Members will be aware, as we are, that a fair body of research has been conducted in Northern Ireland and beyond into why students from disadvantaged communities do not always perform as highly as those from other backgrounds and what the many different factors involved are.

1270. I am aware, for example, that in the PricewaterhouseCoopers study of 2008 some of the factors identified for the long tail of underachievement included:

"A lack of parental involvement in their children's education"

and

"A perceived lack of value placed on education".

1271. One of the outcomes of the research — as I am sure members are very aware of — is that Protestant working-class males are the key group identified. Another factor identified is a "shortage of positive role models" and the "impact of 'The Troubles'", which continues to ripple through Northern Ireland even today.

1272. In the research conducted by the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister in 2001, we find the factors for Protestant working-class males identified as:

"Feeling alienated in terms of ability and getting on with others; Not taking part in school activities and not seeing education as important in his life …; Unlikely to have access to the internet; Doing less than one hour of homework per night and believing his teachers would not expect more"

1273. and wanting to get out of school as soon as possible.

1274. In that kind of context, I will run through eight factors that we deliver here that are crucial in the framework of needs. The first element is for children to feel safe and secure. That is perhaps the reason that I provided members with a copy of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, with which you are probably familiar. We believe in its importance as a model to identify the fact that if children do not have their basic needs for food, drink, warmth and space met, they are unlikely to be able achieve at the higher levels identified in the hierarchy. Therefore, the first need that we strive to meet here is for children to feel safe and secure.

1275. The second element is a system of behaviour management that includes high standards of discipline, which we unashamedly maintain. At the same time, we complement that with a reward system and structure that is very much live and active. Our younger students in particular buy into a system of reward merits, which are extremely popular. There are rewards for good work and particularly outstanding effort. The students love to get those merits, because they gives them a sense of achievement, and they are a way for us to say that we appreciate who they are and what they have achieved.

1276. When speaking to the students, particularly those who have got themselves into a bit of a tight spot, we often use the image of our behaviour management approach being like a train on a railway track. Therefore, if you do not mind, I will talk you through that image, which, although simplistic, actually says a lot. For a train to run efficiently, two tracks have to be firmly in place. If one of the tracks becomes derailed, the train will leave the track and cause a train wreck. We identify one of those tracks as being the discipline policy of the school. Students at Drumragh Integrated College know, for example, that violence equals suspension. That is a very hard value to which we hold firm. The students and parents understand it, and we stick to it. The students understand the clear and transparent boundaries that are set for them. The other rail on which the train runs is that of support. That is where the reward system and the particularly important work of folks such as Nicola, our learning mentor, Geraldine or, indeed, any of the staff come in.

1277. The third element is quality teaching. I worked with a principal some years ago who was very fond of saying that if surgeons used surgical methods in their work that were 50 years old and clearly outdated, there would be such an outcry. Why should schools get away with it? We pride ourselves on taking on board the fact that more has been learnt about the working of the human brain in the past 20 years than at any other time in history. We know a lot now about how youngsters learn and about where their barriers to learning arise from. We seek to build on that understanding in order to help our youngsters to achieve the very best that they are capable of. That includes the concept as set out in the briefing paper of promoting a belief among children and parents that there is no single type of intelligence and that intelligence is, in fact, multiple. There are many ways of learning and many different preferred learning styles. We seek to encourage our students to understand how they learn best and to use learning methods that are most appropriate for them.

1278. The fourth factor is engagement with parents. We promote the triangle of student, parent and member of staff — teacher or not — and we seek to develop that partnership in the interests of the child. That is worked out in many different ways, one of which is the support provided by Nicola and Geraldine. They will readily lift the telephone to invite parents to come in to discuss their children's progress. In Nicola's case, if parents do not want to come into the school, she will jump in the car and go to see them in their home. Let us just pause and reflect on the reason for that: sometimes students who have barriers to learning come from homes that also have barriers to learning, and sometimes we are looking at parents who themselves had a very negative experience of school and do not like coming into school. They feel intimidated the minute that they walk through the door, and that creates a barrier to our communication with them. Nicola, therefore, begins to build links with them in their living room. She earns their trust there before they come into school to meet us. We also reach out to parents through consultation days, as an alternative to traditional parents' evenings. In fact, we are holding one here today. Parents come in with children from two year groups to meet staff in the main hall behind me while the rest of our students are on a home study day on work that has been set specifically for them to complete at home. We have revision skills workshops, to which we invite parents and students to come and learn together about how to revise effectively and what is involved in preparing for exams in the best way possible. There are other examples, but I am conscious of time, so perhaps we can talk about those later.

1279. The fifth factor is high exam grades. Whatever else we do, we are acutely conscious of the fact that students need to leave here with the best exam grades possible. We are in the middle of a recession. The odds are stacked against our young people as they enter the employment market, so the least that we can do is to fulfil our responsibility to give them the best exam grades that we can. To that end, some of the activities that we engage in include mentoring all our year 12 students. All children in year 12 have a member of staff working alongside them through that critical GCSE year. That member of staff meets them regularly, listens to their needs and helps them to overcome any barriers to learning that they may have.

1280. We have abandoned the traditional notion of study leave. Members will be aware that, traditionally, schools say farewell to students in the middle of May and almost abandon them at the time when they need us most. Instead, our staff put on a full programme of revision lessons and compile registers of who attends. We are convinced that that programme is instrumental in the GCSE results that we achieve, which were that 81% of pupils achieved five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C. That is a delight to us, and we think that the mentoring, coaching and revision skills that we deliver to our students is part of the reason for it.

1281. The sixth factor is a sense of acceptance. Learning is a very emotional business, and, too often in the past, schools have assumed that it is purely an intellectual exercise, leading perhaps to the idea in Pink Floyd's song about children being seen as another brick in the wall. To learn effectively, students need to feel comfortable and engaged. We know from research into the brain that the ideal learning state is called "relaxed alertness", and, if a child can be encouraged to work in that mental frame, it produces optimum learning. To achieve relaxed alertness, youngsters need to feel that they are given time when they have a problem, and they and their parents need to know that, when a problem is reported to us, we will deal with it and that that will be done efficiently. Students need to know that they can trust us, and they also need to know that, regardless of their potential or their learning needs, they are welcome here and that they are accepted.

1282. That applies regardless of whether they have learning difficulties, such as the type that Geraldine deals with, or whether it is an emotional barrier of some sort, with which Nicola deals. It also applies to the students who are gifted and talented, and we have a discrete programme for gifted and talented students. It identifies them, because we need to know who they are, and we have a programme in the classroom and beyond to ensure that their learning needs are met.

1283. The seventh factor is the sense of values that we seek to develop in our students. That includes tolerance and respect, as well as the values that underpin integrated education, which are about inclusion, accepting difference and seeing difference as a positive. One of the latest initiatives in which we have involved ourselves is called restorative justice, through which youngsters learn to resolve differences for themselves, not at a high level but at a lower level. They engage face to face, ask questions such as how a person felt when he or she was involved in a situation, and they listen to each other. Often, the outcome of that is a new sense of tolerance and understanding. Sometimes there are tears, and often there is handshake over the table and the issue is resolved. That is a part of the programme of value development that we are rolling out and seeking to improve for the good of the youngsters who attend here.

1284. That brings me to my eighth and final point. I have deliberately saved it until last. It is riddled through the briefing that I sent the Committee. It is on the quality of relationships between staff and students. Children from disadvantaged communities in particular will sometimes come to school with barriers ready to go up. They often do not want to be here. They come from homes where parents do not particularly value what we do, and they themselves are suspicious of the whole world of school and education.

1285. If I were to point to arguably the single most important defining factor that enables those children to learn at Drumragh, it would be that they know that teachers respect them, that teachers and staff will listen to them and spend time with them, that they are accepted for who they are and that there is time for a chat about their own interests — whether it be about the judo that they were involved in at the weekend, the running competition, their music or even their football team. Out of that comes a relationship of trust. Students know that staff here expect a great deal from them. They also know that they have a lot to give back and that they will receive a lot from staff here.

1286. Often if one walks down the corridors of this building after the end of the school day, in one room one will see a club or an activity going on, where children are continuing to learn happily. What is equally inspiring is that one will pass a number of classrooms in which there is a teacher working with just one or two children, giving them extra coaching and extra time.

1287. Students here feel comfortable and relaxed about approaching staff if they have a problem. We have successfully combated the tout or snitch culture, and students here know that, if they have a problem, it is important that they talk to us and share what the problem is. Our guarantee is that, if they tell us what the problem is, we will solve it. I will end deliberately on that note. The quality of relationships between staff and students is perhaps the most important factor of all in helping children from disadvantaged communities to learn effectively. Thank you very much for listening. We will happily take questions on anything that we have said this morning.

1288. The Chairperson: Do any other witnesses on your panel want to make any comment before we move on?

1289. Mr Eric Bullick (Drumragh Integrated College): Yes, I would like to make a comment about something that Nigel has not mentioned, and that I have not run past him either. My background in primary education in the local integrated primary school means that I am aware of how many children transferred to this college with what was traditionally called a B grade but who left seven years later with three A levels. I have been astounded at the percentage of children who have had that experience. At the end of primary 7, they were, unfortunately, regarded as some type of failure, yet they are now in university. This college has consistently turned those B grades into three A levels. I will leave it at that brief comment.

1290. Ms Geraldine McKenna (Drumragh Integrated College): Nigel has referred to the number of students in our school on the special needs register. In my estimation, the figure is above the average in Northern Ireland. In integrated schools, we do tend to get higher numbers on our special needs register, and that is possibly because of the way in which we deal with children. It is not just about addressing their learning needs; it is much broader.

1291. The Chairperson: I welcome John O'Dowd to the meeting. I want to ask one question. One other school that we visited takes a similar type approach to the rewards and the merit work that goes on. Historically, it came from a difficult set of circumstances, but that school has turned itself around and now has a reputation for engagement with the local community and a place of prominence and importance in that community. An element of that has been the emphasis on a reward and merit process. Do you think that has been a key component of establishing the other element that you mentioned, which was the way in which pupils are respected and the interaction that takes place with pupils? Has the merit process been a key component of that? If you did not have it, would there be a deficit in that relationship between staff and pupils?

1292. Mr Frith: That is only one piece in a jigsaw, some of whose pieces we have looked at this morning. It is not the defining factor, but it is an important one. It is essentially a tool for staff to be able to say in a tangible way, "Well done. Congratulations." It is important that students who are not achieving the highest levels academically receive those merits, so they can be given simply for effort. That is equally import to the concept of achievement.

1293. Therefore, yes, it is important. It allows the staff/student relationship to be positive, and I include myself in that. The principal's merit is regarded as being very cool because it is large, maroon, has gold writing on it and is worth five ordinary merits. If my office door is propped open, that means that students are welcome to come in without an appointment. I regularly have them come to my office to show me judo medals, or whatever they have achieved, and they receive merits. That is a positive take on the fact that the principal's office is often seen as a negative place to be. Even members of staff have been known to have the colour drain from their face when I ask to see them for a moment, but it is rarely about anything that they should be worrying about.

1294. The merit system gives children a sense of belonging and acceptance. They are regularly told, "Well done, you have achieved something brilliant." A body of research suggests that rewards should be intrinsic rather than external, but this external system gives students a healthy boost along the way. We set ourselves the goal three years ago of being a celebration culture rather than a disciplinary culture, yet underneath that we have high standards of behaviour. However, if the prevailing tone and mood is one of reward and celebration, that is the atmosphere that we would like to foster.

1295. The Chairperson: I am going to prove, Nigel, that you cannot trust the word of a politician: I said that I was going to ask only one question but I will ask another. Members knew that I could not stick to that.

1296. Mr B McCrea: I would be surprised if it were only two.

1297. The Chairperson: The merit system is important, and I see value in that approach. Something else that came out over the past number of weeks as the Committee has visited schools was the issue of the right teachers doing a valuable job. One school clearly indicated that it would not have made the progress that it had made had there not been a change in the staff profile.

1298. When you are selecting or interviewing candidates for teaching vacancies, how do you assess whether they have the right attitudes towards pupils, because that is a core element of the ethos of this school. When you are going through that process, how do you determine that that teacher has the right attitude to fit in exactly with the success that you want to maintain and build on?

1299. Mr Frith: First, any recruitment process for any member of staff at Drumragh is a full-day affair at the very least. If the vacancy is for a teaching post, one of the first things that we insist on doing in the morning is to watch them teach. We sit at the back and watch not only how they deliver their subject but how they engage with students. You learn so much from a simple classroom observation. You see how they treat children and respond to the unexpected little tweaks and occurrences that inevitably come up.

1300. The second thing that we like to do is invite them to meet students during the day, and we watch how they engage with them. Traditionally, we have engaged in student interview panels during the morning, at which we have a formally trained panel of students who interview candidates in the same way as the adult panel will in the afternoon. The Labour Relations Agency (LRA) and the national Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) tell me that I should not be doing that, and it is currently under review. However, I will replace it only if there is a viable alternative. We have found that to be an excellent way of gauging student responses and candidates' ability to interact with staff.

1301. Let me give you an example: we were interviewing a few years ago for a classroom assistant and the student interview panel fed back afterwards that it had found one candidate condescending. Immediately, that candidate was out of the running and there was no hope of that candidate getting the job. It is essential to see how staff interact with youngsters, and if they do not have the, if you like, Drumragh Integrated College ethos in the way in which they approach children, they are not the ones for us, and we let them go. Does that answer your question?

1302. The Chairperson: It does. That is something that I was keen to visit. I note that in your response to the inquiry, you stated:

"As part of a drive to self-evaluate, I believe principals and senior leaders should be able to observe classroom practice more easily, to monitor what is happening in the classroom; the Department is not doing enough to resolve the dispute with the NASUWT who are threatening industrial action against schools that attempt this."

1303. That is something that Committee members should bear in mind and try to tease out a little. It is a different way of approaching things. Much of what we have focused on concerns pupils, but if we are looking for leadership, we need the correct process to appoint that leadership. I think that that is a key issue, and I found it very useful.

1304. Mr Frith: If the Committee does not mind, I will elaborate on that point for 60 seconds. My colleagues will know that you have just touched on a very important issue for me. As the principal of this school, I am charged with guaranteeing that the quality of teaching and learning is the very highest that it can be. The fact that I am effectively prevented by one teachers' union from entering the classroom when I like to observe what is happening makes my blood boil. It is entirely wrong. In fact, it is ridiculous.

1305. Several years ago, I proposed conducting a learning walk, and I went head to head with the NASUWT over it. I proposed that, whenever I had spare time during the week, I would hit the corridors, enter a classroom, stay for 15 minutes to half an hour and watch what was going on. I would talk to some of the students and take an interest in the work that they were doing that day, and the staff would be given the choice of whether to make me an invisible presence or to involve me in the learning experience. I proposed that, when leaving the room, I would simply place a postcard on the teacher's desk that would tell the teacher what I most enjoyed about what I had just seen, and I would leave one piece of positive feedback. If there was anything else to be followed up on, I would do that later and separately from the classroom environment.

1306. The NASUWT told me that I could not do that unless it was within a performance review and staff development (PRSD) remit, which allows me to conduct either one or two classroom observations each year. The union continues to block any other attempt by principals to monitor what is going on in the classroom, and I think that that is ridiculous.

1307. The debate continues. Last month, I was told by my union, the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) that the issue was resolved and that there was to be a new beginning. However, the NASUWT sent out a briefing paper to its members within the same month that told them that if any principal attempted to enter their classroom for any type of observations that are not PRSD that they should report them immediately to the union. Therefore, the NASUWT withdrew from the agreement that it had made.

1308. As I said in my briefing, I think that there is a lack of leadership in that area. It should not be down to one principal to go head to head with one union to resolve the issue. It is something that affects every school in Northern Ireland, and it is long overdue for being resolved. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to discuss that.

1309. The Chairperson: It is an important issue, of which the Committee needs to be aware.

1310. Mr Lunn: Nigel, I really enjoyed your presentation. In fact, as you made it, I thought that if the Committee could just take that presentation and turn it into a report, it would probably not be far off what it is trying to achieve.

1311. Mr Frith: Thank you.

1312. Mr Lunn: I say that not because you are the principal of an integrated school, which I admittedly favour. It is also it because of the marvellous ethos and atmosphere that you have created and the approach that you have taken.

1313. Mr Frith: Thank you.

1314. Mr Lunn: You have already explained most things, so I do not have much to ask you. However, to tie it into our inquiry, to what extent is this a disadvantaged area?

1315. Mr Frith: It is in a couple of ways. First, we draw some students from the identified postcodes but not enough to qualify for extended schooling funding. We would love to attract more, but it is not to be. It is simply a numbers game. The second type of deprivation that we see locally is rural deprivation. Until I was vice-principal at my last school in south Lincolnshire, that was a new concept to me. I had always seen deprivation as an inner-city problem, and it was a surprise to me to see that we had youngsters coming in from the farmlands from farming communities that had real and substantial barriers to learning. That became identified as rural deprivation and disadvantage.

1316. That can include parents who, as I said earlier, do not particularly appreciate education, and sometimes children who are destined for a life on the farm and therefore come to us with a belief that there is no point in getting exam grades or pursuing life in the classroom, and whose parents will, at a moment's notice, hook them back out of the classroom because they are needed on the farm. It has a number of different ripples, but the concept of rural disadvantage is a very live one, and it affects some of our students.

1317. Beyond that, we face nothing different from any other school. We live in a recession, and more and more of our parents are caught up in that, which is then being passed on to the children, and there are increasing levels of stress at home. That is a level of disadvantage that is common to us all now, and it is getting worse, not better.

1318. Mr Lunn: Eric made the point about pupils that come here aged 11 with less than satisfactory achievements who subsequently turn out to be successes. They may not all get three A levels, but they improve considerably from start to finish through your school. To me, those students are perhaps the bigger successes. Do you agree with me?

1319. Mr Frith: We believe in the concept of personal best, and we compare it to the training of an athlete for the Olympics or some other great sporting event. In other words, we do not encourage children to compete against one other. In everything that they do, the goal is to do better than they did yesterday. The student who achieves a GCSE grade D when, at best, they were predicted to get a grade E is as much a cause of celebration for us as the child who gets an A*.

1320. Mr Lunn: I will not go on. I just want to comment on the concept of relaxed awareness, because I love that. As someone who went through school in a state of somewhere between tension and pure horror —

1321. The Chairperson: Do you think we should introduce it in the Assembly, Trevor?

1322. Mr Lunn: Depending on what day of the week it was, I was not in a state of relaxed awareness. However you have managed to achieve that, it must be a major factor.

1323. Mr Frith: It is a defining piece of research. I came across it years ago, and it is now central to my approach, because relaxed alertness is a fine balance. If one becomes too relaxed, one becomes lethargic, and if one becomes too alert, one becomes stressed. It is quite a fine balance to strike, and we strive to achieve it here.

1324. Mr Lunn: Where did you do your degree in psychology?

1325. Mr Frith: I did not study psychology, but I have taken an active interest in it, as I like to know what is going on and what the research is showing.

1326. The Chairperson: Now to someone who is the epitome of relaxed alertness — Basil. [Laughter.]

1327. Mr B McCrea: I am not sure how to take that. Thank you very much for the presentation, Nigel. I am not sure who you were talking to before, but there are certain phrases that we come across. Andy McMorran — I do not know whether you know Andy — was lecturing us about the importance of the relationship between staff and pupils, so we do pick up certain themes.

1328. I want to make one point before I ask you some questions. I am forming the opinion that there is something in the central tenet that you mentioned — the relationship between the head teacher, or the leader of the school, and the staff. I can tell you that I am not averse to tackling unions that stray into areas that I do not think concern them. There is obviously a role for unions in other areas, and I am very supportive of that role, but the professional leadership of the school rests with the principal. That should be clearly understood. I want to put on the record that that is my feeling on the matter.

1329. Mr Frith: Thank you.

1330. Mr B McCrea: There are a couple of points that I thought were quite interesting. In your submission, you state that collaboration is not necessarily in line with achievement. As the principal of an integrated college, and having been given the virtues of the area learning community here, will you expand on that for me?

1331. Mr Frith: What I am really saying is that collaboration is one factor among many. Just occasionally, the messages from the Department are that collaboration is being held up as the be-all and end-all. I think that collaboration is vital to offer students a broader curriculum than the school can offer. The ease with which we are learning to work with one other and to send students to other schools to access courses that our school cannot offer is brilliant and absolutely essential.

1332. Mr B McCrea: Do you think that collaboration of itself is useful? Obviously, there is academic achievement and pupil development, but we also have community development.

1333. Mr Frith: I do. Absolutely. It helps youngsters to become more tolerant and self-aware. Alongside the benefits of collaboration, we need to remember the importance of what goes on in the classroom, as well as the other elements that I have identified this morning. Four years ago, for example, two big initiatives were being presented to us as being centrally important. One was collaboration and the entitlement framework and the other was the revised curriculum. If anything, I regret that collaboration has been given greater prominence than the revised curriculum, because I believe that the revised curriculum embraces a lot of the best of teaching and learning methodology. I would love to see the same amount of resource going into that as is being pumped into collaboration and the entitlement framework.

1334. One of the other papers that I submitted to the Committee is titled 'Lessons for Learning'. It outlines what we believe constitutes good teaching and learning in the classroom at Drumragh. It encapsulates some of the best practices of the revised curriculum that, we know, help students to learn. I do not know whether that has found its way into members' packs.

1335. The Chairperson: We will just check. There are a couple of things that we want to get from you.

1336. Mr Frith: I will give you these copies.

1337. Mr B McCrea: I know that other colleagues want to ask a couple questions, but I just wish to ask a brief question that touches on your paper. It states that the growing emphasis on statistical targets is in danger of being overplayed, yet you stated with some pride that 81% of your charges got five or more A* to C GCSE grades. I am concerned about the fact that we fixate on such results. I cannot help but think that, by the law of statistical averages, if 81% of students are getting those grades, some children somewhere are not getting them.

1338. What type of targets ought we to set to assess whether, in the public's mind, a school is doing a good job? I note that you mentioned that you want to use words. However, the trouble is that parents, who are an important ingredient in what we are doing here, may think that using words is somewhat woolly. Is there anything that we should be looking at to explain what some people would call the added value element, which is a point that Eric made. We need to look at where we are now, where we hope to get to and how we can ensure that that is celebrated as a success. Are there any particular tools or methodologies that are worthy of looking at to achieve that?

1339. Mr Frith: Yes, there are. Rather than pick out one or two statistics, even though I am guilty of doing that myself, because I like that one —

1340. Mr B McCrea: Believe me, Nigel, we are all guilty of that. Mervyn, in particular, has a penchant for quoting statistics that suit him but that are usually detrimental to me.

1341. Mr Frith: There are, of course, other statistics that I do not want to dwell on. That is life.

1342. To create an effective value-added system, which is clearly what is needed, we need to know the benchmark from which the school began and what the school and the students have achieved from that initial starting point. Without a value-added system, the statistics are essentially meaningless and hollow. To go beyond an emphasis on exam results, we need to begin to formalise processes, such as the Together Towards Improvement documentation, produced by the Education and Training Inspectorate, and to analyse the findings of questionnaires run with parents and students, and even the staff, in the way in which the inspectorate does in order to sample pupil and student response.

1343. Every school should be running with an agreed common tool so that we can see the findings, which are as important as the exam results at the end of the process. It would include questions such as, "When you find yourself the victim of bullying, is the issue dealt with promptly?" That is the kind of data that I would like to see as a parent. If I were considering a school for my child, I would consider that to be the sort of fundamental question that is just as important as whether my child will achieve high exam results. It requires an agreed tool so that we can begin to be transparent in the way in which we present a profile of the school's achievements and strengths.

1344. Mr Lunn: I have a question on Basil's point about achievement, and Mervyn would be disappointed if I did not ask it. How do you rate a grade D?

1345. The Chairperson: I was going to mention that, because that was a valid point that Eric raised.

1346. Mr Lunn: There is an ongoing debate among the people whom we are talking about, who feel that a grade D has more respect and value than it currently attains. Where does it sit in your thinking?

1347. Mr Frith: At GCSE level?

1348. Mr Lunn: Yes, GCSE English and maths.

1349. Mr Frith: I will turn it into words. A grade D should be respected more highly, because it proves that the student is competent. That is a fundamental fact. The marking schemes that are used by examiners show that students have to be competent in a subject to achieve a grade D, yet, too often, employers say that it is not good enough because it is not a grade C. There is an artificial divide. Students who achieve a grade C prove they are very good, students who achieve a grade A prove that they are excellent and students who achieve an A* prove that they are spectacular. Achieving a grade D means that a student is competent.

1350. Ms Nicola Gormley (Drumragh Integrated College): Nigel has alluded to some of the levels of intelligence that we talk about, and, in my role, I deal with emotional intelligence. When a child comes to me, we look at emotions and managing emotions. I hate the term "anger management", but that is what is used. If children come to me and leave the school emotionally intelligent, knowing what they need to do to manage their emotions, thus preventing them from entering the criminal justice system, that has to be celebrated without any marks or statistics or examination results. That is what I like about the school, and that is what makes the school work.

1351. Mr Lunn: It would be hard to give it a grade.

1352. The Chairperson: We have some information from the inspectorate and on the programme for international student assessment (PISA) stuff. That will go on our website, so it will be accessible to everyone here. I trust that schools will find the information that we are collating in this inquiry useful, so we want to get it out to people. I am not sure where John is at on the relaxed alertness spectrum.

1353. Mr O'Dowd: I was thinking of anger management.

1354. The Chairperson: I was wondering about that.

1355. Mr O'Dowd: I apologise for being late and missing the presentation, although I have read through the paperwork. The comment about statistics brings my mind to a story from yesterday. I do not know whether any Committee members present were in the Chamber yesterday when a local MLA, Barry McElduff, as Chairperson of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure, gave a report on the Budget. He said that in Wales there had been only a 5% cut to the culture budget, that in Scotland there had been only a 2% cut to the culture budget, while here we are suffering a 17% cut. The Minister of Finance and Personnel stood up and said that the Member would be aware that in England there had been a 25% cut to the culture budget and said that he had not mentioned that. Barry responded that he was perfectly aware of that figure but that it did not suit his argument. [Laughter.] That was one of the lighter moments in a very long day.

1356. Mr B McCrea: It was a very good line.

1357. Mr O'Dowd: There has been commentary around the value of a grade D, on what education is about, and about what we want to achieve with all individual pupils as they journey through their educational career. That is important to the inquiry and, indeed, to education, because we can get too hung up on statistics and figures, and we all use them and rely on them to make one argument or another. You spoke about emotional management.

1358. Ms Gormley: Emotional intelligence.

1359. Mr O'Dowd: I see that one of the key factors is the relationship with the family unit, which can take many different shapes. There is no traditional family. I note that you engage with parents, and so on. How do you engage with that group of hard-to-reach guardians?

1360. Mr Frith: In a range of ways, and I have already referred to Nicola Gormley's work. In more extreme examples in her caseload, she goes out in the car to meet parents who will not come into the school. That also links into something that I said to Basil a moment ago. If parents come to us with problems such as their child is not getting on or is being bullied, they must be able to see that we have a 100% record of dealing with such problems. A level of trust then begins to grow. Although these things take time, those parents will begin to see that, actually, we really do care about their kid. They then begin to engage, and trust slowly begins to embed.

1361. The process includes bringing them in to take part in, for example, the mentoring programme with our GCSE students. Parents, too, take part in that. We also involve them in the consultation day model that is taking place in the school hall today as an alternative to the traditional tired, sweaty parents' evening, which we find to be a highly pressurised environment that leaves everyone shattered at the end of the day. Parents, who often come swinging in without any tea, just wish to get out and go home again. Those evenings become a kind of a tip of the hat towards consultation, whereas the model that we are introducing here states that this is important: we are taking a day out of our schedule to talk to you, and, unashamedly, we ask parents to book a day off work to come and talk to us. We request that, in the interests of their child, we really engage. Through a range of such networks, we find that trust begins to grow.

1362. The final element that I will mention brings us back to relationships. Many staff here will lift the phone when concerned about a child's progress or welfare. They will ring that child's parents and have a chat with them and engage with them. Through dialogue and establishing a relationship, we begin to see the sort of progress that we are witnessing.

1363. Mr O'Dowd: It may be a harsh thing to say, but how do schools interact with parents who do not care about their kids or who are emotionally challenged? How do you view your role in that situation?

1364. Mr Frith: The bottom line is that we sometimes discover that we are working against the parents, not with them. At that point, we become particularly passionate, because we know that without us the child is sunk. That may sound arrogant, but it is fundamentally true. A most difficult moment is having a parent and a child sitting in front of me over something that has happened. For example, the parent may say, "Well, I've always told my boy to sort himself out. Hit back. If anybody makes life difficult for him, he should get in there and sort it out." We have to say back, "No, that is not the ethos here. The one thing that we admit is that we cannot do is read your mind. If you had told us there was a problem, we guarantee that we would have sorted it." We do not say to the child, "Now that you have followed your dad's advice …", but we effectively say, "Now that you have followed your parents' advice, you have landed yourself in trouble. You have got a suspension. Let's talk about where we go from here." That is a difficult thing to do. Sometimes we have to accept that a parent will not work with us and that we must do everything that we can for that child.

1365. Ms Gormley: I will pick up on that. My background is not in teaching — it is in nursing and social work — so parents who have difficulty with teaching staff will ring me and use me as a point of contact. I bring a multidisciplinary element to Drumragh. For instance, Nigel has invited me, along with Eric, to board of governors' meetings at which there has been a total difference of opinion about a child coming back and the risks that he or she presents. However, they listen to what I say.

1366. Ms McKenna and I work with some of the most disaffected pupils and the statemented pupils. Although parents see that Drumragh has a very rigid discipline policy, pastorally it is also very active, and I would go along and say, "No, on this occasion, I do not agree. I think that this child should return." My opinion is valued. Parents see that. I do home visits with parents who have had difficulty with schools. It is liberating to see a parent who had a particular difficulty throughout her education coming into meetings and, where previously she would have been aggressive rather than assertive, conduct herself appropriately for the benefit of her child. I think that I bring an element to the school that helps with those relationships.

1367. Mr O'Dowd: Thank you.

1368. Mr Hilditch: Thanks, Nigel, for your presentation. Out-of-hours activities and other activities out of the classroom, such as after-school work, community projects and sport, have helped to develop positive relationships. Have you any such examples here at Drumragh?

1369. Mr Frith: Absolutely. When we were in the old Tyrone and Fermanagh Hospital (T&F) building, possibly the only advantage of being on that site was that a service bus came past the end of the site at 4.20 pm every afternoon. The minute that we moved up here, we suddenly realised that we were off the bus route. To allow a wide-ranging extracurricular programme to run, we pay for one of the Western Education and Library Board's yellow buses to come up here on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons. We pay for it, so it simply pulls up at 4.00 pm in the afternoon in the car park, and children who have chosen to stay behind can hop on that bus, which then takes them down to the bus depot.

1370. That facilitates a wide-ranging programme that runs after school, and sometimes at lunchtime. It includes sports and an art club, which is very active. If the Committee is able to stay for the tour later, you will see some of the work that the pupils have done together. We have an ecology group, which is working towards the silver award for being an eco-school. The programme also includes, crucially, an Amnesty International group, which is very active. Children are taught to see how different parts of the world are, and the range of needs that exists around the world so that they have a global outlook. The spin-off from that is that they learn to appreciate what they have. Those students were privileged to go to the headquarters in London. They found themselves campaigning in favour of the rights of women in Iran and have been caught up in protests. It is a terrific lesson in citizenship for them.

1371. Our goal is to have an extracurricular programme for everyone. Our head of year 8, which is the first year for most students at this college, challenges every child to try something that he or she have never tried before. All children, in their first term here, between when they start and Christmas, are encouraged to try something that they have never done. Even if they do not keep it up, that is fine. They can drop it later, but, before Christmas, they should try something different. Even from the beginning, we encourage youngsters to see the school as something that is beyond the classroom and the normal timetable, where there is something for them to get involved in.

1372. Finally, for those who do not have access to the Internet or who need extra support with study, our library remains open after school, and the children can go there to do their homework if they wish. For some, that is probably a more appropriate learning environment than they will find when they get home.

1373. The Chairperson: I have one final comment to make about social services and interaction. You said that your background is not in teaching, Nicola. How much interaction is there in social services issues? Is a joined-up approach taken? We, as politicians, talk about joined-up government. It does not exist: we aspire to it, but everybody stays in silos. We listen to other organisations, which say the same, although we see some very good practice in operation. Is that a core element of the work that you carry out? Is that vital to the delivery of what happens in the school?

1374. Ms Gormley: I am the link because, through my background, I am known to social services and the child and adolescent teams out there. Social workers will liaise with me and view me as a point of contact. I see how, systemically, it can be difficult for a teacher to continue to maintain liaisons when timetabled into teaching times. The pastoral care teacher is freed up, but I see myself as being an intrinsic link.

1375. It was invariably the systemic failings that made me leave social work in the first place. It can become very frustrating, and this job was like a sidestep for me. Here, I have the time to link up with social services and maintain links with children who are looked after or are known. I am a vital link with child and adolescent teams, because we see a lot of children who suffer from emotional breakdowns and other things. I am the point of contact. Children make disclosures to me, so I support them to go to other agencies, one of which is just across the road. I even physically take children there. I am an intrinsic link. I totally base my practice on the Bamford vision that multi-agency work promotes the most positive outcomes for all young people.

1376. I know that social services are very busy. I understand the workload that they carry, but I phone every day until I get somebody. However, at times, it is difficult for teachers to do that, given their timetable.

1377. Mr B McCrea: A points of contention arose when we tried to extend the remit of schools beyond purely education. That was met with considerable resistance from the Department of Education, because it was worried about taking on unfunded liabilities. However, there is a real issue here. It is interesting that you are drawing a connection. It is not just based on a need to do good for the community; there is actually a positive educational achievement outcome. Extracurricular activity is part and parcel of education. I wanted to note that and to say that your presentation has reinforced that opinion in my mind.

1378. There may not be time to deal with this, but can you expand on your statement about multiple intelligences, neurological developments and how the brain works? I happen to have an interest in neural development. Do not ask why; I just do. However, the message has not got through yet to Committees, and so on, about why we do different things. Even in social work, people talk about the state of a young citizen's brain at different stages of development. You said that there is a lot of research being carried out, and it may be something that you want to feed into the Committee's inquiry, or you may want to give a quick overview now. It is an area of new information for us that you and your colleagues may be more familiar with, and I would certainly like to know more about it.

1379. Mr Frith: There are a couple of issues there. First, Nicola referred to emotional intelligence. Essentially, that means that a child is extremely able academically but, emotionally, is immature. Some of the outcomes of that will include an inability to deal with conflict and a complete inability to handle uncertainty or challenge, and the child's relationships are often ineffective. Therefore, taking strategies forward to help children to develop their emotional intelligence is vital to their academic achievement. People have to be high in academic and emotional intelligence to be successful, never mind the fact that, when they go into the workplace, they have to have teamworking skills and be able to challenge pressure.

1380. One of the most famous tests on emotional intelligence ever conducted was the marshmallow test, where small children were given the choice of accepting a marshmallow immediately or, if they waited 10 minutes, they could have two. Those children were tracked right into their adult working lives. Those who waited for two marshmallows were more successful in their working lives and achieved higher exam results, which was an unexpected outcome of the study. However, even at the age of four, those children had intrinsically grasped the concept of delayed gratification and waiting in order to achieve something more important down the line. That is just a tiny indicator of this whole world of emotional intelligence.

1381. The multiple intelligence theory simply says that there is no single type of intelligence. David Beckham is a kinesthetic genius, whatever he was like in the classroom. The man who fixes my car is a genius in his field. Some people are smiling because my car has been off the road for six weeks, but that is another matter.

1382. Mr B McCrea: That is a Barry McElduff statistic.

1383. Mr Frith: I came dangerously close to it. The multiple intelligence theory is liberating, because it promotes the view that every child is good at something. There will be areas of expertise and strength for them, and, instead of asking whether someone is intelligent or not, the question is: where are your strengths? What are your key intelligences, and how shall we play to those?

1384. I will give one final example and then I will stop talking, because you are in danger of getting me going here. One type of intelligence is interpersonal and another is intrapersonal. The revision methods or teaching methods that are employed for children who are high in either of those areas are completely different. A child who is high in interpersonal intelligence will love it when the teacher tells the class that, as a treat, they are going to work in small groups. The interpersonal learner will say, "Brilliant, I learn well this way", but the intrapersonal learner will curl up and say, "Oh, not again. Please do not do this." In fact, the intrapersonal learner will be thinking, "What I would love you to do is tell me what I need to do and how I can succeed." Then he or she will say "Please, give me space, and I will do it myself." We are learning to balance the teaching and learning strategies brought into the classroom in order to play to individuals' strengths.

1385. We have taken that to the point that we have a database in our computer system of which are the highest intelligences of each child in the school, and that can be turned into a class profile, whereby a teacher can draw up a pie chart of the class and see which intelligences are the highest, then plan teaching and learning strategies accordingly.

1386. Mr B McCrea: That is interesting.

1387. Mr Frith: It is powerful.

1388. The Chairperson: We would be very keen to receive a paper or some more information on that. Nigel, Nicola, Geraldine and Eric, thank you very much. That was very useful and helpful, and we look forward to having a further discussion over lunch.

1389. I welcome the acting principal of Castlederg High School, Anne Moore, and her team. You are very welcome. Thank you for making the journey to Omagh this morning. I invite you to make a presentation.

1390. Mrs Anne Moore (Castlederg High School): I will let the members of my team — our team, I should say, or Castlederg High School's team —introduce themselves. They are all experts in their field and can speak a lot better about their roles than I can. I will start over here with Simon.

1391. Mr Simon Mowbray (Castlederg High School): I am acting vice-principal in Castlederg High School, and I have responsibility for curriculum provision and curriculum development in the school. I am also a head of department and a former year head, and I have responsibility for extended schools provision. I also look into avenues of external funding that may be available to the school.

1392. Mrs Daphne Watt (Castlederg High School): I am the pastoral co-ordinator for the school and the designated teacher for child protection. I am also responsible for the induction of the new year 8 students into the school. I am also a teacher governor.

1393. Mrs Sandra Cashel (Castlederg High School): I am the special educational needs co-ordinator and the teacher tutor responsible for teachers who are new to the school and those teachers in early professional development. I am also the teacher librarian and a year head.

1394. Mrs Moore: I have been acting principal only since September, but, before that, I was vice-principal in charge of behaviour management and leading the school development plan team. Ten years ago, I was also part of the major change that took part in the school, with the introduction of the ethos under our former principal, Dessie Williamson.

1395. We will focus on what we think makes Castlederg High School one of the most successful schools in its sector in the Western Board area. The school makes it a policy to exploit our students' disadvantage. We do that by ensuring that our mission statement is not just a collection of platitudes but a shared vision to motivate our young people beyond their perceived disadvantage. It states:

"The ideal to which we aspire is to develop the confidence and self esteem of the pupils so that they are motivated to achieve their highest potential within a safe and caring environment."

1396. The mission statement was agreed five years ago by all staff — teaching, learning support, technical, catering and caretaking — and the board of governors. It is revisited at the start of each new academic year. The mission statement, along with a set of core values, established a learning environment with high expectations that is delivered through positive encouragement and mutual respect. In the implementation of the ethos, all parties have worked together to set up structures and policies to promote quality teaching and learning to be delivered in a secure and supportive environment.

1397. The school development plan (SDP) has been in operation since the 1999-2000 school year. Over the past 11 years, its focus has been on improving teaching and learning. Initially, it identified a group of underachieving year 11 boys. Staff training centred on combining shared strategies that they, as professionals, knew had a positive impact on motivating boys, with techniques that were researched by educational bodies. Since then, boys' learning, differentiation, thinking skills, assessment for learning, effective questioning strategies, literacy and numeracy have been the ongoing focus of our development plan.

1398. The school development plan is one of the key issues on the agenda for staff training. It is effective because it is tailored to achieve our targets and is delivered by a highly committed and motivated team. The SDP's teaching and learning targets are monitored through the PRSD process, which is effective in ensuring that it is actively pursued as a whole-school issue. The profile of teaching and learning is kept at the forefront of departmental meetings, during which staff are directed by the SDP team to undertake an evaluation of individual pupil attainment in their subject. Heads of department are required to give feedback of progress to the SDP group at termly meetings. A combination of teachers' professional judgement, use of data and support from the Western Education and Library Board's advisory team ensures the implementation of those targets. Evaluation is ongoing throughout the academic year, as Simon will explain later.

1399. Mrs Watt: I will talk about the pastoral element of the school. Teaching and learning can take place only in an environment in which pupils feel secure, have a sense of worth and dignity and assume a sense of responsibility, and in which success and achievement are celebrated. Those are the aims of the pastoral dimension of our school. Our links with primary schools, coupled with our induction programme, ensure that, on transfer, year 8 pupils settle in quickly. Detailed information from primary schools ensures that individual pupil needs are understood and catered for. Ongoing support from senior pupils acting as guardian angels provides another safety net.

1400. In our pastoral system, each class remains with the same form teacher and year head from year 8 until year 12, which is a structure that fosters a sense of trust and identity. Extra support is available from the school counsellor or outside agencies. The school's pastoral provision is underpinned by mixed-ability, timetabled lessons in personal development education.

1401. In all aspects of school life, our emphasis is on the positive. Our merit mark and other reward systems promote good behaviour and encourage positive contributions to the school. However, effective structures are in place for dealing with the challenges with which our pupils inevitably present us. Pupils are encouraged to develop confidence, interpersonal skills and a sense of responsibility through the prefect system, our active student council and various other projects, such as the unity team. Pupils in our school know that their voice will be heard and heeded.

1402. A crucial element in the success of our pastoral provision is communication, be it through staff training, where aspects of the pastoral dimension feature prominently; through monthly meetings of numerous pastoral teams at all levels or management; or through daily morning briefings, the minutes of which are e-mailed to both teaching and support staff. The relaying of decisions to all parties, including pupils and parents, ensures that all members of the school community understand our system and have the confidence to use it. In short, in the pastoral dimension, as in all other areas of our school, dedicated leaders head a team of committed staff with a common vision that has the pupil at its centre. That is the way in work we work.

1403. Mrs Cashel: I will take a moment to outline how learning support supplements the pastoral and curricular dimensions. It ensures that our core values are accessible for pupils who experience learning difficulties and who might otherwise be marginalised. Its high profile is exploited as a key strength on open night, is tangible in the day-to-day running of the school and is credited by the community as ensuring that young people really do get the help that they need. Here, too, the emphasis is on the positive, and there is a culture of high expectation for all pupils to achieve. That aspiration is mirrored by the onus of shared responsibility on all staff. That collaborative approach is driven by ongoing in-service education and training (INSET) and informal teacher support, the provision of up-to-date information and data, communication during scheduled meetings and accountability monitored through pupil progress reviews and PRSD observations.

1404. Success is possible for our less academic pupils or those with a special educational need only when they have been supported in overcoming the barriers to learning. To that end, we seek early identification of difficulties and prompt planning and provision from a wide range of support mechanisms. Our staff of 13 highly motivated learning support assistants is our greatest resource to that end, with in-class support being the primary means of intervention.

1405. Raising standards of literacy and numeracy is a central preoccupation for us. Learning support works in partnership with the co-ordinators of those two key skill areas to manage a programme of both cross-curricular and discrete initiatives. As I am sure the Committee is aware, reading is potentially the greatest barrier to learning, so our reading partnership programme offers one-to-one support as an integral part of the English curriculum for the lowest ability classes in both Key Stages 3 and 4. The value added is so significant that it can only impact positively on pupils' performance across the curriculum and help to limit underachievement.

1406. Our learning support policy aims to enable pupils, parents and staff. It is a partnership approach that is accessible through many channels of communication, both formal and informal. We actively encourage input from pupils and parents, as well as staff, as we work together to create a positive school experience for each young person.

1407. Mr Mowbray: I have responsibility in the school for the implementation of the Northern Ireland curriculum and the entitlement framework. That is an obvious overlap with the school development planning team, of which I am also a member. As far as the Northern Ireland curriculum is concerned, as a development team, we decided to focus initially on thinking skills, personal capabilities and assessment for learning, and we took those forward as areas for whole-school development. We felt that thinking skills and personal capabilities were an important area to focus on, as they have a direct impact on the methodologies and strategies that our staff are using and that the pupils will benefit from.

1408. We strive to promote an active learning environment for our pupils while aiming to maintain the academic rigour and content that is required for external examinations at Key Stage 4 and post-16. We felt that the sharing of learning outcomes, success criteria and formative assessment were examples of good assessment practice that we should develop right across the curriculum subjects in a whole-school and coherent approach. We have developed our own INSET training and deliver it through our own staff. We have built into it regular evaluation procedures through which our staff are able to give us qualitative and quantitative feedback. We have identified PRSD as one of the main vehicles to monitor and evaluate the success and implementation of thinking skills and assessment for learning techniques.

1409. We always strive to include as much time as possible in our INSET days for our staff to focus on teaching and learning, with the heads of department then feeding progress back to the school development planning group through heads of department meetings, reports to the principal, and so on. By doing that, we ensure that the communication between senior management and departments and on to the classroom teachers moves in both directions effectively.

1410. We encouraged our staff to choose agreed PRSD targets. For the past three years, we have agreed two targets that were set around thinking skills and assessment for learning, and, for the third target, we allow the staff to pick a particular area that they would like to develop.

1411. After studying the recommendations of the Every School a Good School document, we modified our school development plan, and we have identified and implemented actions for pupils in years 8, 9 and 10 who are at risk of underachieving in literacy and numeracy. The pupils are identified through the pupil data, and they are mentored by the literacy and numeracy co-ordinators and by departments that have been given responsibility for the implementation of communication and using mathematics at Key Stage 3. Targets have been identified and communicated to the pupils, staff and their parents and through individual education plans (IEPs), which are reviewed twice a term. By implementing those strategies early, we hope that, in a few years, those pupils will be able to attain five GCSEs at grades A* to C, including in English and maths.

1412. Our school is a member of the Derg Mourne Learning Community (DMLC), which consists of six post-primary schools and approximately 3,000 pupils in the Strabane District Council area. We have worked with the other schools to develop strategies for the full implementation of the entitlement framework. I acted as the part-time co-ordinator for the DMLC for two years. That has helped to raise the profile of the entitlement framework in our school, and we have been able to achieve a tangible level of success. This year, 387 pupils from across the community are involved in collaborative courses, with additional courses and elements of rationalisation included for September 2011.

1413. Our school has introduced five BTEC courses this year, and we currently deliver 25 courses at GCSE level, 43% of which are vocational. That gives our pupils a broad and balanced curriculum. Our major challenge, as a smaller and rural school, is the post-16 level. Nonetheless, we have increased our delivery from 13 subjects in 2007 to 22 subjects this year.

1414. We have established a number of subgroups in the learning community, all of which are working effectively. Those include a careers subgroup, an online learning subgroup and a monitoring and valuation subgroup, which monitors the outputs of the learning community. Last year, we undertook a study to ascertain whether pupils who have been involved in collaborative learning were benefiting from collaboration or whether they were performing better in their home schools. All the subgroups are working positively towards their goals in the implementation plan in a spirit of trust, harmony and industry. It is our opinion that, by 2013, we will be able to meet the statutory requirements of the entitlement framework and, more importantly, the needs of our pupils.

1415. Mrs Moore: Our approach can be summed up by two simple things. The key to ensuring that pupils and staff receive the support that they need is, first, to put structures in place to implement the agreed policies. That is crucial. Secondly, it is key to have senior members of staff, who are represented here, driving those structures and acting as a link between each of the important whole-school issues.

1416. The Chairperson: Thank you to the team. I want you to elaborate on the issue of underachievement, particularly among working-class Protestant boys, a group that has been identified in previous surveys. Work to address it commenced in 1999, and we are now in 2011. Good progress has been made, and one of the elements that you mentioned was the extension into differentiated learning. How has that as a concept and a way of dealing with underachievement changed over the years? Have you decided that there are things that you did as a school in 1999 that you would do differently now, or has a core element of your work remained static over that time and built to help give you the outcomes and the undoubted progress that you have made on underachievement?

1417. Mrs Moore: There is no change. When we started 11 years ago, we realised that there was a group of boys leaving by year 12 who had underachieved significantly. They were not even attending school. Therefore, we identified, with expertise in the school, how we could improve on that. At the time, we looked at boys' learning and we shared good practice among staff, as well as looking at what professional bodies had to offer. We worked with the behaviour support team at the Western Board, which at the time was headed by Josephine Hasson. That was very good and helped us start on the road. We have not changed, and I would not do anything differently, because we had to identify what had happened to our rural school; what had gone wrong. I cannot say that what we did would work in every school, but it worked in our school, and we built on that work.

1418. As to differentiation, we initially gave staff a choice. Before PRSD, we were working with one other in the classroom. The choice was to look at boys' learning and ways to improve it or differentiation, because we had identified that in the school development plan as a way forward. They opted for boys' learning and the various methods that they could use to improve it. Then, the following year, when it was a success and we began to see a change in the attitudes of the young boys in particular, we brought on board differentiation.

1419. Therefore, everything has been brought along with agreement. We revisit it; it is imbedded. Differentiation is still there, even though it was introduced 10 years ago. It is still a crucial part of our learning process.

1420. The Chairperson: Does it create any challenges with the girls?

1421. Mrs Moore: As I said at a recent prize night, we are at a point at which our boys are achieving more than our girls. We now need to go back to the drawing board.

1422. The Chairperson: I am delighted to see the boys outperforming the girls. I will have to be careful with that comment.

1423. Mrs Cashel: We are victims of our own success.

1424. Mrs Moore: It is because of last year's particular set of girls. We have to take each year group as individuals. With last year's year 12 girls, we did not identify early enough that they too had learning problems. However, we will ensure that that does not happen this year.

1425. Mr Mowbray: When we started the boys' learning project, we had been involved in the dissemination of good practice through the Western Board. One of the things that members may have picked up from the presentation is that connections across the different areas are crucial. From a behavioural and pastoral point of view, we were looking at methods and strategies. Boys very clearly like strict boundaries, and they like praise and reward. Therefore, we incorporated that aspect into our pastoral and behavioural system.

1426. We also tried to tailor our curriculum to meet the needs of the boys. At that time, a lot of the boys were leaving shortly after Christmas and did not complete their years. We introduced an alternative education provision, which suited their needs better. We looked at courses such as construction and joinery, plumbing, motor vehicle studies, and so on. Slowly but surely, we began to evolve occupational studies and, as our curriculum developed over the years, we found that the boys were studying subjects that they want to study. Obviously, they have still to work on English, maths and science, but they are much more engaged in the curriculum.

1427. We offer pupils free choice in year 10. They can pick whatever subjects they want, and we try to build our curriculum blocks around that. We just completed the process last week, and of the seven free choices that the pupils had, every one of them was able to have at least six. That means that the pupils are studying subjects at Key Stage 4 that they want to study and that they enjoy. That has a positive impact as well.

1428. The Chairperson: A write-up of that would be helpful to the Committee. You have approached the issue in a very particular way in Castlederg and you are to be commended for it.

1429. Simon, my question to you follows on from what Basil said about the previous presentation. Drumragh Integrated College's presentation stated:

"Collaboration does not necessarily enhance these important 'ingredients' for successful achievement."

1430. Did I pick you up correctly? Did you say that you have done a survey, or an evaluation?

1431. Mr Mowbray: Yes, as a learning community.

1432. The Chairperson: We are glad that we have the representatives from the learning community here, and we want to have some discussions with them over lunch. Can that survey be made available to us so that we can see what was discovered?

1433. Mr Mowbray: That will be down to Alison Smyth. I cannot see it being a problem, but I —

1434. The Chairperson: I appreciate that you cannot make that decision. We would be interested in having a discussion about it and seeing what the outcome was. It is becoming more of an issue, but if "collaboration" is only a buzzword, it does not matter. However, if it is working in some areas and not working in others, there may be things that need to be done to make it work better in other places.

1435. Mr Mowbray: I cannot see that being a problem. We compiled the survey in such a way that the contributors gave their information totally anonymously. Looking at the documentation, even I would struggle to pick out our own pupils. We set it up using a pupil number. The first column details the course that the pupil is involved in together with the collaborative course, and then their other subjects. I do not have the exact figures with me, but 97 year 12 pupils were involved in the collaboration, 77 of whom had a positive residual. In other words, they had achieved better in their collaborative course than they did in their home school.

1436. The Chairperson: Obviously, because of the rural context of Castlederg, and the rural nature of the learning community, it is interesting just to see how it works in practice, because it is not always the case in large urban areas, but in rural areas it is a key component of the delivery of what is best for schools.

1437. Mr Mowbray: The more rural one's environment, the bigger are the challenges that it throws up with, for example, transportation. In our school, especially at post-16 level, we view collaboration as being crucial to meeting the sustainable schools requirements. If you are looking at different criteria for sustainable schools — although we are not fixed on the 24 or 27 figure — and in order to present a broad and balanced curriculum to our pupils, especially at post-16, collaboration will be crucial to us. The other challenge that we face is the 500 figure, which we sit slightly below.

1438. Mrs Moore: Collaboration is also important in broadening experience. As a rural school, we are isolated. Our community can be isolated, and we have problems in that regard. It is important to broaden experience and show that, by working together, we can move forward, and not just to provide a broader curriculum.

1439. Mr Lunn: Thank you for your presentation. You have already explained those eye-catching figures about the achievement of boys against girls in grade A* to C results. I think that you know what is coming: the grade D. I will put it another way, just for a change. Of the 38% of girls and the 35% of boys who do not achieve A* to C grades in five subjects, is there a noticeable difference in achievement between those girls and boys? Does it balance the other way?

1440. Mrs Moore: Are you asking whether more boys get grade Ds than girls?

1441. Mr Lunn: More or less, yes.

1442. Mrs Moore: Every year is different, so I could not make a broad statement about that. What is unfortunate about the grade D is that someone, somewhere has decided that the grade C has the monetary value that gets you ahead. Unfortunately, there will be youngsters, as our hosts have said, for whom a grade D is a huge achievement. Luckily, vocational avenues are very much still open to them. It just means that, academically, they will not go on to do A levels.

1443. I will ask Sandra Cashel to comment on the learning support programme, because she is involved in that. It is about added value. When pupils come to us in year 8 with such a poor level of achievement, to come out with a grade D is a huge achievement. I honestly cannot say whether more boys got grade Ds this year. I do not particularly look at those figures. Statistics, as you all know, are there to use to your advantage. We look at children individually. We have a mentoring programme, which has been very successful over the past five or six years. We mentor children at the beginning of year 12 if we feel that they are on five or six estimated grade Ds to see whether we can pull those estimated grades up. That exercise has proved hugely successful. Any child who has been mentored has had their grades pulled up, which makes one wonder whether every child should be mentored. The problem is that we are finding it particularly difficult this year, because this year's year 12 is completely different to any year 12 that we have had previously. That is why it is absolutely crucial to treat every year as an individual year. Every approach has to be different. We cannot set something in stone and say that it works and go with it. It has to be constantly re-evaluated.

1444. Mrs Cashel: It is frustrating that people fail to recognise the fact that a grade D exists as an achievement and a grade in its own right. I can think of a number of pupils in school who entered year 8 with a reading age that perhaps just tipped over seven years. Literacy presented a considerable challenge for them in their English achievement but also in their access to other subjects across the curriculum. When they went into a science or geography class, if they could not manage to read the textbooks, they were disadvantaged right from the word go. I can think of several pupils who came in at that baseline but who ultimately — through their schooling, the support that we have in place, and the strategies that teachers employed across the curriculum — came out achieving a grade D.

1445. There was considerable value added for those pupils and for their self-esteem at having been able to go through a GCSE course and achieve what was, for them, a credible grade. That was a great achievement in itself. It requires a great level of intervention for them to be able to achieve that through the types of support programmes that I mentioned; for example, the reading partnership. That programme tries to ensure that pupils have a functional level of literacy that will impact on their ability across the curriculum.

1446. Mr Lunn: This is the eighth school of which I have asked that question, and I always get the same answer. The only place that I do not get the same answer is from whoever dreams up these level 1 or level 2 criteria. A level 1 is unsatisfactory, and a level 2 is basically satisfactory, but a grade D is equivalent to the top end of level 1.

1447. I will not belabour the point, although I will ask the question of the next school as well. [Laughter.]

1448. The Chairperson: They can be prepared.

1449. Mr Mowbray: The other problem is an alternative. We had looked in some length at an alternative to GCSE English and maths, where pupils would be able to achieve a level 2. The issue there is the currency of that mark. We came to the conclusion that a grade D or a grade E in GCSE English or maths was of much more value than the available alternatives.

1450. Mrs Cashel: It means much more to the pupils' sense of self-worth as learners: the fact that they are achieving GCSEs, just the same as the other pupils in higher streams in the school.

1451. Mrs Moore: Perhaps the public and workforce need to be educated in what a grade D is, and what that pupil can do with a grade D in English. The problem is ignorance. People think that if pupils have not achieved grade C, that is it, they are failures.

1452. The Chairperson: That point is coming out more and more, and I think that we will be very conscious of it when we are writing our report on this inquiry. Hopefully, we can contribute to getting out to the public what is a key element.

1453. Mr Lunn: I noticed in your submission that you mention some pupils who passed a transfer test but chose to come to you. I am always glad to see that. Is there a grammar school in Castlederg? I do not know this place very well.

1454. Mrs Moore: We have two grammar schools on our doorstep, as well as the integrated school in Drumragh. Omagh Academy is another of our competitors, as is Strabane Grammar School, which is currently being amalgamated. Unfortunately, as Daphne, who is the link teacher, will tell you, the abilities of primary schools are assessed on how many children they can they can get through to a grammar school. That is how they are assessed by parents. We have the unfortunate situation of primary schools encouraging as many as possible of their year 7 pupils to go on to grammar schools, as well there being two grammar schools that will take quite low-ability children. We have a lot of competition in that field.

1455. Mr Hilditch: Thank you for your presentation. It never ceases to amaze me the number of talented young footballers who come from Castlederg. [Laughter.]

1456. The Chairperson: Tom Buchanan was not one of them.

1457. Mr Hilditch: I am quite jealous of Harry McConkey at Dergview; he seems to have a wealth of talent at times. There are others who went to the school who have gone further afield. That is very positive.

1458. Engagement with parents and community links seem to tie in with each other in such a rural sense and probably complement each other. That is very important. Will you tell me a wee bit more about your parental engagement?

1459. Mrs Moore: There is a variety of links with parents. Our first link with primary schools is when parents come through on open night. We also have strong links with extended schools funding, which is an important facility for us as such an isolated rural area. Simon Mowbray has more facts on that.

1460. Mr Mowbray: We are in an area of social deprivation, which allows us access to the extended schools funding. We receive approximately £28,900 a year. We run a variety of after-school clubs for our pupils. A lot of that funding is spent on transport, as you can imagine. We pull in pupils from a huge diaspora that stretches 14 miles, as far as Gortin. We offer a range of activities for pupils, from sports to after-school revision classes and booster classes for GCSE. We have an ICT group, a chess club, a science club, and our literacy and numeracy club for pupils identified as underachieving in those areas.

1461. We specifically use the extended schools money for our pupils in school. We are also part of a cluster of 12 primary schools. One of the great facilities that we have at the school is our synthetic pitch, with floodlighting, a pavilion, and so on, for which we applied to the Big Lottery Fund eight or nine years ago. Around 100 pupils from primary schools come every Thursday afternoon to access our sports, arts and crafts, drama, music and one other provision that I cannot recall off the top of my head.

1462. That access is also cross-sectoral, with pupils coming from the maintained and the controlled sectors. It is funded not through extended schools funding but through Peace III. The school applied two years ago for Peace III funding to promote shared spaces in the local community, for which we offer a range of activities after school for primary-school children. Cross-sectoral primary schools come together to go swimming. As part of that, 50 pupils are about to go on a cross-community trip to Edinburgh. We run evening activities for parents in dancing, ICT, Spanish, guitar and arts and crafts.

1463. Therefore, through extended schools funding and Peace III funding, we try to promote that coming-together. Again, more than 500 people a week from the local community use the school's synthetic pitch. Other groups also use the school. It is regularly used for charity concerts. The Blood Transfusion Service comes in — the list goes on. We see the school as part of the hub of the community.

1464. Mrs Moore: Particularly in the past five years, we have involved the parents of our own pupils in forming policies. Of the main policies, two stick in my mind. The first is behaviour management. Before we composed the final draft of that, we sent questionnaires to parents, pupils and all staff. The same happened with our anti-bullying policy. Therefore, over the past five or six years, we have had more contact with parents on the formation of school policies. We involved parents as well as the board of governors.

1465. Mrs Cashel: There is also contact as we monitor learning. For example, in year 12, when pupils are being mentored toward GCSEs, we look to the head of year 12 to identify pupils with attendance difficulties. If we see patterns of a dip in attendance, we try to intervene. The head of year and an education welfare officer will visit a pupil's parents to address any issues and to try to motivate them to maintain that pupil's attendance, with a view to achieving better progress in the months prior to GCSEs.

1466. From a learning support perspective, our teaching and learning education plans and our literacy and numeracy performances are regularly monitored and reviewed. The results are sent out to parents, who have the opportunity to provide feedback and to suggest targets for improvement. Parents have an input in the process and are aware of how it is developing.

1467. We also do the same for our reading development programme, which is a big part of our provision for the two lowest streams. We constantly update parents on what the pupils are achieving and give them some feedback in the form of qualitative comments on what has been focused on in school with the child's reading so that, ideally, the parent will seek to give the child some support at home and will have the tools to do that.

1468. Mr Mowbray: Anne mentioned the fact that the parents were actively involved in drawing up procedures and policies, and we have found that very few parents then question any of the decisions.

1469. Mrs Moore: They are very supportive.

1470. The Chairperson: Will members try to keep their questions succinct? I am aware that time is running on.

1471. Mr B McCrea: Why do you always say that when I start to scrutinise? Everyone else has been talking for longer.

1472. The Chairperson: That is just your guilty conscience. Or your complex.

1473. Mr B McCrea: I have not said anything yet.

1474. Mr Lunn: There will be a blue moon in the sky the day that I speak for longer than you.

1475. Mr B McCrea: How many of your folk leave without any qualifications?

1476. Mrs Moore: None. Last year, 99% left with five or more qualifications. One boy left with only four GCSEs.

1477. Mr B McCrea: Therefore, you accept that most of them have adequate numeracy and literacy life skills. They have some qualifications.

1478. Mrs Cashel: Absolutely. One of our key aims is to ensure that they achieve functional levels in those two areas.

1479. Mr B McCrea: The central plank of the Committee's inquiry is to determine why Protestant working-class boys underperform. Why do you think that is?

1480. Mrs Moore: It could be low expectations, and the culture of underachievement must be challenged.

1481. Mrs Cashel: It could be a lack of support at home.

1482. Mrs Moore: The school has identified that, and ways of addressing it. There are definitely high expectations for all abilities, not just the examination classes as such or the high achievers. There must be high expectations of behaviour and achievement, academic or otherwise.

1483. Mr B McCrea: I was interested in a key point made by the Chairperson that you had identified a particular intervention for boys. However, you said that the issue also related to parental aspirations. How does that work? What is your specific intervention to tackle low expectations from either the parents or the community?

1484. Mr Mowbray: I have been a teacher in the school for 12 years, and I specifically remember that, when Mr Williamson and Mrs Moore took over as principal and vice-principal, there was a change in mindset. I saw a definitive change in mindset, where the core values of the school were clearly defined and laid out. One of those values was to address the issue of self-esteem. One day we took an INSET and identified the different ways in which we addressed the issue of the self-esteem of our pupils and the ways in which we could improve it. We filled two A3 pages and went onto a third page. That was crucial. I remember the principal specifically telling pupils that just because they came from Castlederg did not mean that they could not achieve the same as a pupil from three or four different towns that he mentioned. Following that, there was a change in mindset and a change in direction as far as the school was concerned.

1485. We used two specific approaches to address the issue of boys' learning. First, we looked at the different methodologies and strategies that we were using in the classroom and we looked at strategies that boys particularly benefited from, and we tried to roll out what we learned.

1486. Mr B McCrea: Such as?

1487. Mr Mowbray: At the beginning, it was learning outcomes. Basically, we are seeing it all roll out now in the Northern Ireland curriculum: the use of learning outcomes and the assessment for learning techniques. Boys need to see specifically what they have to do to achieve success. Boys need to know that they have to do x, y and z to get top marks. We used an example in staff training where we asked staff to draw a house. They drew a house, and I then gave them their mark for it. If they had a chimney to the right-hand side, they got a mark. If they had a door in the middle at the front, they got a mark, and if they did not, they had marks taken off. Applied to the boys, if they had known at the beginning of a project that they had to do various things, it would have been much easier for them to achieve.

1488. The organisation and structure of the lesson is important. We found that boys specifically benefit from the more active learning techniques. One thing that they find particularly troublesome is disorganisation.

1489. Mr B McCrea: David mentioned football. One might say that boys learn in a more active way than girls. It was interesting that, in the previous presentation, we heard about interpersonal and intrapersonal learning. I also think that there is an issue between girls and boys. Girls, certainly in the early years, tend to be more collaborative in their approach. I think that it at the nub of how we fix things.

1490. I would not want to speak longer than Trevor because there is a blue moon coming around, so I will finish with this. We mentioned the issue of D grades and we also mentioned currency. I think that the real problem is that we live in a competitive world, and, whether a D is satisfactory or not, employers will still say that a C is better than a D. There is a difficulty in getting around that. What do you do about giving career advice to your young men? What jobs do you anticipate them going into, and how do you guide them into learning trajectories that will lead to good employment possibilities?

1491. Mrs Moore: You have to make sure that they know that they are not all going to be the David Beckhams of this world. One of the greatest roles that the Derg Mourne Learning Community is working on at the minute —

1492. Mr B McCrea: Before you go on, I want to reassure you. I played football for the Assembly two weeks ago and we were 6-0 down after 10 minutes, by which time I had substituted myself. I am not in the same league as David Hilditch.

1493. The Chairperson: That was before they put the ball in the net.

1494. Mrs Moore: Young people do have a view of life that they can go on 'The X Factor' and be an instant success, or they watch David Beckham playing and think that that will be them and therefore should put all their energies into that. We have to make them aware of the real world. At the moment, the Derg Mourne Learning Community is focusing on careers, and it has a careers subgroup, which has changed the whole way in which we deliver careers.

1495. Mr Mowbray: I do not think that we can put pupils into boxes or hatches any longer. One cannot look at them and say that they are going to be a plumber or an electrician. For a start, the jobs are not there any longer. I actually chaired the careers subgroup, despite knowing very little about careers. The subgroup developed a wealth of resources right from year 8 up through key stage 3, and a lot of that was done through asking the pupils to look at their personal strengths.

1496. It gets to the stage now where the pupils are beginning to make their own decisions. If someone wants to be a vet but is never going to get the qualifications to be a vet, we cannot say to them that they are never going to be a vet. What we have to try to do is get them to evaluate their skills, abilities and potential for academic achievement, and then allow the pupils to make their own informed decision. In tandem with that, we give them as much guidance as we possibly can.

1497. The careers subgroup in particular has really identified a procedure that seems to work quite well. In our own school, when making their choices, pupils go to the assembly hall and speak to pupils who are studying the subjects that they may be interested in. Quite often, teachers can tell pupils to study, for example, GCSE history because they are quite keen to get a history class, but the pupils are now speaking to other pupils about subjects.

1498. In our options booklet, for example, the current sixth form give advice and guidance on what they did when they were at that stage. It also includes testimony from past pupils who have gone on not just to university but into further education or perhaps employment.

1499. One thing that we were very pleased with last year was that, at the end of year 12 when the pupils were moving on, a lot of them chose to come back to do sixth-form study in our own school. Some moved to the local grammar schools, many went to the local FE college and others moved into employment. Only one person took a gap year and had no particular pathway. I think that the school's careers provision has really progressed, not just in our school but through the collaborative work across the learning community.

1500. Mr B McCrea: I would like more detail on that.

1501. The Chairperson: Alison Smyth is here from Western Education and Library Board's curriculum advisory support services (CASS). We welcome her, and we will ask her to provide information on that. I thank Anne and her team for appearing before the Committee today. That was very useful.

1502. Before we move on to the next evidence session, does the Committee want to write to the Department about the issue that was raised earlier about the NASUWT and observation of classroom practice? In that letter, I feel that we should try to clarify what the situation is so that we are informed. Should we also write to the NASUWT?

1503. Mr B McCrea: It might be worth writing to all the unions. I am interested in what their opinion is.

1504. The Chairperson: OK.

1505. I welcome Mr James Warnock from Dean Maguirc College. I hope that you do not think that, by having you appear before the Committee last, we are in any way belittling your school or your presentation. You are very welcome, and I hope that you have found what you have heard so far to be useful.

1506. Mr James Warnock (Dean Maguirc College): Thank you very much.

1507. The Chairperson: Just to clarify, are you accompanied by Seamus Shields?

1508. Mr Seamus Shields (Dean Maguirc College): Yes, I am a member of the board of governors.

1509. The Chairperson: Are you also a councillor?

1510. Mr Shields: Yes.

1511. The Chairperson: Thank you, it was just so that we could get your full title.

1512. Mr Warnock: With me today are our newly appointed vice-principal, Mrs Máire Quinn; our curriculum co-ordinator, Adrian McGuckin; and, as you already know, Seamus Shields, who is a local councillor and a member of the board of governors. We are very aware of the time restrictions, so we will deliver an abridged version of our presentation. Before we talk about our school being a successful school, I want to give the Committee a little bit of background on the type of school that we are.

1513. The mission statement of Dean Maguirc College is:

"We commit ourselves to the growth and development of people."

1514. That is what we are all about. Dean Maguirc College is situated in Carrickmore, in rural Co Tyrone, and, believe it or not, it is the home town of Barry McElduff, who continues to live there.

1515. The Chairperson: After his performance yesterday —

1516. Mr Warnock: I am sure that he would come back to me if I did not mention that.

1517. Mr B McCrea: We all know Carrickmore.

1518. Mr Warnock: The school opened its doors in 1966, and it has catered for all abilities for 30 years. It is a co-educational maintained secondary school with 472 pupils with an age range of 11 to 18 years of age. Like Castlederg High School, the number of pupils at the school is just under the 500.

1519. As a rural school, 90% of our pupils travel by bus, and 14% of our pupils come from the Southern Education and Library Board area. The ratio of boys to girls is 50:50, and 24 of our pupils have a statement of special educational needs. We have a teaching staff of 36, eight classroom assistants and our head of mathematics and numeracy co-ordinator, Mrs Máire McGinn, is a member of the Northern Ireland Literacy and Numeracy Task Force.

1520. As a school, we are very proud of our academic success and the achievement of our pupils who pursue vocational courses. The school has also been very successful in extracurricular activities. It has achieved national and provincial titles in sport, has represented Northern Ireland in the UK final of the Formula 1 in Schools: the Formula One Technology Challenge and has won numerous awards, particularly in the areas of the arts. We come together as a school community twice a year to celebrate the achievement of our pupils.

1521. We are a school with a vision, which is clearly reflected in our mission statement. Our basic aim is to enable every pupil to achieve his or her full potential using the gifts that he or she has been given, and we endeavour to meet the curricular and pastoral needs of pupils across the ability range. The starting point for achieving that is our link with feeder schools, about which I shall speak later.

1522. On entry to Dean Mcguirc College, children are set in classes containing, on average, 20 pupils. Classes are banded for English, mathematics and science, and, to enable movement between the four classes for those subjects, they are run concurrently, which, in turn, ensures that children work in a class that is appropriate to their needs.

1523. We have a coherent plan for delivering the curriculum at the relevant Key Stages, and that plan is outlined clearly in the school development plan. We adhere to the statutory requirements of the Northern Ireland curriculum and, where possible, seek opportunities to enrich it.

1524. In promoting a culture of high expectation and aspiration, we ensure that, on entry to Key Stage 4, all pupils follow the education pathway that best suits their needs. At Key Stage 4, we provide three education pathways, two of which entail vocational courses that are offered in collaboration with South West College in Omagh. That link existed some years before the establishment of learning communities.

1525. Collaboration has enhanced the provision of a broad and balanced curriculum, enabling us to move towards meeting the needs of the entitlement framework. The school is a member of the Mid-Tyrone Central Partnership — one of the four pupils who is here today travels twice a week to Ballygawley for lessons. We are also a member of the Omagh Learning Community, of which I have the privilege of being chairperson. Soon, I will hand over to Nigel Frith, who spoke in an earlier evidence session. Members of staff are involved in the online learning and teaching for educators (OLTE) initiative to promote e-learning, and, last year, in order to upgrade ICT facilities in the college, we invested in 66 new workstations.

1526. Pastoral care is very strong in Dean Mcguirc College, and we are very proud of the good relationships that exist in the school. Indeed, various external agencies and the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) have commented on those relationships. Staff play a vital role in meeting the pastoral needs of pupils, and, at all times, the pastoral care co-ordinator works closely with form teachers. Pastoral issues that arise are given immediate attention. To foster discipline in the college, we encourage in all pupils a sense of respect for themselves, others and property. Pupils are expected to adhere to a code of conduct, and a referral system is in place to address discipline problems.

1527. Our school is built around child-centred provision, and we believe firmly that every pupil deserves the same opportunity. In addition to pursuing academic success, we focus on the personal, social and spiritual development of each pupil. We provide many programmes and workshops for pupils, including presentations, retreats and pupil participation in projects such as Spirit of Enniskillen and Youth Sport West, which is a cross-community and cross-border project.

1528. Being a leader in Dean Mcguirc College means being empowered to be a team player, whether at whole-school level or as a member of established teams in the college. Members of the senior leadership team and middle managers have clearly defined roles and responsibilities, and teams have been set up to assist further in delivering the curriculum and in meeting pupils' needs. Continuous professional development for all staff is encouraged, and participation in Western Education and Library Board and regional training unit courses and programmes is facilitated. School development days involve members of staff leading various presentations and the presentation of capacity-building opportunities.

1529. A culture of self-evaluation exists in the college. Part of our school development plan is to look at practices to see how we can improve pupils' learning experiences. Staff review their work regularly and use PRSD as a link to initiatives in the Northern Ireland curriculum. We use Every School a Good School documentation to guide self-evaluation, and we continue to examine our teaching and learning practices at a personal, departmental and whole-school level. We use Together Towards Improvement to further our development. We promote a culture that encourages the sharing of good practice and expertise, through departmental and middle leadership team meetings that are held during directed time and INSET days.

1530. Our effective use and analysis of data yielded by standardised tests, diagnostic tests and the Northern Ireland cohort data promotes improvement. The monitoring of pupils and the early identification of underachievers results in appropriate intervention and informs planning, which, for the relevant pupil, may take the form of setting short-term targets, drawing up an IEP or mentoring. The school intervenes with pupils who have been identified as underachieving in literacy. A culture of high expectation exists in numeracy, and the college uses creative approaches to the teaching of a relevant and interesting curriculum to motivate pupils. School policies reflect the fact that the development and promotion of literacy and numeracy are whole-school priorities. Strategies such as tutorials and after-school revision classes ensure maximum success in those subjects and others at GCSE.

1531. The ongoing development of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects and an emphasis on career guidance are very much on the school agenda and form part of our school development plan. We promote STEM subjects and, through the use of Young Enterprise and Sentinus, get our pupils to engage in various workshops related to that area. Representatives from South West College and a careers officer from Careers Service Northern Ireland attend our information evenings for year 10 and year 12 pupils, which inform parents on subject choices and provide educational and career pathway guidance.

1532. We take pride in our strong links with feeder schools. Our primary schools liaison officer, who is also our SENCo, visits those schools every January and June. The first such visit relates to our P7 day and P7 open night. The P7 day is one on which all P7 pupils in our feeder schools come to Dean Maguirc College to engage in various activities. That annual event is followed, on the same day, by our open night. In June, the second visit provides information to establish a profile for each pupil who will transfer to our college. That enables us to provide the most appropriate setting for the child and informs staff of any pastoral or medical problems regarding incoming pupils.

1533. In working closely with parents, we operate an open-door policy. We see ourselves as a listening school. We encourage concerned parents to contact us, and requested meetings can take place to facilitate parents before, during or on the conclusion of a school day. Parents are involved in school initiatives, from our paired reading programme and helping with school productions and sporting activities to playing a part in school liturgies.

1534. The extended schools programme has enabled us to provide a range of after-school activities for our pupils, as well as valuable programmes and workshops for parents and the wider community. The work of the extended schools cluster group, in which we are the lead school, has built further on relationships with our feeder schools. We work closely with various departments in the Western Education and Library Board, including with Alison Smyth and CASS, education welfare and special education, the Western Health and Social Care Trust, the PSNI and youth counselling. Our good relationships with those agencies have enabled us to support the child further, be it in achieving his or her potential, addressing behavioural difficulties or monitoring a pupil who is experiencing problems at home.

1535. Dean Maguirc College has, over the years, developed very close links with local community organisations, and the school is used for many evening and weekend activities by those groups. As a part of our annual fund-raising programme, we donate to the local St Vincent de Paul and groups such as cancer groups. Our engagement with local groups clearly portrays a school at the heart of its community, which is, we might add, a community that empathises with us in our frustration over the setbacks that we have had in getting a much-needed and deserved new school building.

1536. To conclude, we must continue building on what we have achieved to date. Although we are a successful school with high expectations and aspirations, we, like all other schools at the moment, have concerns about future provision being compromised in the light of the proposed Budget cuts. That matter is for another day. Thank you for listening to our presentation.

1537. The Chairperson: I was amazed that we got through today without two things being raised that would have taken us down a particular route: one is the Budget; and the other is transfer. We will resist debating either of those two. However, thank you very much.

1538. I am intrigued by one issue. You establish a profile of every pupil transfer. We are not going to debate transfer. However, I have always held the view that education is a continuum. We have too much: preschool; primary school; post-primary school; further and higher education; and university. It seems as though they are all silos with little connection and that they do not all work together in the same way, yet they all have the pupil at the centre of everything that they do.

1539. Has that been a key component, not in establishing the school to which the child will goes, although obviously from Dean Maguirc's point of view that is very important, but of identifying the real needs and challenges for that individual child? Is that the purpose or rationale that drives it? We have heard it described in other places as a "pupil passport". It was described to us in that way by another school. Here, it is a profile. How important is that in the individual development of the child to ensure that his or her particular needs are fully met?

1540. Mr Warnock: As I said, it was the starting point for us. The SENCo, the pastoral care co-ordinator and our primary schools liaison officer all meet as a result of the meeting that takes place in June. We want to have this link with the primary school to get a profile. That will tell us exactly where the child is at with regard to numeracy and literacy and how he or she is getting on in primary school. We get that information through liaising with the P7 teacher and the principal, and it enables us to set the child in an appropriate class.

1541. We have to know more than just that, however. We want to know whether there are other issues and what we must look out for. There could be medical problems, as I mentioned, or domestic problems. We have to be vigilant, keeping an eye on pupils as they transfer.

1542. Furthermore, we may be told by the primary school that only three of its pupils are coming to us. It might be in the best interests of all three to keep them all in the one class if at all possible. We get that kind of information as well. Therefore, by the end of the visits around the primary schools, we can sit down as a group of people and say, we have this person here on paper, so let us now start getting the right class for the pupil. Getting that right is, to us, the stepping stone from primary to post-primary. Sometimes things may have to change.

1543. You talked about banding. If a child is not good at mathematics or numeracy, we might start them off in the special needs group. At Halloween or Christmas, we might realise that the child is progressing very well, and, therefore, we have to move that child up a class.

1544. The Chairperson: Is there consistent assessment of pupil ability across different feeder primaries?

1545. Mr Warnock: Our relationship with feeder primary schools has been very strong, and there is very good trust there now. That has been very important because, as I said, we have been catering for all abilities for 30 years. Like Castlederg High School, we are in competition with the so-called grammar schools, and we have tried to take a consistent approach.

1546. Mr Adrian McGuckin (Dean Maguirc College): We also use standardised testing to aid us. For example, Suffolk reading tests, Vernon spelling tests, and so on, complement what comes from the primary school. For example, if an IEP needs to be drawn up for a pupil, it is drawn up as quickly as possible. Furthermore, as James said, pupils need to be put in the correct band. Someone might have a strength in mathematics but a weakness in literacy, and they should be put in the appropriate band.

1547. The Chairperson: I notice from your paper, which was very helpful, that there is a very strong emphasis in the school on the use of data. Is that right? Adrian's comment may confirm that. Is that data based on before the child enters the school? Is it then updated and kept as a record of progression?

1548. Mr McGuckin: One technique that we use is cognitive ability tests, or CATs, as they are known. We use that as a diagnostic test, and it lets us see where the pupils are. However, to tackle underachievement, we look out for a discrepancy between, for example, literacy and numeracy that sets the alarm bells ringing. We identify that, although that person may not be a low achiever, he or she is underachieving. We put systems in place, an example of which is the reading partnership programme, which is specifically aimed at literacy. Pupils go into that and get help. That raises their literacy levels and helps in every subject.

1549. The Chairperson: I do not want to expand too much, but I notice that you have literacy and numeracy co-ordinators, who, obviously, play a key role.

1550. Mr Warnock: Very much so.

1551. The Chairperson: Do they tie into all that?

1552. Mr McGuckin: Yes. Whatever information they have ties into the school development plan and into whatever programmes we set up.

1553. Mr Warnock: If we take underachievement as part of our agenda, our literacy and numeracy co-ordinator has to work very closely with us, and we have to use whatever data that we have if we are to address the needs of the pupils. We get information from the primary schools and do standardised tests in our school later and, of course, diagnostic testing. That helps us to get a bigger picture of the pupil and, through tracking, we can see where that pupil is going.

1554. You asked about a consistent approach from the primary schools. We have challenged primary schools and the Key Stage 2 levels. Inconsistency has happened, but not in recent years. We found that, in some cases, some of the levels were very high, and we have now got to a stage at which we will ask where that level has come from. It is about accountability. We did challenge in the past, but now we have a more consistent approach.

1555. Mr B McCrea: I will put a proposition to you, if only for the sake of argument, because we are interested specifically in underachievement. It strikes me that, at one stage, schools — not your school —might treat almost everybody the same and deal with them in a homogeneous way. There is then another level, where schools do, as you do, quite intensive banding, and you look at CAT and have data come back in. I wonder, given some of the other issues that we have heard about, whether this differs across schools. People now seem to be getting right down into individual learning plans on multiple layers. Is that the continuum? Is that where people are heading to, or is that going too far?

1556. Mr McGuckin: To give each pupil a fair shake of the stick, schools need to be going that way. We need to look to see what the pupils' needs are. The premise of the Northern Ireland curriculum is that a pupil progresses at his or her level to the best of his or her ability. Taking that to be the underlying statement, we should be looking at what we can do best for individual pupils.

1557. To anticipate Trevor's question, we have serious issues with accreditation. Pupils do a course that is suitable to them, yet they might not get the credit that they deserve for it. I am thinking, for example, of entry-level subjects at GCSE for which they do not get much accreditation. However, it is best suited for them, and, according to the Northern Ireland curriculum, that is the path that they should follow.

1558. Mr B McCrea: The general issue is that some employers are going directly to school leavers from the top end rather than to people who are leaving higher and further education because they are not getting qualifications that are meaningful to them. There is an issue of trying to encourage people to do something that will be useful to them in the future.

1559. Mr McGuckin: In the presentation, James said that we provide three pathways for pupils. One is a choice of totally academic subjects, and pupils can choose to do that at the end of Key Stage 3 and into Key Stage 4. The other two pathways involve a vocational element. In one of those, pupils do occupational studies or a BTEC at the South West College here in Omagh. In the third, they do a reduced number of GCSEs, a placement in South West College and a work placement. In addition to that, we do an award and certificate in education, training and skills (ACET) in employability, which raises their skills in what is needed to be employable.

1560. Mr B McCrea: I do not want to take too long, but do you notice any particular difference between boys and girls? In the previous presentation, we talked about differential results. I stress that I do not raise this to be sectarian in any way, but a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report included data that showed that some groups of people were performing in a similar way and that one group was not performing well. Part of the issue was that boys were performing below the level of girls. In your school, is there any differential in the outcomes for boys and girls and the treatment of boys and girls?

1561. Mr Warnock: I will take that. We noted that there was a gap between boys and girls, and we have tried to address that gap in recent years. As Castlederg High School has done, we have looked at the year group. We had to do that, after saying that we needed to bridge the gap. We then found that boys did better than girls at GCSE. One of the boys was the top achiever, and he is over there in the Public Gallery.

1562. Mr B McCrea: We will embarrass him later.

1563. The Chairperson: No pressure there.

1564. Mr Warnock: We have been looking at that issue. This year was an exception, and I cannot say what next year will bring. I suppose that I do know that it will not be the same as this year. We have to try to bridge that gap, and we are doing that. The other issue is to do with pupils taking different pathways, which Adrian mentioned. We have to look at offering courses that are relevant to pupils when they enter Key Stage 4. We have pupils in the third pathway who, in a week, do a day in South West College on a vocational course and a day at a related work placement. They come to school for three days a week, and, perhaps through career guidance or their outlook, they realise that they must try to get some qualifications in GCSE English and maths. It is not a case of our telling them that that is important. Naturally, we will say that. They may be getting advice from external agencies. I should add that it is not just the boys who are going out into the workplace. There are also some girls, be it for hairdressing, or whatever.

1565. We need to look at courses that are relevant, but we also have to remember that the pupils need to have some grades when they leave. For us, a D could be the equivalent of an A* for a pupil. Those grades, whether Ds or Es, add up to points for the next stage or the next course that they go on to.

1566. Mr B McCrea: I do not want to go on, so we will talk over lunch.

1567. The Chairperson: So that I do not lose the train of thought, Adrian, you raise a very interesting point about the entrance accreditations. We are keen for you to expand on that for us, perhaps even in writing, because it is something that we would like to take back to the Department to discuss. You have raised a very important issue. You are the curriculum co-ordinator in the school, and you are seeing it from the practitioner's point of view rather than from a policy point of view.

1568. Mr McGuckin: We are also seeing it from a wider viewpoint. James can pick up on this point. There is work ongoing in the Omagh Learning Community to look at accreditation for pupils.

1569. The Chairperson: Perhaps, rather than put the burden on you, we will have a discussion with Alison Smyth. Alison is going to end up asking why she was not at the table making a presentation to the Committee. Yes, that would be useful, Adrian.

1570. Mr O'Dowd: Thank you for your presentation. I have a broader question that may seem strange. What should formal education be about? What should the outcomes be for the individual pupil?

1571. Mr McGuckin: I think — Sorry, James.

1572. Mr Warnock: You go ahead.

1573. Mr B McCrea: That was well ducked, James.

1574. Mr O'Dowd: Now we know from where Barry McElduff learned it.

1575. Mr McGuckin: Our mission statement sums it up. We commit ourselves to the growth and development of people. That takes various forms, from the pupils who leave with the highest grades and go on to university to those who are going into employment or technical courses that suit them. We are looking at it holistically.

1576. Mr O'Dowd: I agree with you.

1577. Mr McGuckin: I will keep quiet now, because I do not want to steal my principal's thunder.

1578. Mr O'Dowd: I agree with what you are saying, but is there perhaps a misunderstanding among the general populace of what formal education is about and what society needs to achieve from formal education?

1579. Mr Warnock: I do not want to reiterate what Adrian has said. If we are educating pupils, we need to get them qualifications, but we must also have a holistic approach to education, as Adrian said, because we have to develop people who are going to be fit to take their place in society, contribute to society and take a place in the workplace, if there is work there.

1580. To me, formal education is about qualifications, but it is also about empowering somebody who is going to take on a very big role in society. We have to look at various aspects. Are we just getting people to finish school with qualifications? No; that is not what we want. We want people who will be independent and responsible and who will be able to think for themselves. The next big thing in education is becoming independent learners. Yes, formal education is about qualifications and producing people who can go out there and play a role in society. Like all other schools, everyone that comes into our school feels that they have a role to play in school, and then a further role to play when they leave.

1581. Mr O'Dowd: Thank you.

1582. Ms Máire Quinn (Dean Maguirc College): It is very important that we strive to empower our young people at all times. I will talk about some of the activities that we do in school. For example, we have a class prefect system from year 8 until year 12. Post-16, we have senior prefects, who have a say and involvement in the school.

1583. Our student council also runs very well. We regularly survey our pupils about school life. We recently surveyed year 8 pupils about how they had settled in. Last June, we surveyed our present year 9 pupils — last year's year 8 pupils — about what advice they would give us to change the programme for our present year 8 pupils. It is very important that pupils have a say in our school, because it is their school, and we value their opinion and input at all times.

1584. Mr O'Dowd: How does the school manage interaction with families, parents and guardians? Is there an outreach programme? Do you seek out the guardians and parents especially of pupils who may not be achieving well? That can often be related to an incident or incidents in the family home.

1585. Mr Warnock: We work closely with the Education Welfare Service. That has to be our first port of call. We try very much to establish relationships with all parents, and there are times when that might be quite difficult to do. However, we have to keep moving in that direction.

1586. I will give you an example: there was a pupil whose father we could not get in, and we knew that there was no point in bringing the mother in because she was going to side with the pupil. We needed the father in so that we could work collectively or in partnership. He was working in England so was not available between Monday and Friday. I said that that was fine and that we could meet at the weekend, which we did on a Saturday morning. I think that he realised, when he came in, that we were not threatening him but trying to work together. We have to try to work with the Education Welfare Service and social services because we are all in this together. The child and parents may see then see that the school is trying to do the best for them.

1587. Mr McGuckin: We also have a learning guidance team — comprising me in a curricular capacity, Máire in a pastoral capacity or in her role as SENCo, our careers officer inside the school and a careers officer from outside the school — that gets together to look at individual pupils who we think might be presenting a problem. That information is fed up the line from class teachers and form teachers. Therefore, we have a focus. If a pupil has a problem, we are looking at not one area but at several to see how we can help.

1588. Mr O'Dowd: Thank you.

1589. The Chairperson: Seamus, you wanted to make a comment.

1590. Mr Shields: It is not like a politician to sit with his lip buttoned for too long.

1591. Mr B McCrea: Exactly. Speak up, Seamus.

1592. The Chairperson: That is why we thought we would give you an opportunity to speak, Seamus.

1593. Mr Shields: I have been associated with this school in one way or another since it was founded in the mid-1960s although not very directly until the past 20 years or so when I joined the board of governors. Therefore, I have had the opportunity to observe the school from its very beginnings until the situation that James presented so eloquently with regard to the school's performance today.

1594. The school faced formidable difficulties in the early days, not least because it started life as a secondary intermediate. I taught for many years in the neighbouring primary school. When we talked about post-primary education in the classroom, the school was very often referred to as "the Intermediate down the road". I saw the school progress from being that intermediate school until, stage by stage and step by step, it came to be where it is today: a highly esteemed local college catering for all pupils from the transfer from primary school right through until many of them progress to higher education, and many of them into the higher courses at university.

1595. I had the opportunity to observe its transition from what might have been regarded as a struggling school to a very successful school. I have some perception of some of the landmarks that might have led to this point, but the crucial one is how the school has grown in the estimation of the local community. What brought that about? The most important factor of a successful school is the relationship that it has with the community that it serves, and the esteem in which it is held by the community that it serves. I came across a statement recently that came into my mind again a moment ago, which was that the community is a powerful ally of the local school. That has been amply demonstrated by this school, because of the relationship that it has had with the community.

1596. In its early days, the school competed with grammar schools, because the community in Carrickmore and the surrounding area always set great store by educational achievement. The drive and the pressure in the primary schools was to get the children through the 11-plus so that they could get places in a grammar school. Gradually, however, that changed, not least through the efforts of the secondary school to demonstrate that it could bring children through the full curriculum and have them performing perhaps equally as well as many of the children in the grammar schools.

1597. The community's perception of the school changed gradually, until, around 10 years ago, the school introduced a sixth form, and the community saw the students progressing successfully through that. Those were important factors in raising the esteem of the school. Much more important, however, was the relationship that grew between the school and the community as a result of openness and a new attitude of welcome in the school community to the local area.

1598. I emphasise in particular that, as the school grew and developed, the new cohort of teachers that came into the school were, very often, people who had strong roots in the community. Many of them were closely associated with Gaelic football, for example. There is a powerful association with Gaelic games in the area that the school serves. The people have a very great regard for Gaelic football success, and many of the young teachers, many of whom I know personally, were prominent Gaelic games players. That gave a new image to the school, which the children liked to be associated with, and it gave the school a lift.

1599. The school got a new name as well. It was no longer known as the "Intermediate" but became known locally as "The Dean". It began to produce school magazines and other annual publications. The community came to the school prize-giving ceremonies, and the parents loved to see their children's successes being celebrated. All that built up the feeling that the school was a good school, and people were proud to send their children there and be associated with the school in many different respects. All those influences, I observed, allowed the school to grow. I would not, in any way, demean the efforts of the staff and the powerful input that they provided, nor the vision that the school had for high expectations and high achievement. All that was vital, but no less important was the support of the community, which saw the school as a good school. The community saw the school as its school, and people were glad to have their children there. That has been the transition that I have observed. It is a credit to the school staff that they can present such a positive image of and such a positive report on their school.

1600. The Chairperson: That is a very fitting conclusion to our public hearings, Seamus. This is the final public hearing in this round of engagements as part of our inquiry. Thank you for that. I hope that John O'Dowd will take some of Tyrone's Gaelic expertise back to Armagh.

1601. Mr O'Dowd: I want to put on record that I am a Down man.

1602. The Chairperson: As someone who knows nothing about it, I would not want to interfere.

1603. Mr Shields: When I taught in the primary school, I had the opportunity, perhaps the privilege, of teaching Barry McElduff.

1604. The Chairperson: So you are responsible. Can we all have a word with you afterwards?

1605. Mr Shields: I just wanted the opportunity to tell that in public. I have to say that Barry taught me more than I ever taught him.

1606. The Chairperson: Thank you very much. I thank James Warnock and his team. That was extremely useful. I wish you well in your newbuild, and I hope that work on it is progressing. I know that it was announced, and I hope that it will be brought to fruition. We wish your school well, as we do all the schools that have taken part today. As we have found on all these occasions, we go away informed, armed with examples that can be used and built on. Thank you for the time that you have taken to see us today.

23 February 2011

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Mervyn Storey (Chairperson)
Mr David Hilditch (Deputy Chairperson)
Mrs Mary Bradley
Mr Jonathan Craig
Mr Trevor Lunn
Mr Basil McCrea
Miss Michelle McIlveen
Mrs Michelle O'Neill

Witnesses:

Mr David Cargo
Mr Shane McCurdy
Mr Barry Mulholland
Mr Tony Murphy
Mr Stanton Sloan

 

Association of Education and Library Boards Chief Executives

1607. The Chairperson (Mr Storey): We will move on to our inquiry on successful post-primary schools serving disadvantaged communities. This session is being recorded for Hansard, so I welcome a member of Hansard staff. I also welcome to the Committee the five chief executives of the education and library boards.

1608. Our inquiry evidence session today is with the association of chief executives. Members' tabled papers contain the submissions and responses to the inquiry that the Committee has received to date. When I open the Floor later for members' questions, they may wish to bear those submissions in mind, as well as the draft listing of emerging themes.

1609. I welcome David Cargo, Barry Mulholland, Tony Murphy, Stanton Sloan and Shane McCurdy. I am glad that you are here and that you are in agreement with each other. We are delighted that you have taken the time to make it up the steep hill. David, are you the chairperson of the group? Will you introduce your colleagues?

1610. Mr David Cargo (Association of Education and Library Boards Chief Executives): As I always say, I am the chairperson by default; I think that that has something to do with age. I thank the Committee for inviting us to give evidence. We understand the vagaries and intricacies of the Assembly voting system, so we will be prepared if members leave us at various stages or if they have to go to make speeches in the Chamber on the Justice Bill.

1611. The Committee's inquiry is into successful post-primary schools serving disadvantaged communities. Members will hopefully have received a fairly detailed response from each of the education and library boards. Rather than appear as five separate organisations and wax lyrical about each of our areas, we are happy to talk about any of the details of each of our responses. We have put together a paper for members in which we have tried to draw out the common themes that have been included in all our responses.

1612. I should say at the outset that there is nothing surprising in our paper. The comments that we articulated in our individual submissions and in this response reinforce much of the research that the Committee has undertaken and, hopefully, many of the issues that members have heard on their travels, far and wide, when talking to a number of post-primary schools. We also included in the paper a number of conclusions and recommendations that have been drawn from our research and from our individual papers.

1613. Like every good presentation, ours should contain a number of high-level themes to leave with the Committee, but, at the outset, it should try to give a proper context for the discussion. The first theme is that, successful schools, as articulated in a school improvement policy, are not necessarily the same as a scenario where there are high-achieving pupils from disadvantaged areas.

1614. I could, perhaps, expand that a little by saying that, if the starting policy base is trying to ensure that there are successful schools, a slightly different system may be developed than if the starting point is trying to ensure that all children from disadvantaged areas have the optimum opportunities to achieve their maximum potential. Those are not necessarily one and the same. That is an important issue to remember, especially when we consider some of the exemplars that the Committee has looked at. Some schools are doing outstanding work in quite difficult situations. Perhaps the measures that are used to deem schools as successful or otherwise do not necessarily take into account fully the issues that relate to the pupils as individuals. That is an important issue. There is a danger that we could end up with a monochrome version of education and successful schooling, and we hope that the Committee will bear that in mind in its deliberations.

1615. The second issue is the impact of school improvement on underachievement. Most research highlights that somewhere around 14% of the incidence of low educational achievement can be attributed to poor school quality. Although it is a demand and aspiration of us all to ensure that schools are of the highest quality, that point has to be remembered in the context of tackling low achievement. That is only one of a number of factors that must be taken into account if the issue is to be dealt with. Percentages may not necessarily be the major factor to consider.

1616. The third issue is the question of what constitutes a successful school. Although the way that we currently measure success through five GCSE A to C grades may fit many children and be a suitable indicator for the sector, it may not necessarily be the most appropriate, especially for some children who come from the most disadvantaged and deprived areas.

1617. Finally, I hope that, on its travels, the Committee is coming to the conclusion that one size does not fit all. What may work in east Belfast may not necessarily work in Derry or Fermanagh. Therefore, there is a rich variety of approaches to the resolution of problems. Although there are common themes, the way in which those are played out in the context in which the children exist is, obviously, an important aspect of any inquiry or any attempt to draw conclusions from that inquiry.

1618. Therefore, having made those introductory comments, I will ask my colleagues to take each area that is in the papers and make a few comments about them. After that I will, perhaps, say a few words about conclusions and recommendations before we attempt to answer members' questions.

1619. Mr Barry Mulholland (Association of Education and Library Boards Chief Executives): School leadership is one of the key factors in bringing about better outcomes for pupils in schools is, so I will focus on that. It is present in all the research, and it is in all the responses that were forwarded to the Committee. It is also in the Northern Ireland Assembly's Research and Library Service's research paper, number 601. It has been identified that that factor is second only to classroom teaching in its impact on pupil outcomes.

1620. Looking at all the research and the analysis that the boards have carried out, the following characteristics have been identified as significant for schools that serve disadvantaged communities. Those characteristics are set out in the short paper that members have been provided with. They include leadership in the school at senior level and how it should have the ability to create a vision for the future direction of the school and be able to inspire those who work in the school, whether they are teaching or non-teaching staff. School leaders should also have the ability to create structures that are flexible to pupils who present with challenging behaviour. There is a raft of leadership issues for staff, such as making them feel supported, being able to develop trust among staff, demonstrating empathy with pupils and families, and demonstrating that the school has high expectations for the delivery of education and outcomes for children. School leadership is also about demonstrating a belief and determination that schools can really make a difference to pupil outcomes.

1621. If we look at leadership, we can see that it has tended to focus on those at the top. As the research indicates, there needs to be a willingness to distribute leadership down through the organisation and to have high expectations at different levels. The leadership, and leadership characteristics, of the staff is extremely significant to how a school operates. Therefore, the ability to distribute leadership in the organisation is important. There should also be a commitment to the provision of continuous professional development for staff in the school, with a focus on leadership.

1622. I will make one final point about leadership. It is fine getting all those characteristics in people in a school, but the crucial point is to recruit people with those characteristics into the school to ensure that the right person at the right time is brought in. Whenever we talk about leadership, we are not just talking about staff. Boards of governors must also have the necessary vision, expectations and aspirations, and they must work very closely with the senior management team in the school. Therefore, I am highlighting the importance of leadership in bringing about positive outcomes for pupils in disadvantaged communities. It has a more significant impact on schools that operate in disadvantaged areas.

1623. Mr Tony Murphy (Association of Education and Library Boards Chief Executives): Good afternoon, Chairperson and members. I will address the issue of school engagement with parents and the wider community. It is a fact, and we all know that no school can work in isolation from its local community. Assembly and other research shows how vital real engagement with the community is in disadvantaged areas. We can see that in our schools, and we see the success that has come out of schools' working with the community and having close links with its.

1624. The key point is that those links need to be tailor-made to a community. I make that point to stress that issues are not necessarily transferable. There will not be a silver bullet that cures all ills. Links need to be custom-made. Schools have developed their own links and methodologies for working with their local communities.

1625. The extended schools programme has been a wonderful example of integration with the community. The opportunities and success that have come out of that for disadvantaged schools are immeasurable, so that should be put down as a marker for the future.

1626. All the statutory voluntary and community-based organised organisations have a contribution to make. The positive aspects of synergy of engagement with all those agencies are immense. It is the same for the involvement of parents and boards of governors, particularly in schools where there is disadvantage. It is vital to make links with parents and to embrace the extended schools programme.

1627. Learning communities are also important. The Southern Education and Library Board gave the example of a specialist school for science that is a member of the area-learning community and that works with all the post-primary schools in the area and with the local further education college. Those are, of course, given contexts for all schools now. However, for disadvantaged schools, the positive aspects of collaboration with the wider community are immense.

1628. Another important element is the extent to which parents value education. If parents are involved in adult education, the message is sent to youngsters that it is valued and that people can see and demonstrate that it is a lifelong experience. Teachers will find that it is infectious to learn and engage with youngsters. Some years ago, I used to read in a library with youngsters, and I know that if someone reads, it becomes infectious. Therefore, engagement in education in the family is of huge value.

1629. Communication with the home and creating links between parents and schools are vital. It is important to make connections and create a synergy where the one on one makes more than the two. It is vital that staff are accessible to parents and the community. Some schools really work at and develop that to a high degree so that it has an impact and is part of the school's success.

1630. There should be a strong link between the formal curriculum and the extended schools provision. Those two things are not different, and, as I said, they are all part of the one thing and can form a lifelong experience.

1631. To round that off, strong community engagement is an essential element at the core of the success in supporting schools in that context, and it is therefore vital that it is part of the process.

1632. Mr Stanton Sloan (Association of Education and Library Boards Chief Executives): Thank you for your invitation. Good afternoon, everybody. I will look specifically at addressing underachievement in disadvantaged communities. I do not intend to go through the key points of our submission, but I will highlight one or two things and pick out a couple of other relevant issues.

1633. Addressing underachievement in disadvantaged communities is not a matter for just the Department of Education. I believe that the Department for Employment and Learning, for example, can play a significant role. There are high levels of unemployment in disadvantaged communities, so the currency of education, which a person can cash in to get a job, is lost. That means that there is no impetus and no clear path to link education and employment. Therefore, the issue is about much more than just education.

1634. This matter is about not just the home learning environments but the whole community. The school, the home, the community and statutory and voluntary agencies have a role to play to get together and recognise that education does not start when pupils walk through the school gates and finish when they walk out of them; it is 24 hours a day. We all have roles and responsibilities. That becomes particularly relevant in the areas of special educational needs and looked-after children. Those areas are particularly important to us.

1635. When we talk about raising aspirations, we are talking about doing so on a number of levels. We want to raise the aspirations of the young people themselves so that they have high expectations of themselves. That relates back to the appropriateness of the curriculum and to leadership, which Barry talked about. Raising aspirations is also about encouraging parents to have high aspirations for their children, which goes back to employment and life chances and showing how that is all linked. It is also about making sure that the teaching and non-teaching workforce in the school is totally engaged and expects high performances from pupils.

1636. It is also about education and library boards, other support bodies and departments having high but realistic expectations. In that context, David touched on another issue in our schools, which is adding value to schools. He said that one size does not fit all. Judging all schools by the number of children who get five A* to C at GCSE level means that they are all equal. However, I can quote a school in my board that would not have attained that level. However, if we were look at where the young people started in year 8 and where they finished in year 15, we could see that that school added value that was more than just academic value. It was concerned with social and personal, as well as interpersonal, skills development.

1637. There is a significant issue with boys, and I put part of that down to the lack of male role models in the primary sector in particular. In that sector, a male in the school is either the caretaker or the principal. Without wanting to demean caretakers, it is a case of being at one end or the other, and those in between tend to be female. My wife is in a school where the only male is the caretaker. She relates that there is no male role model for learning in the school.

1638. With young people, and young boys in particular, early intervention is important, especially in key skills such as literacy and numeracy. I include interpersonal and ICT skills in that. If people do ICT without including interpersonal skills, they can lose an awful lot of the social interaction that, I believe, is part of the process of becoming mature. I will pose a question to the Committee, which goes back to what David said about the appropriateness of the curriculum and the one-size-fits-all approach. For a boy or girl who is going into secondary school and has a reading age of eight or nine, should we be saying to them that they should be doing French, history, geography and a range of subjects? Alternatively, should we say that their main focus should be on getting their language and mathematical skills, but primarily their language skills, up to a level that makes them a fully functioning member of our society before doing other subjects? If we are serious about raising literacy levels, we should look at that.

1639. The issue, above all else, is to engage the children. It is about showing them and their parents the value of literacy and numeracy while recognising the pastoral dimension. It is also about everyone accepting that they have a major role to play in this area. I include in that not just the Department of Education, the Education Committee, the education and library boards, but the whole of society.

1640. My final point aims to lay to rest the misapprehension that disadvantage is to be found in only one particular group. I noticed the quotation that mentioned those from higher and lower income groups. I am saying that some schools in my board are noticing that problems are beginning in children both of whose parents have to work. They are being disadvantaged in a different way, but they are still disadvantaged. Therefore, it does not happen in just one group.

1641. Mr Shane McCurdy (Association of Education and Library Boards Chief Executives): Thank you for the invitation.

1642. I will be looking at the broad policy context and will focus on Every School a Good School (ESAGS) in the Department of Education improvement policies. In all this, I am very cognisant that policies take a very broad approach to and have a broad impact on the education community. When we think of that in the context of Every School a Good School, the point is to try to use factors that are of a common standard in judging the success, or otherwise, of individual schools. As we heard, schools are individual places with individual pupils, and what may or may not be attainable relates to the individuals in those schools.

1643. Although the policy context sets a means for an evaluation, we need to be very conscious of what we are trying to measure through that policy and how we are trying to assess it. Stanton made the case about looking at the abilities of individual children and what we are trying to achieve for them through the curriculum. That also applies when we are assessing the success or otherwise of a school.

1644. Data have to be reliable, valid and robust. Conclusions need to be drawn about what is actually happening in those schools. The ESAGS policy has certainly drawn attention to issues where there has been deemed to have been a failing on the part of a school. For example, there may have been a need to intervene in the teaching and processing practices that operate in a school. Perhaps, and possibly more so, it is a case of learning to identify at an early stage, and before we have reached the intervention stage, the factors in a school that are not as they should be. We should also learn to identify the support mechanisms that can be put in place to assist the school to address those issues before it gets into significant difficulties.

1645. In all that, the point is to promulgate good practice. Schools that exist in their own circumstances do not necessarily have the opportunity to see good practice in other schools. There is a clear focus on trying to facilitate a mechanism whereby schools can see what is happening in other schools of like characteristics so that they can see what is successful and how they can then learn from that and take it back for their own school development planning process. That creates an opportunity for capacity building for the personnel in the school, including the principal, other senior teachers and teachers generally.

1646. Through that process, there is an element of self-evaluation. Schools and teachers know specifically what outcomes they are trying to bring about for their children, and they can develop and tailor strategies for those children to bring that about. Key in all this is trying to assess, as Stanton said, what added value we are trying to achieve and how we define a successful school if "success" relates specifically to the successes of an individual child. In a policy context, although not decrying the policy's intent, the point is about how we tailor that to the individual child in the school and to the particular circumstances that exist.

1647. Mr Cargo: In conclusion, we have given the Committee a flavour of what it knows are some of the key elements of the issue. Perhaps I can throw in another comment. As we reach the end of an Assembly mandate, and as members reflect on the success or otherwise of the past four years, in the context —

1648. The Chairperson: Do you have a stamp?

1649. Mr Cargo: Yes, we are going to mark you. Obviously, the current mandate has a Programme for Government, which, quite properly, sets the economy as an important priority for us as a society moving forward. Everyone is clear about education's role in that policy, which is that a successful education system is important in helping us in the twenty-first century. In that context, a number of policies have been debated.

1650. I think that there is an issue to consider as we go forward into the next mandate. The Department of Education has a clear and properly held view of the important roles that schools play. There is a danger that the Department could become the Department for schools, because that is quite a safe place to be. If the success of an education system is measured through the success of its schools, the vast majority of children will fit into that approach. We are suggesting that the Department must always strive to be the Department for children, especially in the context of children in disadvantaged communities. That is a slightly different issue.

1651. In going forward in our day-to-day work, one of the challenges for the Assembly, and certainly for us, is how to give policy resource and operational effectiveness to a Department that looks after children, as opposed to one that manages schools.

1652. The Chairperson: Thank you very much David. That ties in with the conclusion in your submission, which states that:

"The funding formula for schools should be reassessed to reflect more accurately the specific needs of children."

1653. Mr Cargo: Yes.

1654. The Chairperson: I suppose you would argue that it is possible that the local management of schools (LMS) funding formula is tailored more towards schools than to children. The worry and fear when starting to look at a new or an amended formula is always that it may become so detailed and complicated that only accountants can understand and work it out. I mean no disrespect to any accountants who may be present; Shane knows that I hold them in the highest regard.

1655. There is no doubt that that is an issue.

1656. One issue has come up repeatedly both during this inquiry and since the Committee came into existence. We often hear about a list of characteristics that define a good school. One such characteristic, which everybody talks about, is effective leadership. Two schools, which I will not name, come to mind. They both sit in socially challenging areas, but they are in different parts of Northern Ireland. In one, things have gone immensely well; however, in the other, and according to the comments of one teacher to whom I spoke, if behaviour continues at its current level, the staff will soon have to bring in the police. Both schools face the same challenges and have similar characteristics, including social background, opposition to authority and so on. It seems that something dramatic must have happened to make that one school successful. However, the success of that school cannot be transposed on to the other school. I know staff in the other school, and they have leadership qualities and have endeavoured to do what they can, but they just cannot get over the bar. What, specifically, will it take to deal with that school? In addressing a point about Every School a Good School, Shane McCurdy talked about establishing a standard added-value measure. If you were given the challenge of going into the underachieving school, how would you deal with it?

1657. Mr Cargo: The point that we are trying to make is that, given the complexity of the issues with which we are dealing, coming at the problem purely from a school perspective is the wrong place to start. My experience from working in Belfast is that four key factors interplay in many disadvantaged areas. Those are health inequalities, educational underachievement, community capacity, or, in other words, asking who the role models and leaders in the community are, and the last factor is economic regeneration. Our experience in Belfast is that some of the issues that we mentioned can start to be addressed. However, much less will be achieved by simply focusing on the school unless, and at the same time, partners are addressing health inequalities, others are creating greater capacity for society to help itself and there are jobs at the end of the process.

1658. As I said, the incidence of low achievement in poor school quality contributes about 14% of the total solution. That means that the wider problems have to be tackled. Over the years, the education and library boards have learned that things can be done in a school to bring about change, but unless those changes are allied to wider changes in the community, the problem will not be sorted out and no meaningful impact will be made. To build a successful secondary school, as our paper says, intervention has to start at pre-school level. The issue is to start growing people early, because trying to sort out a child's problems at the age of 11 or 12 is almost impossible. Although that might be the age at which to break in, things will not be sorted out from there.

1659. Therefore, a much more holistic approach has to be taken. That is why I said that we need a Department for children. For example, in our most deprived areas, the Department of Education works closely with the Health Department to tackle family issues. That integrated approach tries to build services around families, because, as we have found, many elements of disadvantage are linked to other factors. It is not just about educational underachievement; a whole raft of other things have to be tackled at the same time. Unless the structures are in place to tackle them holistically, the necessary impact on the child will not be made, and the child will have increased barriers to learning that will shape their ability to be an effective learner.

1660. Miss McIlveen: I apologise, because I am going to have to leave soon. Mr Cargo, my question is on a point that you made about the Health Department and on an issue that Stanton mentioned about looked-after children. A couple of weeks ago, when the Minister of Education made a statement on a meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council, she mentioned that the Department was going to start a review that would look into the non-attendance at school of looked-after children. Do you have any statistics that back up where the problem with those children lies?

1661. Mr Sloan: We have those statistics, which are quite far-reaching. As David said, the issues concerned are not just about the child's education. David talked about a Department for children. When the Assembly was being set up and we were working out the number of Departments, I remember saying to a politician that instead of having a Department of Education, there should be a Department of children's affairs. There is not enough integration between the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, the Department of Education and a whole range of other Departments, including the Department of Justice, which comes into it massively. It is about having that sort of view going forward.

1662. You probably heard on the radio this morning about the new facility at Forestside for looked-after children who are in need of intensive care. However, I think that we are still putting as many as 200 children who have mental health problems in adult wards. There is a phenomenal need to address those issues, because that number is increasing. We can certainly provide some information on that. If you come to the board, we will put that together for you.

1663. Miss McIlveen: Do you have statistics on their level of attainment?

1664. Mr Sloan: Again, we could provide those, but we do not want to end up defining attainment in a very narrow sense.

1665. Miss McIlveen: I understand that you cannot take that in isolation either, because of the number of —

1666. Mr Sloan: For some children, even just improving their attendance rate is a major feat. I am actually involved in a situation at the moment where we have managed to get a particular young person in, which is an absolutely phenomenal success in itself, and now they are now starting to learn. However, we are not teaching that individual any academic subjects. Believe it or not, their real interest is in woodwork, and they are coming to school because we have built that in for them. If the Committee wants, we could look at range of methods for measuring achievement that could, in fact, help the Department.

1667. Miss McIlveen: I think that that would be very useful.

1668. The Chairperson: I agree. We have heard this question asked repeatedly, but how is added value packaged, measured, defined and described? There is so much added value out there, but, because a school may not fall within the definition of success, which is five GCSEs A* to C grades, it is not put on a sheet of paper as being successful. This is a societal issue about how we accept certain things and about how we deem certain individuals to be successful. The example you gave was a good way to show the clear benefits of added value for a young person. However, we must ensure that that translates well in society, so that when that person goes for a job, the employer recognises that, although they might not have the accepted criteria of success, they might still be a star worker.

1669. Miss McIlveen: There is clearly a crossover with other Departments, particularly where looked-after children are concerned. What are those relationships like?

1670. Mr Cargo: All relationships depend on people, and these relationships depend on whether on-the-ground synergies can be achieved. When the former North and West Belfast Trust existed, we put in a huge amount of work at local level and on the ground between social workers, psychologists, education welfare officers and teachers to try to promote sharing mechanisms. I think that the key is to build bottom-up and on-the-ground arrangements that are based around children, as opposed to those that are top-down. Schools are important in the sense that they have a captive audience. As members saw with schools such as the Girls' Model, if we can get the services for schools, which is where the captive audience is, we can start to address those wider issues. We have to say that that works incredibly well in some areas, but it is patchy in others. If the relationship with the people from the various agencies is right, and if they can see a shared interest in an outcome for families and children, the process begins to work quite well. That is the key issue. We sometimes fall down in translating it up to policy and resourcing level, which still comes down the silos.

1671. Mr Sloan: I have written to the permanent secretary about the issue, and I understand that an interdepartmental working group, which brought together education and health issues, worked on it. I want to build on what David said. We need co-operation at a strategic level, because, although boards are being encouraged to come together to co-ordinate and converge services and to have a common approach across the whole of Northern Ireland, I do not see the same thing happening with health issues. If work is done across two health boards, which is what the South Eastern Education and Library Board does, there will be some disparity. As David said, we work well with the health sector on the ground, but I think that more could be done at the policy level.

1672. Mr Cargo: The Joseph Rowntree Trust did a very good piece of work in England and Wales on added value indicators, because the same issue came up under the Blair Government. The five-GCSE standard was focused on, but then there was a sudden plateau. How do we get the schools that are always going to be deemed to be unsuccessful in that scenario? What are the added value measures? Rowntree did some good work in the English system, which, I think, we could benefit from if we going to continue to look at school improvement.

1673. Miss McIlveen: Do you have formal links with the voluntary and community sectors?

1674. Mr Cargo: We have an integrated services approach in Belfast. We got additional resources through the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister (OFMDFM), and we have community, statutory and voluntary integrated services. The community sector leads it. It has people who identify families who are at risk and in need, and the statutory, voluntary and community services work together with a lead worker to try to put a raft of packages around the individuals. Through those packages, they move the individuals from the situation they are in to where they need to go. That has a positive impact in education and in many of the other issues that the health sector is dealing with. That is the practical way that we have been doing it in Belfast. It is an important pilot, and a lot is to be learned. The approach could be replicated in other places. It works well, because the voluntary sector is an integral player in that scenario.

1675. Mr Sloan: We all have similar examples, but I want to draw the Committee's attention to the pre-school education expansion programme, in which every board has a committee. It is not a board committee, but the board established it to look at the programme of expanding pre-school education. It involves community, statutory and voluntary nurseries, and strategic direction has been given. I think that that has been one of the most successful initiatives to come out of the Department in recent years. It is a key factor in addressing the area of underachievement. Therefore, there are examples of strategies that work, but there are things to build on.

1676. Miss McIlveen: That goes through to your recommendation about having a clear strategy for early years provision.

1677. Mr Sloan: Yes.

1678. Miss McIlveen: Thank you. I apologise for having to run off.

1679. Mr Mulholland: I want to add an important caveat to the points that I made about leadership. Without doubt, leadership is crucial. Next to classroom teaching, it is the most important aspect of the process. However, I would be concerned if the quality of leadership in a school were measured or assessed on the basis of pupils' getting five GCSEs. I have schools where the quality of leadership is excellent. However, they may not be hitting what would be regarded as high returns in the form of five GCSEs. A raft of factors impacts on that.

1680. For instance, in one area, over 60% of the young people who come out of the feeder primary schools go to a grammar school, meaning that only 40% go to the local high school. The capacity of that school to hit high levels of returns with five GCSEs is somewhat limited, but the quality of leadership in that school is such that individual pupils are achieving, and those achievements can be tracked. That is at a fairly high level. It is a more complex issue than equating good leadership to excellent results in schools and thinking that schools that have difficulty with attainment levels must have poor leadership. It is not as simple as that.

1681. The Chairperson: In this case, it is right to name a school on your patch Barry. That school is Drumragh College, and we saw it last week. We saw an example of the way that that school approaches the problem. It has a dedicated member of staff, not a teacher, who is tasked with going out into the community and who is the link between the family, the statutory agencies and the school. In that school's experience, that approach has been useful and worthwhile.

1682. Last week, we heard from a school that has a whole-day assessment process for selection of a teacher. That involves a number of interviews, observing the candidate teaching the class and looking at how they interact informally with pupils. Given the important role of the principal in creating and maintaining a successful school, is the current process for selecting our teachers the correct one? One of the chief executives will know of a school, which I will not name, at which issues have been ongoing for six or seven years because of a dispute about a principal. The numbers at that school went from around 160 to 70. There are all sorts of reasons why that happened, but the school suffered.

1683. I think that those two elements of the system need a radical change. What needs to be changed so that we can effectively and efficiently deal with the problem, with the result that it does not impact on the school or hinder the rights of the individual? It is not that we are trying to take rights away from individual teachers, but it is a scandal that the dispute has been ongoing, and the public perception is such that parents do not want to send their children to that school. During the time that that process was going on, numbers kept falling.

1684. Not every candidate at an interview is the right teacher for the school in question, so is the selection process right? Secondly, are the processes and systems adequate to deal effectively and efficiently with a problem that may arise? Those two elements have adverse effects on the good governance and good running of a school.

1685. Mr Cargo: There are two differing processes. If we take leadership in the distributed sense that Barry talked about, we all agree from a professional point of view that no one would choose to buy a player for Manchester United without having seen him play.

1686. Mrs M Bradley: They are all good players. You could buy them anyway.

1687. The Chairperson: Crewe United gave them a bit of a run for their money on Saturday.

1688. Mr Cargo: Teachers should not be appointed until their teaching has been seen. There are elements in our system where we have encouraged —

1689. The Chairperson: It is not normal practice.

1690. Mr Cargo: No, I agree, and there is a volume issue.

1691. The Chairperson: There is a whole dispute about the matter.

1692. Mr Cargo: From a professional development point of view, we see it as a good practice that needs to be explored and developed. If I return to leadership, we all have the experience that there is no such thing as an infallible system, but, if the system gets the appointment wrong, the legacy of that decision can be with a community and a school for a long time.

1693. There are a number of ways to select a principal. Compared with some countries, we have an unusual system. In the main, we allow boards of governors in the controlled sector to choose first. They then give the education board a list of people, from which it should choose one. The board's view, at officer level, is that it could be done the other way round. People could be interviewed, we would then give a board of governors a pool of people that we think would be competent leaders, and we would tell them to choose who they wish from that pool. That is another way of doing it.

1694. I know that in some American states, all leaders are appointed to the authority, which then moves them around. There is a range of ways of doing it, and no one way guarantees success. However, we would all totally agree that, whatever the system, the implications of getting it wrong could be damaging for the school over a long period. In many cases, other than getting a new school, appointing a principal is the largest single investment that a school will ever make. The consequences of getting that wrong can have major impacts on children, the community and the school.

1695. Mr Sloan: I was out in America, and what appealed to me greatly about the system there is the divergence in pathways. People train to be principals, but they are principal teachers. They are able to focus on what their job is about, which is teaching. All too frequently, I meet so many of our principals who say that they spend 98% of their time on HR and finance.

1696. There is also a third level to consider. It is not just about principals and teachers. It is also about the selection of young people who will train to become teachers. Three A grades are needed to get in to train as teachers. To use David's analogy, Manchester United would not sign a player on the basis of three pictures. Those players would need to be seen, because other qualities will also be sought. Therefore, there needs to be a reappraisal of what an individual needs to become a good teacher. At school, I was taught by a number of gentlemen who had PhDs. I have to tell you that I do not recall any one of them making an impression on me. The people who connected with me as a young person and as an individual, and who could inspire, encourage and develop me, had a level of intelligence and intellect. However, there are so many other skills that have perhaps been forgotten about.

1697. Mr McCurdy: In our current teaching cohort, we have newly qualified teachers who are young, enthusiastic and recently out of college, where they were imbibed with all the current teaching processes. At the other extreme, we have teachers who are coming to the end of their teaching career. There is a key challenge for successful schools. Schools and teachers need to have a belief that they could have an influence that could bring about change. Teachers who have been in a school for 10 or 20 years but have not seen any impact or change for the better, although they may have seen a change for the worse, sometimes feel defeated by what lies ahead. They may no longer have a belief in being able to bring about change or have an impact. There is a hearts and minds issue in how that belief is instilled in teachers, whether it is through leadership, new teachers coming into the school or whatever.

1698. You mentioned two schools, one of which you would say, I am quite sure, has been successful in what it has achieved. The other is still where it was x number of years ago and has not moved forward. Therefore, the issue is about trying to package what has worked and then to translate that into another circumstance. We do not have a mechanism to promote successful strands as case studies for other schools, because that could take away the successful dimension. No school should be wholly dependent on one individual, but, at the same time, capacity has to be created to allow that to be fed in to the system.

1699. Mr Craig: Thanks, Mervyn. That is the second time that you have stolen my question.

1700. There is an even more critical issue. Let us be honest about this, because all of you will have experienced this. When it goes wrong, and it does go wrong — Stanton is sick talking to me about that — why is there no mechanism available to deal with ineffective leadership?

1701. Mr Cargo: I do not necessarily agree. There are mechanisms, but they have to be subtle. Under the legislation, the board of governors is the employer. We are the employing authority and, under the legislation, may go into a school only by invitation. Neither I nor any of my colleagues have ever been refused entry, but the legislation permits schools to do that. Therefore, we have to work in a way that moves the situation on while respecting the individual's rights.

1702. Our current system's strengths include local communities taking responsibility for their schools. The deficiency is that you have to work through a board of governors to effect change. Since many of those individuals live in the local community, they are not necessarily the best or the most detached people to become involved in processes that can sometimes be challenging and may require governors to take difficult decisions. I can think of a significant number of cases over the years where we have effected change in the leadership of a school, but we have done so in a way that was not always explicit.

1703. Mr Craig: In other words, you have to go around and about and through the back door to get rid of an ineffective leader. I have experience of that, which is why I say that there is no genuine mechanism for the removal of ineffective leadership in schools. There is no effective way of doing it. Why is the leadership of schools the only position in the world that is all carrot, carrot, carrot and no stick?

1704. Mr Lunn: The Civil Service.

1705. Mr Cargo: There is an effective way of doing it, but it may not be explicit.

1706. The Chairperson: I declare an interest as a governor of two schools. In this day and age, we must qualify almost everything we say to be politically correct, but without casting any aspersions on individuals, if a board of governors has the principal as the secretary and the chairperson, and if that relationship is strong, most things will be done and dusted. If it is weak, the whole thing will disintegrate.

1707. There may be a case for looking at how we constitute boards of governors. If the Department has any input, maybe it should focus on that in an effort to get some sense of independence. David is right. Local communities accuse public representatives of never making a decision to close anything. Equally, a local board of school governors sitting around a table will in most cases find it challenging to deal with a particular issue of leadership in their school. We have all had conversations about the leadership in some schools. We believe that we have the issue resolved, only for something to happen and the whole thing goes pear-shaped. It is not a matter of the mechanism being subtle; it must be defined well enough for people to know how to use it and be capable of using it when a problem arises.

1708. Mrs M Bradley: It is good to see you all again. I am particularly glad to see the two boys from the Western Board.

1709. The Chairperson: Mary would not be parochial or anything. She used to have only one boy, now she has two.

1710. Mrs M Bradley: I agree with most of the things that you are saying, and I definitely agree that the health and education systems are not working together. By the way, I declare an interest as a governor of a school. Any of us could go into a school in our area, and we would all come out with the same complaints, because every area is similar. Boards of governors and principals have to have good working relationships. That is very important. Boards of governors should know where there should be space between them and the principals in order to run a good school.

1711. The other thing that concerns me is that so many children are sitting in our schools at the minute — we talk about early years learning, early years this and early years that, but so many of them are sitting there and the one basic thing that a lot of them have not got is proper speech. They need speech therapy. I can give an example of one classroom in which there are 13 children, and they all need speech therapy, but it is very scarce. I do not know how we can improve that, because it is a health and education situation. That is where we should be working together more closely with the health system.

1712. The other thing that some areas have is Sure Start programmes. I would like to know your opinion on those programmes. I think that they are very good. They could work more closely with schools. A lot of schools have empty classrooms, and Sure Start programmes should operate out of those schools. They would benefit the schools, because they have access to health things that schools do not, and that could be helpful. I would like your opinion on that.

1713. Mr Cargo: Would you like a response from the head of the Southern Board? [Laughter.]

1714. Mrs M Bradley: No, I am not biased at all.

1715. Mr Sloan: I agree with you about Sure Start. It is a very good, effective programme, and it is part of the continuum. There should be Sure Start, preschool, nursery school, primary school and all the way through. We have a number of areas where Sure Start is based in schools. However, there are some difficulties about the whole issue of community use of schools and people going in and out with children.

1716. I could not agree with you more about speech therapy. However, to some extent, it is like educational psychologists, who are also in short supply. There is work that speech therapists and educational psychologists do that could be done by other people. That would allow them to focus on the sharp end of provision. For instance, we have more or less completed an initiative in an area in our board which I will not name, where we focused on upskilling teachers and classroom assistants in schools to carry on the work of speech therapists. They carried on the routines that they needed to do when the speech therapist was there, and it was built upon. That has proved to be exceedingly successful. When there is a commitment to come together and work, the synergy is there, and the potential is unbelievable. I agree with you.

1717. Mrs M Bradley: The other thing that I want to mention is that Sure Start programmes now also have a programme for fathers. When working with single parents, sometimes the daddy is the single parent and sometimes it is the mammy. The fathers would always have stood off the schools more than the mammies would; it was easier to get them into the schools to work closely with the teachers than it was to get the daddies in, but the Sure Start programme helps to bring them into the schools. There is a way of working there, but the health trusts definitely need to work more closely with the schools. For other problems that are there — David mentioned some of them — they can come into schools with behaviour and different things, and you do need them at those stages.

1718. Mr Sloan: The initiative that I was telling you about is a programme called Incredible Years. We pilot it, and it is about skilling parents to deal with children who present with challenging behaviours. Interestingly, with one exception, it was always the mother who attended. One grandfather came along. The success rate of that in addressing the issues that children will have in later life is somewhere in the order of 60% to 70%. You can actually prevent them from going down there.

1719. There are initiatives out there. It is about looking at underachievement in a community, and there is a role for parents. As an aside, some of the ladies who went to the course said that it was brilliant for the likes of anger management, because they used it very effectively on their husbands. There are things that can be done, if we come together and work together.

1720. Mr Lunn: Can you help me with this standard value added measure? I do not really follow it. What kind of a measure do you have in mind? Was it you who mentioned it, Shane?

1721. Mr McCurdy: The academic focus that we have at the moment does not give recognition to the breadth of other skills that individual children can achieve. We can look at it from the point of view of discipline, which was referred to in Mervyn's illustration. The fact that the school could turn around the situation in those circumstances is added value for the school, and it creates a better learning environment for the children to be developed in. It is about trying to recognise that things like Every School a Good School do not give recognition to that. The vocational issue and the entitlement framework that we have now, as well as the broadening of the curriculum to ensure that children have a breadth of developmental opportunities, are about trying to give recognition not just to pure academia, but to the vocational skills. I suppose it is about what society wants to be produced from the education system. It is not just about five good GCSEs, grades A to C.

1722. Mr Lunn: A school that offers the Duke of Edinburgh award course or participation in the school orchestra would be a good example.

1723. Mr McCurdy: All of those are good examples. It is about the development of the whole child. It is about enabling children to function in society and to meet the requirements of employers. A child who goes into the workforce who cannot adequately read but has been exposed to a whole spectrum of academic development in terms of languages and such things, if they are not focused, as Stanton said, on English, all the other aspects of extending the curriculum to them are laudable in themselves, but actually if they have not got the fundamentals of their own language they are going to struggle in terms of taking on board the other aspects. It is about trying to see where the educational parameters meet the employment requirements.

1724. Mr Cargo: With regard to the outcomes, there should be a broader focus than five GCSEs. The other issue is the inputs. At the moment, the only indicator that we all have is free school meals. That gives a fairly rough indicator of areas of social deprivation. Many of you who sit on local authorities will know that the super output areas give a more finely grained set of indicators and statistics, which can be applied to the education situation. At the moment, we draw false conclusions from some of the indicators that we have, because we use free school meals. We are saying that two schools with 30% free school meals, for instance, should have the same output. They should not, because you might not be talking about the same type of children. Take an extreme: a factory closes down and lots of people become unemployed. Their children are entitled to free school meals. There are other areas that have a deep-seated history of social deprivation, poverty and all of those indicators. Schools in both those areas may have 30% free school meals, but it is unfair to the children and to the schools to say that those two schools should be performing the same.

1725. A substantial body of work has been done on other parts of these islands to look at some of the other indicators, such as health inequalities, long-term unemployment and the children who are on the child abuse register. From that, you start to weave a more fine-grained approach to the profile of that school. Therefore, you benchmark the starting point when the child appears in the school, and you start to measure performance, year on year, from that benchmark, rather than simply saying that everybody in Key Stage 2 should be at level 4 when they go into year 8 at secondary school. We know that a significant number of children go into post-primary schools who are not there, but, when they enrol at the post-primary school, no recognition is given to where they are starting from. Therefore, there is an outcome and an input, and, if we had that, we would be in a better position to put some meaningful programmes in to tackle some of the issues that present themselves.

1726. Mr Lunn: In simple terms, how would you do the standard added value measure that you advocate the Department should establish or invent? Maybe you have just told me. Are you talking about a measure that people can look at in preparation for deciding what school they go to?

1727. Mr Cargo: Yes. The measure has two elements, Trevor. First, it has a much more clearly fine-grained approach to the profile of the input. The benchmark is when a child appears at P1, and the benchmark is much greater than simply reading age, because, in disadvantaged areas, there are lots of barriers to that learning, and you need to understand what those are. There is an input process where you try to articulate that, and you then put in place a process where you measure on an ongoing basis to show improvement and you tailor programmes to gain improvement. You have an outcome that is perhaps wider than five GCSEs.

1728. For example, I am sure that a number of schools in Belfast said to you that many of their young people are not ready to achieve five GCSEs at 16, but that they could if they were allowed to stay at the school until 17 or 18. At the moment, those schools are measured by the achievement of five GCSEs by 16, but the elements of disadvantage among many of the young people have not been articulated and remediated explicitly so that everyone understands. Nothing is given to the school to say that it has done quite well to get that child to that point at 16 and that, if the young person were to stay on to 18, they would have a fair chance of achieving five GCSEs. It is about taking a much more fine-grained approach than saying simply saying 16, five GCSEs, that is it; you are a success or you are not.

1729. Mr Sloan: There is a lovely analogy that I use for that: the driving test. You would never think of sitting their driving test until you thought that you had a good chance of passing, yet we totally ignore that.

1730. In terms of squaring the circle, we are talking about schools again, but we need to bring it back down to the child. A well tried and tested procedure is in place already that relates ordinarily to children on the special needs register in a school or who are on a statement. Every year, the school sits down with the parents and the pupil and establishes what the pupil can achieve this year and what the realistic goals are. That adds value, not necessarily to the school, because, unfortunately, that is what we get focused into.

1731. Is the school adding value in a general sense? It is not whether we are adding value to the individual lives of the individual children in the school. Therefore, the annual review, which is part of the statement process and which sets out all of those goals, is perfect. The only thing is that it is resource-intensive, because the teachers need time to do that. We are finding that resources are scarce, and that will probably get worse because of the financial situation, but there are ways of doing it.

1732. There are also predictive measures. You can bring a child in, assess where the child is academically — the Advanced Level Information System and the Year 11 Information System, and they have been used. They can show where the child might be in two or three years, and you can assess how the child did relative to where you thought they would be. It is quite a complicated process, but there are measures and ways of doing it.

1733. Mr Mulholland: I emphasise the importance to that process of having a good ICT platform in schools to track the progress of individual pupils. I have seen excellent examples of that in Rainey Endowed School and in Holy Family Primary School in Derry. They can track the progress of individual pupils across not just subject areas but the modules within them, showing trends and where support has to be focused to bring about improvement in that individual pupil.

1734. Mr Lunn: OK. I am glad that you explained it all to me. I think that if I come back here on 7 May, I will join the Agriculture Committee. [Laughter.]

1735. Mr Cargo: The key issue that we are trying to highlight is that, as a service, we are dysfunctional. We have a clear vision for those with special educational needs, and nobody would ever deem it appropriate to measure them through five GCSEs. We think that we have a very robust process that is incredibly positive for those young people.

1736. At the other end of the system there are a lot of very capable young people who, to be honest, will succeed irrespective of what system is put in because all the natural and environmental advantages are working for them. In the middle there is this grey group, some of whom need to be dealt with in the same way as special educational needs pupils. However, we tend to put them in the system as though they can catch most of the processes that the very able do.

1737. Nobody has worked out how far into that grey group we have to take the approach. In theory, if you have a group of very able people you could sit with a class of 200, and, with little resource, they will succeed. There is an issue about enhancement. Boards and schools continually get caught around that group of children. They know that a little extra resource or doing things differently would impact on those young people, but, because of the constraints of the schooling system, they never get that resource, or they chase it through short-term funding. Therefore, we do a disservice to that group of young people. That is the core of the problem.

1738. Mr Lunn: Thank you kindly.

1739. The Chairperson: Are there a variety of methods? We have heard of various methods that schools use to assess children. The new e-schools data is referred to in the submission from the Belfast board. Where are we at in relation to having a system in place that is able to gather and use appropriate information for a variety of those things? I more and more see that two things are linked in that, one of which is the funding formula that we use to determine where money goes. Without the appropriate and accurate information, you will make an absolute hames of allocating the money. The free school meals measure is a blunt instrument; it is not the best. There are others. You mentioned super output areas, David.

1740. Mr Cargo: That relates to Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency data. We look at wards, and we fine-grain data around communities in Northern Ireland.

1741. The Chairperson: In the Scottish system and in England they are talking about this pupil premium, which is to do with finance. At times, we have also heard the phrase "pupil passport". If we were to link a pupil premium and a pupil passport to track a child's qualities, weaknesses or whatever, we would have a better chance of being able to identify early what needed to be put in place to deal with challenges or corrections that needed to be put in place for that child. Are we not coming near to having all of that in place?

1742. The Department is always fearful that the information will be used for other purposes, such as to do that awful thing called transfer and selection. That seems to get trailed into every conversation. Set that aside. It has nothing to do with this. It is not an attempt to justify selection, so it is best to put all that to the side. We need a structure in place that assesses the needs of the child, not the school.

1743. Mr Mulholland: There are two important things coming to a close in relation to data coming together for schools and the effective use of that data. The eSchools initiative is nearing conclusion — that is the data warehouse that you referred to. That involves all pupil information being put into a data warehouse that schools will then be able to use to address the sorts of issues that David talked about. We have the platform — the hardware and software that will allow schools to use that data effectively.

1744. Again, there is an important process that is going on with the re-procurement of the Classroom 2000 system — the lot 7 contract — which is the electronic network in Northern Ireland. That will be completed within this financial year and will involve the re-procurement of all the hardware and software necessary for the infrastructure in schools.

1745. If you go into schools such as Rainey Endowed, Holy Family and many others, you will see the very effective use of data. As David said, if you go into a classroom in one of those schools, you will be able to see the pupils who are at the weak end and those who are at the high end. However, the leaders of those two schools fear not being able to reach what they refer to as the invisible child in the middle, that grey area. The effective use of data allows them to track the progress of those children and to tailor responses to meet their needs. They can also use data to alert them when a child who should be performing, or who has historically performed, at the high end starts to slip back in a particular area. They then respond to that right away by stretching that child in order to bring their performance up to what is expected of them. Those things are coming together at the minute. Many schools are effectively using data at this time.

1746. The Chairperson: I think that St Louise's in west Belfast uses that data extensively, and that has certainly proven very useful in its case.

1747. Mr Mulholland: The software and hardware is there. Many schools have the capacity to do that now.

1748. The Chairperson: Is the new eSchools warehouse being driven by one board?

1749. Mr Mulholland: The Western Education and Library Board has responsibility for leading that on behalf of all five boards.

1750. The Chairperson: Can you send us a paper on that, just to give us an update?

1751. Mr Mulholland: I can get an update on eSchools and C2k.

1752. The Chairperson: That would be very useful.

1753. Mrs M Bradley: We will help you out.

1754. The Chairperson: Thanks, Mary.

1755. Mr Cargo: We have a large number of examples where we have worked and continue to work together. For many years, the Western Board has taken the lead on ICT on behalf of the five boards. We have always worked together on that. That is just a given.

1756. Mr Hilditch: I have a brief question about school trips. The witnesses from Ashfield Boys' High School told us about their school trip to the World Cup, which was basically paid for through pupil fundraising and various things. I know that the school is continually doing things like that, because my star striker for Carrick Rangers, Nathan McConnell, is a teacher at that school, and I cannot get him on Tuesday nights. He is usually away with some pupils to Old Trafford or another place.

1757. Unfortunately, it worked the other way with me. I will give an example: in around September or October, a 15-year-old boy, who is a young friend of the family, was told that a trip linked to his history course was planned. It was going to cost an enormous amount of money and, because the young fella comes from a single-parent family, he had to be told that it just was not affordable. I have never seen a young fella's head go down so quickly. He actually wanted to give up the subject and do something else. Although the parent was given plenty of notice — about eight or nine months — as they were told in September or October and the trip was not until the following June, there would not have been much change out of £1,000. For a single parent to put away £100 a month just is not on. The school that I am talking about serves three disadvantaged wards of social deprivation. How do we balance this out and not make a hames of it?

1758. Mr Cargo: That is the point that we are making. A particular esprit de corps has developed around Ashfield Boys' and the use of sport in a very positive and constructive way. It also has a number of very simple mechanisms. For example, every boy in the school reads for 20 minutes first thing in the morning. That may be simple, but it is a simple measure that affects and impacts on literacy. However, if you were to simply take it and transpose it across the river into Tiger's Bay, it would not work. Tiger's Bay is starting from a much lower social base than east Belfast.

1759. There are issues with simply looking at what happens in a school such as Ashfield Boys' and saying that that should be replicated everywhere. That is why dealing with this issue is so complex, David. You may get a positive construct that you deem to be a good way of improving aspirations. However, a construct based on finance will not work in a particular situation where there is extreme poverty. It will actually do what you are saying. Therefore, you have to look at other ways of doing it.

1760. People such as Andy McMorran have been very good at fundraising, getting contributions from local businesses and so on. It is easy for him to do that in his environment, but it would be incredibly difficult in other parts of the city. In some cases, there is basically no local economy in the surrounding area that could support schools in the same way that Andy is able to get support in east Belfast. The fact that it works in one school does not mean that you can say, "That is brilliant. We will do it everywhere." It is not that simple.

1761. Mr Sloan: There are also steps that we can take. We take consideration of outdoor education centres, for example. A number of schools in the South Eastern Education and Library Board area generate funds specifically to help people like that. However, the real difficulty lies in disadvantaged communities where the schools are not perceived as high achieving and are only half full. Schools often have to go out to raise money to supplement their delegated budgets just to survive. David spoke about Ashfield Boys'. Ashfield is full, so the issue there is perhaps not about needing so much of that to supplement its delegated budget. However, some schools in our board area are less than half full and will not survive unless they get that money and spend it. That is how they get interactive whiteboards and computers. You have identified a massive issue that needs to be tackled.

1762. Mrs M Bradley: Do schools that work with the community groups in their areas benefit by raising funds in that way? Some of our schools do. How do you assess schools to ensure that they all work with their communities?

1763. Mr Sloan: I go out and visit schools, as we all do. I was in one primary school recently that can bank on parents raising £20,000 every year, because it is in an affluent area. Again, it is the whole community-school relationship. In an area of high deprivation, the role that a school plays does not have the same level of esteem that it would elsewhere. Therefore, schools in those areas are not able to raise as much money. The parent-teacher association there may have six parents and will be doing well to raise £1,500 a year. Schools in socially disadvantaged areas endeavour to do it, but they usually have fewer teachers because they have fewer pupils. The teachers are doing more and more and more, and, therefore, their capacity to go out and do all those other things is significantly reduced. It is a vicious circle and a downward spiral that can be got into very readily.

1764. Mr Cargo: One thing that you may have seen at the Belfast Model School for Girls is its community element. We have actually set up a charitable trust through our private-sector partner to deliver benefit to the community. Income that is generated from the use of the school goes into a community chest, and the community can bid over a period, if it works, for resources to actually enhance its capacity to support the school and its young people much more effectively. There are a number of models that we all have. I am not aware of that one anywhere else. Will it work? Well, it has not been tried anywhere else, to the best of my knowledge. It is, perhaps, worth a try if it begins to say to the community that we value it and that it can use the resource, which will generate an income that, by the way, will find its way back into the community for the benefit of educational projects for children and young people.

1765. Mrs M Bradley: A school in my area, St Columba's Primary School at New Buildings, is in a big situation with Foyle Search and Rescue. It has a massive job coming up. It is bringing top chefs to the City Hotel for a night. They will get good money. It is good for schools to work with community groups in that way. With times being the way that they are, they need to do that.

1766. Mr Sloan: Clifton Special School in Bangor is linked with particular ships in the Royal Navy. It puts money in because the fathers of some children who went to the school serve on those ships.

1767. I think that Trevor would acknowledge that five or six years ago, a school in his constituency, Lisnagarvey High School, was probably facing a very bleak future, but it got the community involved. It is this whole package of things. We appointed a new principal, who got the community in. The school was opened up. It now has a new fitness suite. The school is now on the radar for children in primary schools. Five years ago, it was not. The school is a success story in recruiting children. In around four years, it has quadrupled its intake. It still has the issue of translating that into standards, which it is working on. It is about bringing together the four areas that we all talked about — leadership, Every School a Good School, the community, and all of those sorts of areas — in the right mix. As you have seen in Lisnagarvey High School, a phenomenal change can be made.

1768. Mr Lunn: Absolutely, Chairman. It has become a school that people want to go to. Five years ago, it was one that you crossed off the list. It has been remarkable.

1769. The Chairperson: The one thing that needs to be said is that in any proposed future changes with regard to new structures — and we have the five board chiefs with us — it must be ensured that the good practice that we have in different elements of service delivery in each of the board areas is not lost. If there is one note of caution that I would give to you it is that, while we all accept that new governance arrangements will, at some stage, come into play, we need to be very careful not to lose those things that you, as boards, have developed, which, in a sense, have their own particular nuances because of where you are and the way that you have approached it. The way that Tony may have dealt with an issue in his area is completely different to the way that Shane has dealt with it in the North Eastern Education and Library Board. That is not because of two different types of managerial skills, but because the service has been developed to meet the particular needs of the area that the board covers. That worries me immensely. It is all too easy to say that we can do away with this and put this in place. However, that is a caution because I am hearing today from all of you that wee pockets of practice that you engage in and have engaged in have been particularly beneficial to the area that you serve. Fundamentally, children benefit as a result.

1770. Mr B McCrea: I apologise, gentlemen, for coming in late. It is not for any lack of interest. I have being doing battle over the Justice Bill.

1771. The Chairperson: You will have 500 lines if it happens again.

1772. Mr B McCrea: There are a couple of things. You may have covered some of this already, but it seems to me that the debate is about three key issues. One is that leadership in the school is critical. Therefore, we have to find a way of recognising and promoting that. The second thing is the point that Trevor was going on about: how do you measure added value? I know that some principals swear by InCAS, and you can track development on a year-by-year and class-by-class basis. There is a danger of our testing towards InCAS, and that is always the education argument. It seems to me that there ought to be something like that where you could at least talk about resource allocation, or something in those bits. I think that there is a debate about the common funding formula because it does not recognise the challenges in our society. You might be better placed to come up with an effective funding strategy.

1773. The third thing — and I apologise if you have already covered this, but the bit that has come to me of late is the importance of the school being part of the community. Being a good leader is not enough. You can have a good leader in a school, but schooling is only 30% of the educational process. It is about what your peers think, not just your classmates. It seems to me that that needs to be elevated more. It is not just something that should be added on after pupils get their qualifications. I am almost at the stage of saying that the most fundamental reworking that we need to do is how we get schools at the centre of communities.

1774. Mr Sloan: That is an interesting point about the common funding formula. A number of years ago, we looked at how children with special/additional needs were funded. If a school has a large number of children with special needs, it gets a lot of money, but we do not incentivise success. I do not include certain categories of children with severe difficulties and physical difficulties in that, but if you can deal with getting children off a register, and incentivise that area, rather than giving money because they are on the register, you start to fund success. Therefore, I think that there are issues in the formula that need to be considered. There are a whole range of other issues.

1775. Mr B McCrea: I will not go on for too long, because I know that it is late in the day. When you mentioned that you set up a charitable trust, I have to say that I thought "So what?" It is good, and it is a better use of the buildings, but if you are saying to me that the reason why you do those sorts of things is because the capacity in the community is not there to go and do it, but if we do it for them they can get involved and this is a way of doing it, then I can understand it. I just think that there is a communication issue. That is only one example, and I know that you will all have your own examples, but I do not necessarily get why we are trying to do those things.

1776. This is my last comment on this, because I am sure that you have had enough. I remember, a year or two ago, talking in the Committee about the issue of health and about whether we should extend the education remit. However, it was decided that we did not want to do that because there would be unfunded liabilities. However, when you are trying to increase your awareness or acceptability to the community, the mentoring role that some teachers or resources have — I do not know whether they were teachers in Drumragh. Was the lady in Drumragh a teacher?

1777. The Chairperson: No, she was not a teacher. She was a member of staff.

1778. The Committee Clerk: She was a social worker.

1779. Mr B McCrea: I feel that I let myself be talked out of it a couple of years ago, but I am now more into education being the lead authority because you have the buildings and the infrastructure, but you should take responsibility for health or social services because it builds acceptability and support for the school, which is an education objective.

1780. Mr Cargo: I will not say too much, but I will, perhaps, be slightly controversial. I think that we have wasted the past four years in the education sector on two debates which are largely sterile. One was around transfer, and the other was around the structure of administration. The real debate that we need to have is around children and how to ensure that young people are given an education service that is fit for purpose and enables them to be leaders in the society and global economy that we have in the twenty-first century. If we were having that debate, we would be able to do more positive things.

1781. To be honest, it is irrelevant whether there are none, one, three or 10 boards. The people who are in the current structure will largely remain in the new structure. We would be better talking about the needs of the children in the new structure. If we talked about that, things like transfer, which is a twentieth century issue based on the Education Act 1944, would suddenly find its normal place in the twenty-first century. It is about child-centred education in the real sense, not about schooling.

1782. The Chairperson: It goes back to the point that Basil missed earlier. You said that we need a Department for children, not a Department of Education. That deals with many of the issues that Basil raised.

1783. Mr Cargo: We have a Department. I am not critical of it, but it is a fact that it is happy when it is the Department for schools. Sure Start came along, and the Department never really knew how to handle it, because it is not a school. If we had a Department for children, however, it might mean that we would have to tell the Health Department that children's social services are in the new Department, and the Department of Justice that elements of justice are in this new Department. Do we need a Children's Commissioner? The Department for children would be the champion for children. If you look at that, you have a construct that is dynamic and progressive and starts to tackle issues relating to children. That is what needs to be tackled.

1784. We have been forced into some issues over the past four years which have been a waste of everybody's time. We could get away from them and into the real issue. To survive in the twenty-first century, young people will have to be skilled and equipped with a lifelong learning process that is more than what we have at the moment.

1785. The Chairperson: As you know, I was never controversial during the four years of this mandate. We had 11 pieces of subordinate legislation and we were looking at the ESA Bill. I wonder how many pieces of subordinate legislation we would have if we were to move to create a Department for children on that model — probably about 444. That is part of our problem. We need legislation to govern how we operate our systems, but we get into a quagmire of the implications that it has in relation to all the elements. There were 11 pieces of legislation relating to changing the existing structures, which are represented by you, into one. That has been a huge issue. What would it be like if we were going to move to a Department for children?

1786. Mrs M Bradley: Do you feel that that Department should be a separate Department, or should the Education Department be changed to a children's Department?

1787. Mr Cargo: I would change the Education Department to the Department for children.

1788. Mr Lunn: You used the word "quagmire". If 444 pieces of subordinate legislation were required, the Assembly would disagree with 400 of them. I would say that 10 mandates would probably sort it out.

1789. Basil mentioned a figure earlier. I do not disagree with it, in case you are wondering, Basil. He said that only 30% of a child's learning experience was provided by a school. Who worked that out? Do you subscribe to that?

1790. Mr Cargo: There are a number of pieces. There is an educationalist called Alan Dyson who has done a fair bit of work on the impact of schooling on disadvantage. It is clear from his research and a number of other pieces that schooling plays a minority role in the overall impact on children's learning and development. However, if we get it right, education has the capacity to punch above its weight. I was giving school quality around 14%, so the other influences on children are huge.

1791. Alan Dyson did a significant piece of work on the system in England, and he also came over and worked with the five boards here. However, he says things that do not necessarily accord with the perceived wisdom of the day, which is to go on the standards agenda of five GCSEs, and use that to judge success.

1792. Mr Lunn: Some of the schools that we have been to are in disadvantaged areas, but punch above their weight. Does that mean that they have a higher than 30% input from the school, or are they managing to get the parents to put more in?

1793. Mr Cargo: We could all talk about our own boards, but what I see in my area is that those who are most successful in disadvantaged communities look at the issue in a much more holistic and broad way, rather than simply looking at what goes on in the classroom. They have long since recognised that if they focus solely on that they will fail.

1794. Mr Lunn: Even if those schools manage to encourage the parents to make more of a contribution, that is still effectively a contribution from the school. Should that 30% be slightly higher?

1795. Mr Cargo: Absolutely.

1796. Mr Sloan: Although I am not an accountant, I want to deal with the financials. I know of one school where attendance was a major factor, and a parent governor turned round and said that if so-and-so did not attend, to tell him, as he knew his mum and dad. Other parents then began to exercise certain functions and took on responsibilities. That is a whole new culture.

1797. Returning to what Basil said, we had a situation in which health was based in a school: speech therapy. What we found was that children attended 95% of speech therapy sessions in the school, while another speech therapy session in the local health clinic only had a 17% uptake. The child benefits, but there is also an economy of scale from putting that therapist in there. It means that parents do not have far to travel, you have got the parents in the school and you start to build a relationship. The children benefit because they are there, and the speech therapist can see more children. Therefore, there a lot of advantages for all the key players. It goes back to what I said earlier; a common, agreed strategic vision about what we want for children would be a major step forward.

1798. The Chairperson: Thank you very much for your papers and the submissions that you made, some of which were very useful. I do not want to pick anyone out in particular, but the Western Board submission and the case studies that were included in it were very interesting. Barry, thank you for that. I wish you all well and thank you for taking the time to come and see us today.

2 March 2011

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Mervyn Storey (Chairperson)
Mr David Hilditch (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Trevor Lunn
Mr Basil McCrea
Mr John O'Dowd

Witnesses:

Mr Jim Clarke
Mr Terry Murphy
Mr Paul O'Doherty
Mr Sean Rafferty

 

Council for Catholic Maintained Schools

1799. The Chairperson of the Committee for Education (Mr Storey): We move now to the presentation from the CCMS. I thank the representatives for their patience. Jim, you are very welcome, along with your team. I hope you found the previous sessions interesting.

1800. Mr Jim Clarke (Council for Catholic Maintained Schools): John knows how we came to be after them, so the answer to that is "yes".

1801. The Chairperson: The CCMS submission is in members' information packs.

1802. Mr J Clarke: We submitted our paper personally because there were a few typing errors in the last one, which was not properly proofed. It is not our intention during this short introduction to repeat what is in the documentation or to reflect too much on the Assembly's research paper.

1803. We want to give members an overview and pose a question that, hopefully, over time, the Committee will answer, namely: what policies and structures have contributed to the problem? We are looking at this in the very broad sense that there are policies at government level beyond education that have created pockets of social deprivation in society. Specifically, from the perspective of schools' structures and policies, why is there a preponderance of those pupils in certain schools?

1804. The third aspect is really about what the Committee is looking at. How are schools dealing with the issues, and what makes one school better than another? In any discussion, we have to differentiate between low achievement because many schools, due to our system, have low achievement. In fact, by whatever value-added measure one applies, many schools are achieving quite well relative to the base achievement of pupils, and many of our so-called high-achieving schools have pockets of underachievement. In fact, by and large, some of them are underachieving. Even in the best school, there are areas of underachievement, not just in pupil outcomes but in how the school provides its service. From the CCMS's perspective, the issue is very much about equity, in the sense that we believe that everyone should have the same entitlements and opportunities. That concept underpins the entitlement framework.

1805. On the specifics of the inquiry, a number of strategic policies and starting points are very important, and Terry Murphy will pick up on some of them later. There are very important issues concerning what makes children achieve success. Clearly, enjoyment of learning is a key to success. What causes people to enjoy learning is the motivation to learn. In some instances, motivation is related to outcomes: it is a case of "as a pupil, what am I going to achieve?" For many, particularly those in post-primary education, it is the aspiration to employment or to other forms of education. It is a particular problem for boys. Where boys are motivated to learn and there is an understanding of particular learning styles, greater success is achieved, whether in one classroom in a particular subject or across the school.

1806. The Committee needs to pay attention to something that I said last week or two weeks ago when I met members in relation to the budget. If the economy is to be at the top of the agenda in Northern Ireland, we have to ask ourselves in what ways we value education as a significant contributor to the economy. That brings us back to motivation and some of the points raised in relation to the grade D. The important thing is that we set standards that people can achieve, so that they can use those standards to achieve something else. If we do not have an economy that employs people and if the economy does not tell the education system what it needs — and I contend that, in many cases, it does not — motivation is diminished. It is not just about young people; it is about their parents as well, because they are important partners in generating motivation.

1807. As mentioned earlier, successful schools are part of their community. They understand and see their place in the community; they have staff who do not resent working in the school; and they have empathy with the community and pupils. Getting respect can be difficult, because, on many occasions, the parents may not have had a good education experience and do not always share in the high expectations of the school. One characteristic on which we focus, in particular, is how a school's ethos of high expectations and aspiration is conveyed not just to pupils but to parents; how parents, pupils and teachers can work together to achieve those outcomes.

1808. On the overall issue of addressing underachievement, the CCMS was established largely because it was recognised that Catholic schools were underperforming relative to those in the rest of the system, and that has been a particular focus of our work since 1973, when we carried out research and set out a number of strategies. I emphasise that we can only operate within the structures and policies given to us; and section 4 of your paper identifies some issues, particularly those emerging from the 1989 Order, which actually created sink schools in the system.

1809. It is all very well to look at what schools do, but we have to look at what legislation has done to schools to put them in the position of having to do some of those things. I recognise, as does the system, that Catholic maintained schools have improved significantly over the past number of years. However, that does not mean that they are as good as they could be or that they have reached a level of satisfaction with which we are happy. Those who come through Catholic maintained schools, whether they achieve qualifications or not, are picked up by the workforce and make a valuable contribution to our economy and society.

1810. That is an overview. I will ask my three colleagues to speak. Paul O'Doherty will say a few words about leadership; Terry Murphy will speak about ESAGS and the policy; and Sean Rafferty will reflect on work that we have done on the impact of early-learning communities and the entitlement framework.

1811. Mr Paul O'Doherty (Council for Catholic Maintained Schools): I will speak first on a few leadership issues as identifying and promoting leadership has probably been one of the most successful strategies in our sector. If the success of schools is to be localised and put into context then we need people who will show leadership not only in their school but in their communities as well. It is the aspiration aspect to which we keep returning. All schools work within boundaries, social and otherwise, that limit children's achievement.

1812. Good school leaders, governors as well as staff, challenge those boundaries and move them forward. Increasingly, the leadership skills that we see achieving success in our schools are, first, people skills in working in the community and raising parents' aspirations, motivating staff and ensuring that staff are genuinely involved. They need leadership in their own sections and departments so that they aspire for all their children. They also need the ability to network and collaborate, and the Committee touched on that earlier. Schools must not work against one another; they must work together.

1813. The PISA report shows that most of the education that children achieve is in primary schools. It is critical that leaders in the community and in schools work with primary schools to ensure that transition — a critical stage at which many of our children fall back — is overcome so that there is progress from preschool and primary school to ensure that the literacy and numeracy achieved at primary level are carried into post-primary education.

1814. As a community and as parents we do not experience schools in isolation. The journey that our children make might be through preschool but will certainly be through primary and post-primary education, and the leadership shown in our successful schools embraces that; it is leadership of a community rather than of an institution. It is about developing the staff in a school to maximise the use of data. That is where the professionalism of our staff comes in because the use of data is about professionals looking at information and challenging themselves about it. It is diagnostic; it is about saying that we are getting information and this is how our school is performing compared to other schools; it is about contextualising it down to the individual department, class and pupil and asking what works and why those children are doing well and these children are not.

1815. That is where we come into a distributive leadership model that says that it is not about an individual at the top of an organisation, who may fall under a bus tomorrow. The great leaders are those who develop leadership in their school, in their senior management team and in their heads of department, so that everyone is engaged on the same journey with a common ethos and common values. It is about believing that all children can achieve and it is about taking them on the journey to maximise what they can achieve.

1816. Those are the leadership qualities that have been prominent in schools in our sector that have overcome difficulties. Jim is right that we are about taking our children beyond boundaries and building on our success. The skills and attributes that I have listed have been shown by our leaders in challenging those boundaries and in moving our children on.

1817. Mr Terry Murphy (Council for Catholic Maintained Schools): I will make a number of points in three areas. The first area is with respect to the policy, the second area is with respect to the whole issue of policy coherence in the Department of Education, and the third is with respect to the notion of broader cross-departmental policy alignment.

1818. The CCMS broadly welcomes Every School a Good School. It is long overdue as far as the needs of Northern Ireland's education system are concerned. However, we would like to see a few other things recognised. We want to see greater investment in children aged nought to three to improve their readiness for education, which was referred to earlier, and address their needs, particularly children with special educational needs, as early as possible. We want to see the removal of selection and the introduction of a more area-based admissions policy. We want to see fewer, larger, more self-sustaining schools where the curriculum is more aligned to the needs of the economy, as Northern Ireland emerges from the recession, and we want to see continued support for autonomous curriculum development in schools, supported only through the provision of broad curriculum guidelines, which, thankfully, we now have. We want to see these matters considered in addition to those mentioned in the policy.

1819. We also want to comment on the need for greater policy coherence in education. We want to see Every School a Good School as the core education policy, with other support policies aligned to it, including, for example, the policy on the provision of funding to schools, the nought-to-six policy, the policy on numeracy and literacy, special needs, aspects of school development planning, the sustainable schools policy and other policies relating to things such as the relationship between school improvement and governance, inspection, intervention and leadership support.

1820. With respect to policy coherence, we want to see the introduction of earned or accountable autonomy into schools, including the encouragement of schools to be more responsible and more active about their improvement. We also want to see consideration being given to a greater connectedness or alignment between the work of the inspectorate, the employing authorities and the curriculum assessment and support services that schools have on matters of school improvement. We want to see greater joined-up thinking and coherence on how policies in education work together under the umbrella of Every School a Good School, in the interests of improving education outcomes for the community.

1821. Lastly, with respect to broader policy alignment, we want to see fewer Departments and greater policy integration developing between them. We want to see the Executive beginning to integrate policy, planning and budget allocation for aspects of economic growth, social development and education in the next Programme for Government. We want to see evidence of policy integration and planning for the delivery of the policy and the funding for that delivery. Those are important strands. The lives of men and women on the street are impacted by a whole range of influences, which are not all separate. Therefore, policies affecting people's lives need to join up more as regards development and in the delivery of the services related to them.

1822. We want like to see a long-term strategy for aligning education and economy policy drivers more closely, beginning with the early years of education through to the advice and courses offered to older children. We want to see how that adds up as regards providing an education that leaves young people better placed to access employment and contribute to Northern Ireland's economic development. That needs a cultural shift in education, in which we promote wealth creation based on entrepreneurial development and more private sector growth, rather than well-established, safe routes into the public sector, with which we are all familiar. That is something that is on the lips of people at the moment, not just in this part of our country, but in many other places too.

1823. Lastly, we want to see greater area-based planning for education and training. We want to see a move away from individual institutional consideration to a more area-based consideration, with all education providers in an area being required to align their planning and actions with local and regional policy and planning. A good example of that is what the Department is attempting to do through the introduction of the entitlement framework. The formation of area learning communities and how that has been progressing is an example of an area-based way of doing things. I will hand over to Sean, who will talk more about that.

1824. Mr Sean Rafferty (Council for Catholic Maintained Schools): For the past four or five years, my role has been a dual one, working to support the entitlement framework and working on post-primary review in the Catholic sector. The two are aligned. The outcomes of long-term capital needs must be informed by the appropriate curriculum that the sector is there to deliver.

1825. The learning communities have been in existence for four years and we now have four years of data. The Department has entitled those first four years phase one, and we can now look the difference there has been, as opposed to the aspirations in some plans that people submitted to get funding. That is what I have been doing, against the benchmark of the core aims in the entitlement framework, including targets for a minimum of 24 and 27 courses, the target for one-third applied courses, collaboration with others, looking at the economic reality and looking at the number of courses that are being provided with fewer than 10 students in them.

1826. I have done that for all the Catholic-managed schools. However, I work closely with Alison Smyth in the Western Education and Library Board, because the source of the data was the entitlement framework audits for four years. We are now doing that for the entire system, for individual learning communities and also for the different sectors — the controlled sector, the integrated sector — because there are issues that may be appropriate for the different managing authorities.

1827. We found a variable pattern of progress across all levels from school to school. Some schools have made significant progress, but it appears that some schools have not heard that there is an entitlement framework. There is variation across the areas; and, in our sector — I am talking purely about Catholic managed schools — there is a significant difference between the change, or lack of it, in grammar schools and non-grammar schools.

1828. By and large, the figures for the range of courses bear out Bain's figures. Schools that are running sixth forms with 40 or 50 children are not near, and never will be near, the required large provision for post-16. Inequality remains. We have small schools in the same area as large schools, which is similar to having two different restaurants, one with a very small menu of four or five items and one with a menu of 40 things. That is in the same area. The issue is around how we reconcile that.

1829. The Chairperson: Is that within the same sector?

1830. Mr Rafferty: Yes, I am talking about our sector. The data is all ours, which is why we felt that it was appropriate for the same set of data to be developed for all the sectors.

1831. We have an issue around uptake of applied courses, which connects to the economic background issue and so on. There is significant variation. Again, and I am talking about our grammar schools, applied course development is not significant. To be honest, a lot of people are hoping that it will all go away. Therefore, for four years there has been a lot of funding, but the evidence is not there to say that there has been significant change in curriculum.

1832. There is variation in collaboration. Where maintained schools have a tradition of working with further education colleges, that tradition has continued and, in most cases, developed. Where grammar schools have no history of working with further education colleges, there is still a sense that we are talking about the old techs, rather than further education or higher education offering foundation degrees. We have mapped that across all our schools.

1833. The big issue is size, which plays in to some of the other factors that impact on our schools, particularly those with social deprivation. Those schools tend to also have demographic downturn.

1834. We still have the mix of large schools, grammar schools and small schools. Therefore, the school at the bottom of that pecking order is trying to provide the entitlement framework but is having a reduced intake. I mentioned that, at the other side of it, the large, successful grammar schools are filling, quite often with a broader range of students, but the curriculum is not changing. The evidence says that, in the past four years, the change to the applied nature that is required for the economy and so on has not happened.

1835. I do not know what it is like in the other sectors, but I have a sense from the 50% poll and from the work that we have done with Alison in the Western Education and Library Board, and I think that that is the pattern. A lot of money has been spent to move this on, and, in phase one, there has been movement in some places but not in others. Collaboration has developed in some places and has realities for the sustainable schools policy, because the numbers are out there and everyone knows about them. There is a proliferation of small sixth forms that do not make economic good sense and which I doubt will be replaced with any capital programme in the future.

1836. Our sense is that, ideally, some notice needs to be given that, two years from now, we will move to sustainable school sixth forms. Sixth forms are costing money, and lots of small classes with less than 10 students are being run. Money for that is coming out of the same school's budget, and the price is being paid somewhere else in the school. The schools will not give up their sixth forms. Two days ago, I was at a meeting with a large school and three small schools, two of which have small sixth forms. The schools say that they need to retain their sixth forms because, if they do not have one, parents will send their children somewhere else.

1837. That is the kind of information that is there, and it has particular relevance for our proposals for future maintained structures. We must test the curriculum that is provided. It is not about providing buildings but about providing a curriculum and then the resource that enables that. That is where we are with the analysis, and it highlights some of the issues and the inequity. That is more profound in urban areas of deprivation, because, as the grammar schools and more popular schools have space, the school that usually serves the poorest part of the community is the one that tends to lose the students. That makes it even more difficult for those schools to provide what they know they should be providing.

1838. Mr J Clarke: We will now take any questions.

1839. The Chairperson: The last contribution was interesting on how you see the policy working out. The budget will basically kill off the entitlement framework.

1840. Mr Rafferty: No, that is not what we are saying.

1841. The Chairperson: I am not saying that that is what you are saying. I am saying that, if the budget is to be as it stands currently, I cannot see the entitlement framework surviving. That would have an impact on what will happen over the four-year period.

1842. Mr J Clarke: One reason for our engaging in this piece of work was to prove to the Department that milestones needed to be written in to the entitlement framework and the aspirations for 2013 for schools to achieve them and measure their progress. That has not been done. The only way in which our education system will make sense to motivate those young people is to make sure that it links to the economy in some way and meets the needs of the economy.

1843. The applied element of the entitlement framework is essential not only for children in disadvantaged areas or at the lower end of the achievement scale but for high achievers because many of them will come through with very good qualifications and not get a job. They will either export themselves elsewhere, and the options for that are also constrained, or they will end up in jobs that they could have got with a lower level of qualification. That undermines the value of education. We cannot, on the one hand, try to promote the aspiration for high achievement while, on the other hand, show that that high achievement leads to no economic outcome.

1844. The Chairperson: Is there a demand in grammar schools for a plan?

1845. Mr J Clarke: It is irrelevant whether there is a demand in a grammar school or any other school. The really important thing is whether our education system is linked to our economy. It is not about the schools but about the people in them.

1846. The Chairperson: If you were an employer, how would you interpret that? Would an employer have the same view on that argument?

1847. Mr Raffety: It connects with the input about leadership. The difference between schools is down to leadership.

Some will say that we cannot have some of those courses because the parents will not want them. Others say that the children need those courses, and they take on the role of not only changing the staff and the curriculum, but of informing, advising and encouraging parents. Leadership is the key. That is what the people who are moving on the curriculum are doing, and they do not meet resistance. However, others feel safer with yesterday's curriculum as opposed to taking on the challenge of tomorrow's curriculum.

1848. The Chairperson: I noted that point in your submission. It was a point that Terry raised in relation to Every School a Good School. The common curriculum, which is now repealed, still has an impact on the system. It was abolished in 1989, but we are now in 2011. It depends on how you view it, but from CCMS's point of view, are you saying that the legacy remains?

1849. Mr J Clarke: It was not abolished in 1989; it was introduced in 1989. It was abolished when the revised curriculum was adopted. The impact of that will take its time to work through the system. Karen McCullough made the point earlier that we are talking about generational changes. We hear positive comments from the inspectorate and from schools about the revised curriculum and about the better engagement of pupils, particularly in the skills dimension of learning. The point is that that will not come fully through our system for several years to come.

1850. However, that section of the response reinforced the fact that, structurally, we have created failing schools. We cannot expect to change those schools solely through the work that goes on inside the schools, or, indeed, between the school and the community. We need policy and structural change to facilitate that. Sean's point is that to motivate young people, particularly those at the lower end of the achievement spectrum, there must be factors that motivate them to learn, one of those being employment opportunities.

1851. The Chairperson: I had hoped that the typographical corrections would have dealt with a phrase in your paper that baffles me, which is "proportionate universalism". I thought that other men had written that, and I was beginning to worry. I see that some of you are wearing red ties — [Laughter.]

1852. Mr B McCrea: I am surprised that you do not know what that means; everybody knows.

1853. The Chairperson: It sounds like a phrase that you would use, Jim. [Laughter.]

1854. Mr J Clarke: I feel honoured to be put in the same context as Professor Marmot, who wrote the report on the Health Service. It was his phrase.

1855. The Chairperson: What exactly does it mean?

1856. Mr J Clarke: It means that everyone has an entitlement, but that the support for that entitlement varies according to need. In other words, those who are most capable of managing for themselves, because they are from better home and social backgrounds, are more capable of achieving, have access to computers, have more books and, perhaps, have people who will talk to them need less to achieve the same outcomes than someone from a deprived background, whose parents need support for the basics of informing their growth and development and to make them school-ready. My interpretation is that proportionate universalism is about support that is proportionate to need, and Professor Marmot is very good on that area. Like you, Chair, when I read it first, it took me time to get my head round it, but it is a good phrase to sum up how to drive equality into education.

1857. The Chairperson: It is in your paper as a concept and as a definition, but how is it put into practice? Does it go back to the other core elements that we discussed earlier? How does it become part of the school framework? We have discussed the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the middle years information system (MidYIS) and other testing mechanisms. We do not all accept that free school meals are the most appropriate way of defining the challenges. A variety of indicators show, for example, John Smith's needs and his current situation. What do we need to put in place that will ensure that John Smith comes out at the other end of the system having reached his full potential?

1858. Mr J Clarke: As I said, the education policies and structures must be right. We must get rid of the many impediments that the Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 created. There are issues of leadership, high quality teaching and the effective use of data.

1859. Whether we use PISA or any other measure, those are only indicators. We have to draw out whether we are performing as well as we can or whether we could do better. No matter what way we look at it, we are not as good as we think that we are relative to those countries with which we now compete, and I do not mean Scotland, Wales and England — the base is much broader than that.

1860. One contributor to the Catholic maintained sector's comparative success — I use the word "comparative" deliberately — is the fact that we are not the managers of the schools. We try to empower boards of governors and principals to take responsibility. That is one reason that we regard accountable or earned autonomy as an important way forward. People must feel responsible for what they do, and they must be empowered to do it. That is extremely important.

1861. Paul made a point about area-based planning, which we do not regard as the planning of buildings alone. Rather, we regard is as encompassing curricular planning, professional planning and using extended schools to connect with the community. Our notion is one of children's growing up in the community being represented by a V shape. The home is the bottom point of the V, leading up and out from which are Sure Start, nursery school, early primary school and larger post-primary schools, so the social mix is broadened.

1862. PISA information and local analysis shows that we have schools at either end of society. The most important lesson that other systems have taught us is that schools with a narrower social base and narrower range of ability have a greater chance of success. When I was a principal in a very deprived area, I could almost pinpoint the day on which the school moved from negative to positive. We found things that the children were good at, and we valued them, which meant that the children felt motivated. People think that putting well-motivated children with those who are less well motivated pulls standards down. However, my experience, and, I think, that of my colleagues, is that it pulls standards up. Paul and Terry may want to add a few words.

1863. Mr O'Doherty: When successful leaders who turn schools round first walk in, they often find that the expectation of the community and the staff in the school is that they are doing the best that they can. They feel that the limitations of the children and the community mean that they cannot go any further. Often, leadership has meant recognising the social and economic boundaries that hold back and limit people, but not accepting them. It has meant telling the staff that, despite the impediments, the school can achieve and can move the children forward.

1864. Part of the complexity of everything that has been discussed this afternoon is that so many factors have an impact on education. We can either be overwhelmed by all those factors and wait for them to fall into place, or we can say that we need to tackle all those factors and change things, starting today. That is what good school leaders do, and they need an education system that is supportive.

1865. Jim and Terry pointed out some of the issues that programmes, such as Every School a Good School, try to address. It is a matter of getting it right when it comes to the curriculum, assessment and school funding, and it is about early intervention, all of which are all worthy measures. Depending on what we do about them, they all contribute to making the task of individuals who try to introduce change easier or harder. The most important person for children is not necessarily the principal but the teacher whom they encounter in the classroom. The principal and the governors behind that teacher need to have the tools and attitude to empower him or her to move forward.

1866. What we have done so far marks only the beginning. We are moving to an area approach. If the biggest part of children's experience and the limit to what they can achieve in education are defined not by the school but by the community from which they come, how do we have the greatest impact on that? It is not through individual schools, but through schools acting collectively with the community to try to change the aspirations of children and enhance parenting skills. That is where our school leaders are coming from. Those sets of values bind everybody in the community, make the difference and help those children to progress. That is why we are developing tools to help governors in their role to challenge and developing tools for schools leaders to use in their school development planning. By doing that, we help them to turn the school around.

1867. However, principals and governors have to empower their heads of department. In turn, heads of department have to empower teachers to look at individual classes and individual children and say, "This is how we will change things for John Smith. This is how he learns, and this is how he can move forward."

1868. The complexity involved can be daunting, but a school can take the view that changing any of the factors might lead to an improvement and that changing all of the factors might lead to a huge improvement.

1869. Mr T Murphy: Chairperson, you posed a question about how we achieve change. That is a complex area, but a few basic truths lie at the bottom of all this. One is the tolerance of underperformance and underachievement, and where we are with that at individual, school, community and system level, which brings us back to Paul's point about challenge. In the system, there is not enough challenging of people to be better. We talk a lot about supporting schools, teachers and leaders, which is fine and important, but we also need that element of challenge.

1870. Importantly, governors have a role to challenge. The capacity of governors to challenge their schools to be better is underdeveloped. Many schools do not challenge themselves enough to be better. I would like schools to be challenged more from within their own communities about how they can be better. We could do more to challenge schools.

1871. The CCMS does challenge its schools. We review schools' achievements, and then we have conversations with them about their performance and about any concerns we have. We ask schools whether they are aware of any problems and, if so, what they are doing about those problems and whether they have plans, as part of their school development plans, to address them to make their school better. The challenge function is, therefore, what we need to develop and be better at, in parallel with the supporting systems that we have.

1872. Mr Rafferty: Another challenge, which comes from the other direction, is to the system. We talk about putting young people first. For those under the entitlement framework, education between the years of 14 to 19 must be on a continuum and must provide a clear pathway. The obstruction to that is the existence of two separate Departments. For the past four or five years, we have talked about a pending policy on our website. We have to overcome, at a political level, the problem with deriving a policy. Improvement should be driven by a policy, but there is no policy.

1873. There is a disconnect between the further education sector and schools. Our learning communities are not really learning communities; they are schools groups that our further education (FE) people attend occasionally. Those communities should involve representatives from FE and higher education (HE) as well as employers and the Careers Service. However, that is the Department for Employment and Learning's (DEL) agenda. Unless we overcome that problem, some of the aspirations for the entitlement framework will not be realised everywhere. They will be realised in certain areas, where particularly good leaders are able to work with one other. However, at a system level, that will not happen, because other people need the structures to be in place to empower them. Some will build the structures, but not everybody.

1874. The Chairperson: Last week, a valuable contribution was made during one of the presentations to the Committee on the budget. The chief executive of one board said that instead of a Department of Education we should have a Department for children. I go further than that in advocating that, in line with your last comment, the disconnect means that there should be a Department for children and young people. The existing structures mean that all the focus is on schools and everything that we do concerns schools. However, the focus of all that we do should be on the children in the schools.

1875. You talked about the challenge function. That still exists in the form of parental choice. There may have to be a challenge because there is a variety of major issues, not all of which are down to the fact that we have a selective system. We need to be careful because we are all guilty, to a lesser or higher degree, of tailoring our arguments. If we think that the person to whom we are talking happens to be on the other side of the argument, we tailor what we say to be more applicable. More and more, I now try to say that it is not a case of either/or, but a combination of the two, and I ask how we can take the valuable and important elements from each argument to find a way forward.

1876. Mr O'Doherty: I will deal with the first point. We do not want to get into political departmental structures, because there are different ways to deliver. Your point about children and young people is broader than that; it is about coherence in the next Programme for Government. Education feeds into and supports many other areas and, in turn, needs support from many other areas. Sean talked about the need for a coherent policy for pupils aged between 14 and 19. Education can support disadvantaged communities, but it needs support from other areas. That is an area for a cohesive Programme for Government, so that the interventions from the Department of Education are in line with the interventions from other Departments. All such interventions must be supportive and not run across each other. There is no choice: either they support each other or they end up clashing with and impeding each other. Thus we return to the idea of a coherent approach.

1877. Then, we move into the area of selection and a system approach. Again, it falls under that umbrella. I recognise that people have different views on that. We support an earned autonomy for individual schools to give them the maximum flexibility to determine a way forward. The research tends to suggest that as the best way to secure an initiative and the best way for schools to focus on moving pupils forward.

1878. All schools have to work within a system, some aspects of which may be impediments. It may be that selection is one such impediment, because schools whose communities are drained of those parents who have the highest aspirations are left with an even more difficult critical mass of pupils and community to motivate. We have concerns about selection because of that impact on individual schools. We need a system in which all schools, including some excellent grammar schools, work collectively to educate all children to their maximum ability.

1879. Mr J Clarke: We need to measure parental choice. When I was working on the Costello review, leading up to what became the 24 and 27 subjects, we examined all post-14 and post-16 provision in every school. We came to the conclusion that there could not be unfettered choice but that there had to be choice and that choice needed to be equal.

1880. We must consider those choices that are critical not just to the education system but to the economy. We must moderate parental choice to a degree. There must always be choice. We cannot have a system dominated by prescription, whatever its source. Nor can we have a system that is managed to facilitate some in society but not others. Therefore, we must consider the issue of parental choice. We must also recognise that in a community such as Northern Ireland, which is largely segregated in social as well as religious terms, choice must be managed in different ways in different places.

1881. Given the state of the economy and recognising that our education system led us to where we are, we must ask whether this is where we want to be. If not, what else do we need to change apart from putting a few more papers through the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI)? We need to change the fundamentals of education.

1882. As Karen pointed out on more than one occasion, this is a generational, long-term issue. As long as we delay starting the process of early intervention, of giving support to children coming through the system, identifying their needs and motivating them to want to succeed, we will not create either the economy or the inclusive society that we hope to achieve.

1883. Mr O'Dowd: Thank you. As usual, that was an informative presentation and paper. I am going to pay you a compliment, Jim: I think that you are the most capable politician in the room. [Laughter.]

1884. Mr J Clarke: That is not what I set out to be. [Laughter.]

1885. Mr O'Dowd: Your colleagues are not too far behind you. You have told us everything that is wrong with education without mentioning CCMS's responsibility for correcting any of it. You told us that there are too many small sixth forms and too many small schools, that we need to redirect our education system towards the economy and that the economy needs to be reshaped. The CCMS has the capability of solving the problem of too many small sixth forms and too many small schools, and it has the ability to strengthen the education system. I agree that politicians carry the buck for strengthening the economy to a certain degree, but it is almost a chicken and egg situation. How do we improve the economy? In certain states, it is through education, but we could say that it, too, is generational. What will CCMS do about the other matters?

1886. The Chairperson: There was me thinking that John was serious when he started out.

1887. Mr O'Dowd: I am serious. [Laughter.]

1888. Mr J Clarke: It certainly was not a compliment. [Laughter.]

1889. First, and I am not defending CCMS, because we have made the point several times that we have made some but not enough progress, but we cannot change, for example, small sixth forms. That is a matter of Department of Education policy, and it would have to issue guidelines to allow us to do that.

1890. As for the size of schools, we disputed the rationality of the sustainable schools policy with various people, including politicians and the Department. That was drawn up and advice given to Bain before the 2006 Order came into being, even though they knew what it would contain. Our research, which is similar to that referred to by Sean, shows that the minimum size of a post-primary school is approximately 900 pupils aged between 11 and 19, with a minimum intake of about 140. We have also recognised that Key Stage 3 can be delivered with about 80 pupils. Therefore, it is possible to construct many different federations.

1891. There is no legislation that would allow us to create different forms of governance to recognise how we can collaboratively use schools to work together. For instance, to pick up on Sean's point, where is the equality between a large, successful school and a small school with pupils aged between 11 and 16? Some of our large schools, grammar and non-grammar, throw children out if they do not reach a particular threshold because there is a fixed enrolment. We believe that we should be allowed to let those schools grow. In federation with other schools, those schools could grow their 11-to-14 or 11-to-16 elements and guarantee access. That would mean not throwing children out of education. We push up standards every year, yet kids cannot access education. Teachers are being sacked because there are not enough jobs in the system, and that is because there are not enough pupils. Things are being done in a highly illogical way. CCMS is not responsible for that.

1892. Several years ago, we invested much time and a bit of the Department's money in a total review of primary schools. During the debate on the budget, it was asked how much money was wasted on economic appraisals that were started and never completed. We have done a lot of that work, and we know what we need to do. Give us the resources, and we will do it. CCMS and NICCE set out the post-primary review. We did that because we saw the need, and we did so unilaterally because we had waited for three years to bring the rest of the system with us, but it did not come.

1893. I accept that we can do more, but only if we are empowered to do so by legislation, by the policies to which we are directed and, to some degree, by the resources. You guys are politicians, and the first thing that happens when we want to close a small school is that you get on a soapbox to defend it. Make a decision: are we to be statesmen, or are we to be little islanders defending the indefensible?

1894. Mr O'Dowd: I was expecting a spirited defence. You have gone on to the review of the post-primary estate. The power to deal with that list of issues now lies in your hands. Maybe you have given me an insight into the post-primary review.

1895. Mr T Murphy: I am sorry for interrupting, John, but that is not true. We can carry out consultation and other processes that will identify how we could realign and rationalise schools in certain areas, but we need a policy through sustainable schools. We need the Department of Education to give us the necessary resources to deliver those changes. Paul and I were members of the group who worked on the review of the primary school estate. A range of primary reorganisational processes is ready to go, but we cannot get the financial and policy support to implement them. I am concerned that we have invested a lot of time and a small amount of the Department of Education's money in that post-primary work.

1896. Mr O'Dowd: Jim said "some"; you said "small".

1897. Mr T Murphy: I am concerned that our post-primary process could run into the sand, because we do not get the support to deliver it. We are creating an expectation on the ground, and we need the Committee and the Department of Education to support us in the implementation of those processes. You are as aware of the harsh economic situation as I am.

1898. I hope that, this afternoon, we have demonstrated the strong connect between the community of schools which are appropriately sized to deliver the curriculum that children need and the curriculum itself. The sustainable schools policy, the curriculum and Every School a Good School are closely linked to one another, and we need a policy that will deliver with that understanding at the front of its thinking.

1899. We have done a great deal of work on those changes, but we cannot deliver them all unless we get the support to do so. We are significantly further down the line than some other sectors in education.

1900. Mr O'Dowd: I do not wish to hog the whole meeting. The post-primary review has to be published. I have no doubt that the four of you, led from the front by Jim, will be able to articulate your views and lobby for it well. If it raises challenges about a number of factors, I think that there will be a debate.

1901. You commented on sustainable schools and the argument about numbers. It cannot simply boil down to numbers. Community connection, leadership within the school and the geographical location of the school must be factored in. I have not disagreed with you; I have just given you a bit of stick. I agree with you on this: politicians will have to restrain themselves from standing on their soapboxes to defend small schools.

1902. Mr J Clarke: Paul and I sit on the local management of schools (LMS) steering group. At every meeting over the past five years, bar the last meeting, I asked when we would receive the review of the LMS formula. Under present arrangements, it is highly counterproductive for us to amalgamate two small schools into a larger school, because the resource that they lose is massive. There is, therefore, no incentive.

1903. The Chairperson: You need to be extremely careful. From experience in my constituency, I know about the consequences of the review. I am berating the review, but it impinges on the issue of community. In my constituency, some small schools in the maintained sector feel extremely isolated by what the commission has done.

1904. Mr J Clarke: I have no doubt about that.

1905. The Chairperson: I take Jim's point about moving ahead of other sectors. The Department had given you money to examine the rationale and the review of the sector, and others did not follow.

1906. Mr J Clarke: Others got the same resource.

1907. The Chairperson: There was no collaboration between the two to see how they could overlap.

1908. In Ballymoney, the schools must come together to discuss how to preserve the maintained secondary school, which is, as far as I am concerned, an integral part of the community in the town. If Ballymoney loses that school, there will be a massive deficit in our community, but that is not being factored in. To me, community is not about having one school for the Prods and one school for Roman Catholics. Ballymoney as a community is made up of Roman Catholics, Protestants and whoever else, whatever religion they are. The challenge for all of us is to provide education for our young people.

1909. Mr J Clarke: Let me say something about the LMS formula. The current formula treats every small school in exactly the same way. We recognise that some small schools must exist, but not all of them. Therefore, we set criteria to identify the former and fund them to the limit of their need. However, others can do things differently. That is a general point.

1910. No matter what way the post-primary review goes, whether it is within the Catholic sector or across sectors, some of our schools will disappear. We have too many schools. We also recognise that the way in which we are doing this is not ideal. We would have liked it to be part of a whole area-based planning approach. However, as I indicated earlier, we waited for three years. We are reaching the point at which children are, in a sense, being abused by being placed in schools that cannot deliver the curriculum to them. Do we simply continue with that as the demographic continues to go down and down? We have unsustainable schools, so we have to move.

1911. We are open to working with other sectors, but there is an issue with the kind of communities in Northern Ireland and, therefore, where that would be possible. None of us can impose solutions, but we all have to be open to solutions being suggested. In any post-primary review, no matter where it is, in Ballymoney or anywhere else, there will be defensiveness, an attitude of "What we have, we hold." Our role, as strategic providers, is to try to remove that subjectivity and ask what the needs of the children in the area are. I made the point earlier: does the school run the show, or does the system run it for the needs of children?

1912. We are open to that, Mervyn. We will not get it right everywhere, but we will make it better than it is. As I said, legislation will be required to give us the flexibility to do different things. I said that schools for ages 11 to 14 are a viable option. They keep a presence in a community, and children can decide to go wherever they wish post-14. We have to create through the area-learning communities. We saw that as a parallel track, with reorganisation as the grail, if you like. Along the way, area-learning communities would facilitate opportunities for young people, maybe not all on the one campus. However, there are difficulties and costs involved in bussing children around to access their education.

1913. Our budget plan means that much of what we might want to do in reorganisation at both primary and post-primary level will be severely restrained by not having a capital programme of any significance to deliver it.

1914. The Chairperson: Should we remove the quotas for enrolment and just let the market determine school size?

1915. Mr J Clarke: Yes. We should do that along with ending selection, which has no positive impact on education at all. We have a common curriculum. We want to broaden the access of every young person. As I said, having the smallest and largest schools working together is a highly practical stepping stone. Nothing in legislation states that an admission number is inviolate in any school. If we establish what the enrolment should be as the first priority, then expand the sixth form and work out what is left for admission, we will achieve community cohesion, because the schools will have to work together. It works in a cycle.

1916. Mr Lunn: You all mentioned community connection and involvement and the need for the school leader to lead the community. One thing that I admired about maintained schools as I visited them over the past four years was the connection between school and parish, which was strong and useful. From the point of view of community involvement, it must be priceless. The post-primary review involves a move to much bigger post-primary schools. Is there a risk of eroding that valuable link?

1917. Mr O'Doherty: One of the difficulties with post-primary schools is scale. We are balancing out several issues. I have gone into small communities with a long history and an emotional involvement with their school and said that this is not the future for our children in the twenty-first century and that the school will have to close.

1918. That balance element means that the world for which we must prepare our young people demands that they have access to a certain type of institution. We are old enough to remember when children left school at 14 years old and went into the factories. The skills that we are trying to help our young people to develop relate to a different type of demand. It is about engaging with those communities and telling them that the restructuring required to meet the aspirations of their children may mean that the schools are no longer on their doorsteps. That is a very difficult process. However, I have taken communities through it, and, some time later, I met parents who appreciated the new structures and institutions and the growth of opportunities at primary and post-primary levels that their children now have.

1919. It is an issue of balance. We will try to create something that neither restricts the aspirations of young people nor disengages them from their communities. Equally, there is a learning process for the communities themselves, and they must be persuaded of the gain that can come with the pain of making that change.

1920. Mr J Clarke: I want to add to the point that I made earlier about the V-shape of growing up and growing out. The real strength in our system lies in the relationship between nursery schools and primary schools in the community, and we can retain that relationship in some of our secondary schools where the community that is transferring to the local post-primary school is sufficiently large. In that, I quote the example of St Colm's High School in Twinbrook — that is near your constituency, Trevor, and received probably one of the best reports ever written by the Department of Education — because a significant part of the community in Twinbrook lives close to that school. However, other children leave their communities to go to a grammar school or to an 11-to-19 school because the local school is an 11-to-16 school. The community bond is less strong in those areas, and the challenge of good leadership is to try and retain it

1921. As we look ahead, we must recognise that the community dimension delivers outcomes. Children in areas such as Keady or Maghera, by and large, transfer to the local post-primary school. In those and other areas, the cohesion is not only social and pastoral, it is also academic, and children achieve more because there is a lesser loss of learning at the transition points.

1922. I appreciate and value what you said, and I do not think that anything that we propose will diminish that. However, we recognise that children grow up and grow out.

1923. Mr Lunn: I understand that you are not trying to diminish that connection if you can help it. Paul, you said that you have taken schools through the process, but I wonder if you have taken them through the type of process that you are now contemplating, which involves some quite major change. Mervyn made the case for a school in Ballymoney, and I could also make the case for St Patrick's Academy in Lisburn, because there may not be a Catholic secondary school in the centre of Lisburn as a result of your review.

1924. Mr T Murphy: I was centrally involved with the creation of St Killian's College just north of Carnlough. That saw the formation of an area-based school to serve the whole community from Larne to Cushendun, towards the Braid and inland halfway to Ballymena.

1925. Mr Lunn: Is that Garron Tower you are talking about?

1926. Mr T Murphy: It is based at Garron Tower. St Killian's College was formed from three post-primary schools, and, although there was a considerable amount of anxiety in areas such as Larne about the loss of the school there, the school is now in its second year, and there has been a significant community adjustment in people's feelings about the new school. They welcome it and recognise the benefit of its formation.

1927. Your initial point was about the link between parish and school in the maintained sector, and, although that is important to us, our schools are open to anyone. They are not Catholic schools for Catholic people. We value a strong link between our post-primary schools and the wider community in which they exist, and we feel that the connectivity to that community is important for the children in those schools. We do not want a connection only between the Catholic school and the Catholic community; we also want a broader connect into the wider community. That is an important dimension of what our schools should be doing.

1928. Mr O'Doherty: Different community possibilities arise as well. Like Terry, I was involved in merging three schools in Strabane into Holy Cross College. That school is still on a journey. Everything is a point on a journey: nothing ever stops, and there is no end point. It is about moving on and helping children. However, by and large, all the children in that area go to the school, and that has allowed a different type of relationship to develop with the feeder primary schools, and that has aided some of the transition issues. It has also allowed that school to offer its resource to the primary schools.

1929. I cover a large rural area, and I have concerns that the change element, which will affect primary and post-primary schools, will be very difficult for some rural communities. However, at the same time, we have to maximise potential, not only of the children but of the community resource, because those schools have an opportunity to support parents in their community. An economy of scale can reinvigorate those communities. Therefore, we are talking about a paradigm shift. We have to move to a different way of engaging with and supporting communities.

1930. Mr Lunn: You made a comment about Larne. If you ever manage to convince the people in Larne to accept St Killian's or, as I know it, Garron Tower, inside a year, you had better prepare yourselves to declare a miracle because that certainly was not the case a year ago.

1931. Mr J Clarke: Indeed it was not. When we started that project several years ago, the first question that we asked of the then parish priest was whether the people of Larne regarded Garron Tower as their school. He was sent off to find out, and he came back and said that they did. There is resistance among some groups of people, as there will always be some resistance. However, as Paul said earlier, my experience of amalgamating schools is that it is a major upheaval at the time but that, by and large, it is appreciated further down the track. Some people even come back and say so.

1932. The Chairperson: I do not want to get off track. However, you mentioned the school in Strabane. There still are issues with that because it is a bilateral school and because of the number of parents who have made other choices and have gone to other places —

1933. Mr O'Doherty: The fact that 300 children have applied to get into the school shows where it is at now. I attended meetings with those communities and went through the parents' concerns. I cannot guarantee that there is 100% acceptance. However, there has been a total sea change, and part of the difficulty is the stage of the journey that they are at currently. When talking to parents about a proposal or a plan, there is bound to be uncertainty. We may have gone through that journey but they have not done so yet, and, therefore, they have fears and natural concerns. As that school has bedded down, there has been a complete change. Some parents still have links with other schools in Omagh and Derry, and, pupils have older brothers and sisters there, but that is an historical issue.

1934. That school has been accepted as the future. People recognise what it can offer and see how it has reached out to other primary schools and established itself in the community. However, it is a new entity, and it needs time to become established. It is much better established now because it has had time to become so and because there is a greater acceptance of it. However, as I said earlier, it is still on a journey. All our schools may be embarking on some difficult journeys and may need a support structure to help them along the way.

1935. Mr B McCrea: I will start with a positive comment. As ever, all of you made a well thought-out presentation. Today is not so much about taking information from you as having dialogue. It is an expression of opinion. First, I will tell you here and now that I will close schools. I am on record in Hansard as saying that. The sustainability issue cannot be argued against, and, for too long, we have refused to bite the bullet. I take the point — I am still on the positive bits by the way — that many people object because of what could happen, but when the reality becomes clear afterwards, people adapt and accept it. That applies to schools, flyovers, and so on.

1936. I hope that you know me well enough to know that my next comment is made not from a sectarian point of view; it is just an observation or statement of fact. People from the controlled sector have a different experience and feel continually under pressure. You spoke about Maghera. When the controlled school in Maghera closed, all the pupils ended up going to Magherafelt. That scenario leaves an entire hinterland with no schools to which people from that community think that they should go. As a result, they feel beleaguered. We could talk about the same situation in Strabane, which still has a grammar school. Also, you might be happy with what the parish priest thinks of where the people from your community go to school, but the people of Larne might want a more integrated community. You know my position on integrated schools.

1937. I see a real problem. You spoke about Derry/Londonderry. Lisneal College feels under huge pressure now because of the entitlement curriculum. The worry is that it will have to farm out its pupils to the other side of the river. The attitude there is that they will burn it rather than do that. Those are serious and emotive issues. Although I understand why, tactically, every step that you have taken is correct, I worry about where that takes us strategically. We will end up with really big Catholic schools — I understand that you say that they are open to everybody, but they are large culturally orientated schools — on one side and a number of people who feel threatened on the other side. The mismatch is the problem.

1938. When I see area-learning communities that work —in Limavady, for example — it is because there is equity and balance. Where they do not work is where there is too much democratic power on one side and not the other. I am firmly with you on the view that cross-sectoral area-learning communities must be brought together in a non-threatening way. All I can tell you is that I understand and accept that you put your position forward with good intent and goodwill. Sometimes, however, such issues are perceived differently by other people.

1939. Mr J Clarke: We cannot control perception. Indeed, perception is reality for some people. At the start of the post-primary review, in recognition of the points that you made, we set out to acknowledge that some areas' populations were mainly Catholic, so we had an obligation to support other sectors to deliver their education. Similarly, we hope that reciprocation would occur in predominantly Protestant areas of Northern Ireland. So it was in our interest to set up inclusive structures.

1940. None of us defended the way in which that happened, but it happened because there was a failure to reach political agreement and a failure of people to move in any given way under a policy of sustainable schools. We are where we are. We are aware of the points that you make and are trying to ameliorate those, but we cannot do that in every individual case. There will, undoubtedly, be communities where the tradition is that children from one religious background do not go to a certain school. In other communities, that tradition is slowly breaking down. It is all about personal decisions.

1941. If we or the controlled sector had commissioned the Oxford Economics report that was commissioned by the integrated sector, it would, as has been admitted, have said the same thing. We have to secure economies of scale. Northern Ireland, because of its religious and social demographic, makes that difficult, particularly in urban areas, but we have to address it. The purpose of this session was to look at the impact of disadvantage, and we have a preponderance of children from disadvantaged areas in certain schools. We are not providing a service for those children, who tend to go to small schools in urban areas. They do not feel connected to the economy or included in society, and we risk losing them. If we lose children or young people coming through the system, we may risk a return to another form of expression that we lived through for more than 30 years.

1942. Mr B McCrea: I had a meeting with some permanent secretaries recently, but I will not break their confidence by saying what went on. However, the gist of the conversation was that I advanced an argument and was then asked what I thought was the biggest challenge and what I was most worried about. I said that I was most worried about a return to violence because socially disadvantaged young people were being exploited against a non-conducive financial backdrop. Interestingly, no one around the table agreed with me that that was the big threat. They mentioned other threats and issues instead. However, I know about that threat from my work on the Policing Board.

1943. I want to make it quite clear that I understood your points and that I was not being critical of you or saying in any way that what you did was illogical, irrational or unhelpful. I understand why you are where you are. My point comes back to the discussion on the bigger picture that we must have. Education in this country does not exist in isolation. Cultural issues and fears need to be addressed. There are also logistical issues such as transportation. The big problem in Strabane is —

1944. Mr T Clarke: Basil, I just want to come in at that point to say that I agree entirely. Education in our country has to contribute to giving people hope, particularly in the communities that we are talking about. That is the central point. We have seen what is happening across the north of Africa, and as Jim indicated, people here might begin to take actions, possibly negative, in their own interest. I am not necessarily talking about going back to violence. There might be an increase in criminality and other behaviours that we do not want to develop in our community. We want education to work with social development and the economy to preside over and contribute to that hope. That is why I made the point earlier about the integration of policy. Policymakers need to sit down together to think, talk about and then come up with policy.

1945. Mr B McCrea: I just want to reinforce what I have already said: all four of your contributions were of the highest order. I heard what you said, and I agree with you. There is an issue with the integration of policy, whether it is in higher and further education or DETI. Why, for example, do we produce so many people with qualifications that are not needed? That is the type of big debate that we need to have. Unfortunately, everything is linked and topical. Part of the reason why you were not able to get people to move forward for three years was not because they were not willing to do so but because the systems were not in place to enable them to do so. You are more organised, but that is mainly because of other sectors. We have been raising that issue for some time.

1946. The political, with a small "p", reality that is hitting politicians is that there are financial constraints on what we can do. There are also strategic issues about where we want to take this part of the world in which we live, and education is the more positive side of that. When we get round to having the hard-nosed discussions — I do not mean that to be negative — we will have to make difficult decisions, and it will be difficult to close a school in Ballymoney or anywhere else. I know that a large number of schools in north Belfast have deficits from which they will never recover. The educational or financial solution does not necessarily represent or reflect the cultural reality on the ground, and we have to find a way of dealing with that.

1947. Mr T Murphy: It is about compromising, and the Chairperson rightly said that, with respect to Ballymoney and similar places, it is about balancing the educational need and the community need. We understand and accept that there may be places where people will be asked to go a step further than our community may be prepared to go at this stage. It is a big, complex and difficult process, but that does not necessarily mean that we should step back from it. We just need to work carefully and closely together to try to achieve it.

1948. Mr Rafferty: The point that you made about your concern is the same point that we have represented in many of our discussions on our post-primary review. We talked about small sixth forms, and before we started, we had a conversation with the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) about the appropriateness of the curriculum. I have a major concern, which is voiced in all our post-primary reviews, that there tends to be a barrier to sixth form, which is that pupils have to get five GCSEs at grades A to C to come back to the school. That raises a big question: what do we provide for those children who do not get over that hurdle? We have a major debate with many of our catholic managed maintained schools as to what exactly they are doing. Are they providing for all the children, or are they providing for those for whom there is kudos in the community? It connects with the curriculum. We do not have appropriate qualifications and structures in Northern Ireland for those children.

1949. The GCSE model is a way forward to A- levels and university, but, in the absence of a link with FE qualifications, apprenticeships, and so on, the pathways model is required, but it has not been developed. It means that a number of our schools do not take back some students, and they are the very children about whom you are concerned. There is also a social concern, and the long-term cost to the community will be much greater. The level 2 students whom you mentioned do not need to be on a high level, but they need a pathway, and it has not been built. I do not even know of anybody drawing up a plan for that.

1950. Mr B McCrea: I think that we are losing the audience here, but I agree with you. There are many issues that we could discuss, but we will leave it there because other people may want to say something.

1951. Mr J Clarke: I want to make one final point. The Budget will change the way that we do things, and we can moan about that, but the fact is that we cannot deliver the education system that we currently deliver with the resources that we will have. The imperative, therefore, is to do things differently. We have to set aside some of our prejudices, and we have to establish agreed priorities. To my mind, those start at the highest levels of government. As Terry said, it starts with the Programme for Government. I met Sammy Wilson in November 2010, and I asked him whether it was possible to have a conversation that would allow all the parties to discuss their priorities before getting into the departmental argument. This is a long-term endeavour, and the 0-3 age group is the starting point.

1952. We must also recognise that our system is not connected to the employment cycle. Employers have responsibilities. Why do they asking for five GCSEs at grades A to C when, in fact, they want something different? They should be saying what they really want, and that would impose a rigour on the curriculum to deliver.

1953. I take Mervyn's point about Ballymoney and areas outside the metropolis. We do not focus our education on meeting economic needs that could be developed in some of our local communities. Larger institutions with more flexibility in curricular delivery allow us to focus that curriculum more particularly on areas. Fermanagh, for instance, has a strong tourist dimension, but what do our schools do to promote that? Northern Ireland has potential through the green economy and through its food sciences and agricultural background, but our education system does not promote those areas. Therefore, those are important challenges that we have to face. It is not just about creating communities; it is about creating an economy that allows those communities to feel at peace with themselves.

1954. The Chairperson: Jim, your paper has been very useful. I have one question, which requires a yes or no answer. Should we revisit the entitlement framework?

1955. Mr J Clarke: Yes, if anything, to extend it.

1956. The Chairperson: Thank you very much. I hope that you enjoyed this afternoon.

2 March 2011

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Mervyn Storey (Chairperson)
Mr David Hilditch (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Jonathan Craig
Mr Trevor Lunn
Mr Basil McCrea
Miss Michelle McIlveen
Mr John O'Dowd
Mrs Michelle O'Neill

Witnesses:

Mrs Katrina Godfrey
Dr Chris Hughes
Ms Karen McCullough

 

Department of Education

1957. The Chairperson of the Committee for Education (Mr Storey): I welcome to the Committee Katrina Godfrey, director of curriculum, qualifications and standards; Karen McCullough, head of the statistics and research team; and Chris Hughes, head of the standards and improvement team. Members have been a given a copy of the relevant papers.

1958. Mrs Katrina Godfrey (Department of Education): Thank you, Chairperson. You have completed my first task and introduced my colleagues for me. You know that this is a game of two halves, and that I will be joined in the next session by Roger McCune for the next session on examination grading.

1959. The Chairperson: I hope that it is better than the second half of a certain football match last night.

1960. Mrs Godfrey: I am not a United fan, so I will not comment.

1961. The Chairperson: Which team do you support?

1962. Mrs Godfrey: I will say nothing, except that success is not something that has been known to me for some time. [Laughter.]

1963. Would it be helpful to pick up on some of the points on value added measures?

1964. The Chairperson: Yes, please.

1965. Mrs Godfrey: It is an issue that we have been looking at. You may recall that value added was a particular feature of the new assessment arrangements that we came to talk to you about. Those assessment arrangements were being introduced in support of cross-curricular skills of communication, using mathematics and ICT, because we were conscious that if we got the Key Stage 1 assessments to be robust and teacher-moderated with a level of confidence and consistency in approach, they would provide one element of a baseline from which value added could be measured.

1966. Additionally, we took the view that, rather than simply setting targets of expected levels for a percentage of young people to reach at the end of every key stage, we set a target that every pupil would be expected to progress at least one level, except in cases where there were good reasons. We thought that that would be a useful way of capturing those pupils who leave primary school with a very high level of attainment. Why would we not set them a stretching target for the first year of post-primary education? It would also be a good way of capturing young people who are achieving level 1 at Key Stage 1 and level 3 at Key Stage 2, and, thereby, are not at the expected level at either key stage, but making a significant amount of progress that we think should be captured.

1967. Along with colleagues, a year or two ago I was involved in an Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) working group. The interesting thing there was that nobody had cracked contextual value added measures in the way in which most of us, as parents, would instinctively understand it. The point that was made about getting the baseline right and measuring progress from the baseline is key, and one that is a feature of the new assessment arrangements.

1968. With regard to the commercial tools, the Department's key focus, beyond the requirement of key stage assessments and the use of InCAS in primary schools as a diagnostic assessment, is on schools deciding what is right for them. The key factor for us is how they use the data that they have, not that they have to require and gather particular data. In that context, schools will tell you some interesting things.

1969. Not long ago, I was at a presentation at which a school's head of maths was taking a group of other schools through their approach to value added and the effective use of data. Being a head of maths and good at such things, she had tracked the correlation between the commercial test that they had been using and the outcomes of the pupils. She found that there was a very weak correlation. She then tracked the correlation using the Key Stage 3 tests that CCEA still provide in maths, English and science, and she found a stronger correlation there than she did with the commercial tool. Subsequently, she took it a bit further and looked at the teachers' internal tests in years 8, 9 and 10, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the strongest correlation was between the performance of pupils in those internal tests and the GCSE outcomes. That suggested that the teachers had a pretty good grasp of what they were doing in that school.

1970. She also made the point that it is important not to let those predictors become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We are always conscious that that is important. If a child is performing at a low level, for instance, you could easily get into a mindset whereby you would say that he or she is predicted an x and that you would be glad if he or she gets an x. However, the child could be capable of much more.

1971. One of the other issues that schools feed back to us is the real importance of making sure that any predictions from those sorts of tools are looked at and reviewed constantly, rather than being benchmarked and the capacity of the pupil being forgotten about.

1972. Those are some of the issues. It is for that reason that we do not dictate to schools what they should and should not use, beyond the statutory requirements. The Department and our colleagues in the inspectorate say that it is about how the schools use the data that they have. The most powerful data is usually that which is gained from the teacher's assessment, testing and monitoring of the pupil's performance.

1973. The Chairperson: Are we any the wiser after that? I mean no disrespect to Katrina for the way in which she presented it. I am asking whether members are any the wiser?

1974. Mr B McCrea: The answer is no. That is more to do with me, Katrina, rather than you.

1975. The Chairperson: Is the bogeyman in the room not continually the issue that there is the reluctance to use a standardised assessment just in case those bad schools might use it as a means of selection?

1976. Mrs Godfrey: I do not think so. For example, a large number of primary schools will make use of the commercial NFER test, and there is progress in maths. The key thing is how they make use of them. Do they just do them, or do they use them to identify pupils' strengths and weaknesses and to plan their teaching and learning around those strengths and weaknesses. That is the key thing — not the test itself, but what people do with it.

1977. Mr B McCrea: Is that not the key issue? People want to use those tests for educational purposes and, therefore, you do not want to disturb them by teaching to a test. We, with our public oversight, have something different that we would like to do, which is to find out how we get the most effective teaching. Certain sectors are not performing well. I have seen the scattergrams that show that 30% of the pupils in certain schools have free schools means and, therefore, one should expect the same outcome in each school, yet it is not the same. In order to inform public decision-making, can we not find some way of getting baseline figures that show what is going on? It is not for teaching; it is to inform public policy.

1978. Mrs Godfrey: That is why we have taken the approach that we adopted with regard to the assessment arrangements that will come in next year. We have accepted that the central responsibility of any school is assessment for learning, and assessment of learning. We have said that we want to give schools the maximum possible flexibility and autonomy, but we have also said that, in the case of literacy, numeracy and ICT, the system needs reassurance and the public and the taxpayer need reassurance that the system is performing at an acceptable level. Therefore, the arrangements to be put in place for literacy, numeracy and ICT will be of a slightly different order. They will be consistent; they will be robust; they will be moderated; they will be reported on; and they will provide us with a more robust baseline from which to measure progress at system level for us, at school level and at pupil level.

1979. Mr B McCrea: Will they be contextual value-added measures?

1980. Mrs Godfrey: They will be value added in the sense that they will give the baseline for each pupil and they will allow for measuring the pupil's progress.

1981. Mr B McCrea: The point is that we were looking for a contextual value-added measurement. However, the point was made that if you have people coming from different backgrounds and with different support at home, you would expect different outcomes that have little to do with teaching in school. We need some baseline figures that take those things into account.

1982. Mrs Godfrey: The baseline at Key Stage 1 will give us a sense of where pupils are at individual level, whether you are at school level, whether you are in a managing authority and at system level, or whether you are there for us. However, you also must be careful to ensure that you are not creating self-fulfilling prophesies by assuming that children cannot achieve at the expected level just because English is not their first language or because they come from a disadvantaged background. The scattergrams are interesting, but they do not actually provide any answers. They simply pose questions as to why a certain school is there; the make-up of its pupils; whether they are achieving to their full potential; and whether everything that can be done is being done to make sure that they have the requisite quality of teaching and learning support and, therefore, attain at the highest level possible.

1983. Mr B McCrea: That gets to the nub of it. Surely the Department should have some tool that is able to drill into the value-added issue. Without wishing to upset anybody, the point was made that you could have a school where 30% of pupils have free school means and come from an area where there is endemic and systemic underachievement. However, there could be another school in a different place, where, regrettably, a factory has closed down and, suddenly, a lot of children are entitled to free school meals. Those children are not in the same learning environment as other children.

1984. There is a suspicion that, in the particular case of working-class children from a Protestant background, there are cultural and other factors that we are not able to pick up on and address. I am not sure that to simply take a baseline and conclude that such children have improved, but not by much, is where we are at. We need to know why they did not improve, or what other factors pertained. We keep having studies to get to the root of the problem, but I do not know that we have the information to help us do that.

1985. Mrs Godfrey: I would be less pessimistic than that about the new assessment arrangements that will be introduced. We also know that, from those schools that perform above the levels that some may expect, it is to do with the quality of teaching and learning, as well as leadership. Importantly, one of the differences, which arises time and again, is that someone, perhaps in the absence of anyone else, decides to have high aspirations and expectations for pupils. Members will have seen examples of that during your inquiry. That is the aspect that we cannot measure in our scatter plots, but if you read the inspection reports and talk to schools, that is the ingredient, as well as high quality leadership and good teaching, that you will see time and again. That is where the real challenge is.

1986. Mr Lunn: I am interested that, at the end of all this, Katrina, you tell us that the teachers' own in-class assessments are more valuable than those expensive tools, which, apparently, come out at around £500 a pupil. I think that that was what Basil was getting at. The only one of those tools that we had explained to us here, which introduced the concept of contextual issues outside of the school's control, was rubbished by the Government and phased out. I would have thought that that is the one that we were after. Do any of the other widely used tools find any favour with you, or do you think that it should be left within the classroom?

1987. Mrs Godfrey: No. They all have uses, and if teachers find them useful, we would say that that is fine. However, a teacher's professional judgement is often as useful, if not more so, than a commercial tool that will not have been designed with any one particular school or set of children in mind, but against a statistical norm. The tools can be very useful in supporting, confirming or affirming a judgement; schools make very good use of them in many cases. Nevertheless, even those schools will tell you that the tools will not be a substitute, nor would they be used as a replacement for a teacher's professional judgement.

1988. Your researcher picked up on the point that the schools White Paper in England signals a move away from some of the contextual value-added measures. If anything, that points up the difficulties, and, as I said earlier, in talking about this with the Canadians and the folk from New Zealand and Finland at the OECD, it was clear to me that every country is struggling to find a perfect contextual value-added measure. Karen may want to say something about the research perspective.

1989. Mrs Karen McCullough (Department of Education): I know that the OECD has published a report on various value-added measures. One of my colleagues is looking at that and is drafting something up to have a look at what kind of conclusions are being reached across OECD countries. That may be helpful in informing the debate.

1990. Mr Lunn: Could it be that the contextual value-added measures are being phased out because, as far as I can see, they provide a league table of schools, which, perhaps, the Government would not be too keen on?

1991. Mrs McCullough: They can be accessed through the Westminster Department for Education or BBC websites, but the way in which they are presented makes them difficult to read and understand. They are not being used and understood by people; there are just lists of figures that are quite hard to follow. That is one of the problems, because the public are having difficulty in interpreting them.

1992. Mr Lunn: The Yellis tool purports to provide a predictor of performance at GCSE level, yet it is not related to the curriculum. I just find that odd.

1993. Mrs Godfrey: I do not have the material that the Committee has.

1994. Mr Lunn: That is exactly what is says: it is not related to the curriculum, but it provides a prediction of performance at GCSE. Am I missing something?

1995. The Chairperson: We will make the research paper available to the witnesses.

1996. Mrs Godfrey: That would be useful, and if there are any points that you want us to cover from a departmental perspective, we can do that.

1997. The Chairperson: I am trying to get some sense from this. I get the sense from everything that is going on that there is very diverse provision, which is left to the professional judgement of the teachers. As a result, we end up with a patchwork quilt in respect of the very important issue of how we assess and contextualise the issue of value added.

1998. Trevor, were you finished?

1999. Mr Lunn: I am finished. That was what I was trying to get to, but you said it beautifully.

2000. The Chairperson: Thank you very much. That has set me up for the day.

2001. Mr B McCrea: Another electoral pact.

2002. Mr Craig: The Chairperson hit the nail on the head. Katrina, one of the things that became abundantly clear when I looked at the tools was that they are a mixed bag. I can understand where Basil was coming from earlier, and, to be quite honest, you would need a master's degree to understand what the tools actually tell you.

2003. Parents make little or no use of the tools. They look like something that came out of a shotgun — they are ridiculous. However, when you get in there and analyse it, there is some fascinating information that schools and teachers can use to adjust their learning techniques with individuals. I have seen that used to good effect, and I know what you mean when you say that teachers have their own ideas about why students are or are not performing. However, I have also seen the tools highlight instances where teachers got it wrong.

2004. I do not know how you find the amazing balance between what the tools and the teachers tell you, but there is a contradiction at times. The tools are very complex and they almost give you too much information. Perhaps simpler tools are needed that will provide the same information.

2005. Mrs Godfrey: That is very much the idea behind trying to get the final assessment arrangements in place, so that they are common to all schools and provide something. The tools will never remove either the need for, or the wish by, schools to do something else to test their own judgement.

2006. Teachers often tell me that, sometimes, it is the developed ability part of the tool that flags up the most useful feedback. It may show a pupil who is underperforming in either reading or maths, but whose developed ability is very high. That gives teachers a clue that that performance may be due to the way in which the child is learning or being taught, and that something is blocking them from achieving their full potential. I expect that that is the reason why different schools use different tools, because they find the one that works best for them. In the vast majority of cases, they find tools that are designed to support rather than replace their own judgement, and that helps them to find out whether they missed something or whether there is something that they need to home in on.

2007. It was telling that, during the presentation that I attended, it was pointed out that the school's own judgement, as measured through its class tests, was the most accurate tool, and that that had given the school a huge amount of confidence in its own professional judgement. That seems to be where you would want to be.

2008. Mr Craig: It is. The only thing that worried me about that approach was that, no matter where I saw it used, it highlighted instances, and perhaps even individuals, where the judgement was clearly wrong. I found it extremely useful —

2009. Mrs Godfrey: — to have that objective overlay.

2010. Mr Craig: Yes.

2011. The Chairperson: We will take a follow-up question from Trevor, and then move on to PISA.

2012. Mr Lunn: I just want to make a suggestion. Jonathan has obviously seen some of these things in action, and I have not. Would it be possible for the Committee to see a sample of a Yellis report to see whether we could make any sense of it?

2013. Mr Craig: Best of luck to you, Trevor.

2014. The Chairperson: I think that we may have one in the office. We will make that available.

2015. Mr Craig: It took the headmaster half an hour to explain it to me.

2016. The Chairperson: OK. We will not go there. Will the Key Stage 2 assessment be moderated?

2017. Mrs Godfrey: Yes. The decision is that Key Stages 1, 2 and 3 will be moderated teacher assessment.

2018. The Chairperson: Thank you. We will move on to PISA — another assessment.

2019. Mrs Godfrey: Yes; I am conscious that time is marching on. You have a paper that tells you what PISA is. We consider PISA, as do many other jurisdictions, including England, Scotland, Wales and the South, to provide a useful international benchmark of our 15-year-olds' skills in reading, maths and science.

2020. We consider it wholly appropriate to look at the performance of our system compared with others, particularly because as part of our and my Minister's involvement in developing the Executive's new economic strategy, we are conscious that young people leaving our school system here will be going out into a workplace that is increasingly operating on a global basis. Therefore, it is right that we would want to benchmark ourselves against the best in the world and not look at ourselves in the context of just these islands. That is why we attach particular importance to PISA as an international benchmark, and, as I say, so do others. Karen, who is the head of our statistics and research team, and our lead guru on PISA, will talk you through some of the key findings.

2021. Mrs McCullough: The most frequently quoted analysis in the reporting of PISA is the average score achieved by students in a country. Those are ranked to produce tables of countries' performances and categorised as being above the OECD average, at the mean, or below the OECD average. That opportunity for real international comparison is the strength of PISA. In 2009, the assessments were administered in 65 education systems, including all 34 OECD member states and 24 members of the EU. So, how did our students do? Overall, we were placed among the average performing countries in reading and maths, and above average in science.

2022. In each round of the PISA survey, students are assessed in those three areas of literacy, reading, maths and science. There is a main focus of the study on each. The focus in 2009 was reading, so I will start with that, say where we were, and highlight factors that affected the scores. Students here achieved a reading score of 499, which was not significantly different from the OECD average. Scotland, Ireland and England were similar to Northern Ireland. Wales, however, was significantly lower.

2023. Nine countries performed significantly higher than Northern Ireland. Five are Asian countries: Shanghai-China, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan. The other four are Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Finland. Finland was the only EU country with a mean reading score significantly higher than Northern Ireland.

2024. In all participating countries, there was a significant difference in reading in favour of girls. In Northern Ireland, that was 29 points. That is lower than the OECD average, and Northern Ireland had one of the lowest differences between girls and boys in reading. One item also reported on is the range between the highest and lowest performers. That is measured by looking at the difference between the fifth and ninety-fifth percentile. By doing that, we take the outliers — the extremes — out of the data.

2025. In Northern Ireland, the difference between the highest and lowest in reading was 315 scale points, which is slightly wider than the OECD average. However, the spread of data of 14 countries exceeded ours. That group includes some of the top-performing countries, such as New Zealand, Japan, Australia and Singapore.

2026. That spread of achievement relates to another very useful measure: the percentage of students at each of the levels of proficiency in reading. The definitions for what is required at each level are covered in the report. However, as a guide, pupils are expected to reach at least level 2, which is considered to be the level at which students demonstrate the reading skills that will enable them to participate in society and future learning. Therefore, we are looking for them to perform to at least that level. Just under 18% of pupils here were below level 2 in reading, which is similar to the OECD average. That means that one in six students here is estimated to have poor reading skills. There was, however, a notable variation by gender, with 11% of girls and 23% of boys, which is more than one in five, not reaching the level of literacy considered necessary to participate effectively in society.

2027. All countries, including top-performing ones such as Shanghai, have a spread of performance, with some students performing at the lowest levels of proficiency and others performing at the highest levels. The difference between countries is the proportion of students at each level. In Northern Ireland, 18% of pupils were below level 2, whereas just 4% in Shanghai were. Similarly, 31% of pupils here were above level 4, whereas 54% of pupils in Shanghai were.

2028. Having described where we stand, I will examine the kinds of factors that contribute to improving scores in reading. What makes pupils in certain a country achieve a higher score? The first and, perhaps, foremost factor is socio-economic status. PISA reports that in the economic, social and cultural status (ESCS) index, which is based on pupils' responses to questions about their parents' backgrounds in education and the resources available to them at home. As members would expect, there is a positive correlation between reading scores and socio-economic status, with pupils' average scores increasing through each quartile of that ESCS index.

2029. In Northern Ireland, the change in score for each unit of that index was 48 points, which is relatively high and means that socio-economic background has a larger effect in Northern Ireland than it does in other OECD countries in general. However, that does not mean that pupils from the lowest socio-economic groups cannot achieve. In fact, PISA results show that it is possible for students who are in the lowest socio-economic group to achieve high scores. It is just not as likely for that to happen here as it is some in other countries, including, interestingly, Canada, Norway, Finland and Japan, where pupils are more successful at overcoming the effects of social disadvantage.

2030. A second factor is reading for enjoyment, which has, as you might expect, a positive relationship with reading achievement. Unfortunately, 43% of our students — 35% of girls and 53% of boys — reported that they do not enjoy reading. However, the impact of reading for enjoyment is really marked. Reading for at least half an hour a day raises a girl's score by on average 60 points and a boy's by 93 points.

2031. If we look at the group that does not read for enjoyment and split that into socio-economic groups, we see that those in the lowest socio-economic group score 428 and those in the highest score 511. So there is a difference there. That suggests, as it did in Ireland, that socio-economic status mediates, to some extent, the association between reading for enjoyment and reading achievement. So, again, socio-economic status is really important.

2032. Three other factors that are linked to socio-economic status also impact on reading scores. Those factors are: having a large number of book