The Association for Quality Education started off as an alliance of parents, principals, governors and teachers who believed that the future of post primary education in Northern Ireland should be based on our excellent secondary and grammar schools. It exists to seek to improve the lot of all children in Northern Ireland, not just those with academic gifts. Its whole raison d’être is the promotion and provision of quality education for all. At a time when the high academic standards of Northern Ireland were seen to be placed in serious jeopardy through the abolition of selection for post-primary education, it fell to AQE to honour the wishes of the majority of parents consulted in the Province and to provide an alternative in place of the abolished 11+ examination.
In order to preserve the academic standards in Northern Ireland, the Company AQE Ltd was established to run and manage the Common Entrance Assessment (CEA), providing grammar schools in Northern Ireland with a method of maintaining academic selection.
It has, on a very tight budget, successfully run eleven assessment cycles from 2009. Bearing in mind that the PPTC has also run its assessment procedure over the same period, this means that, from September 2016, every pupil in a Northern Irish grammar school will have been selected by means of a so-called ‘unregulated’ assessment.
The AQE assessments comply with the highest standards of reliability and validity and are an improvement on the old 11 plus in a number of ways, including:
* the three assessment structure;
* the Access arrangements;
* the removal of a grading system with its potential to mark children as failures and its capacity to conceal information;
* the development of age-standardized scores.
Difficult economic times lie ahead. With our Province situated on the edge of Europe with no natural resources and having lost the heavy industries that once were its source of prosperity, a highly trained and educated workforce is essential for economic survival. AQE believes that education in Northern Ireland must focus on building on our strengths and on addressing effectively those areas which need improvement. AQE make a number of suggestions in all our papers which, we believe, have the potential to raise standards further. In all our suggestions, AQE has tried to be realistic and to have regard to the fact that there will not be the finance available for wholesale change.
While AQE is not against change, we believe in celebrating the achievements of all types of post primary schools in Northern Ireland, for example:
• Pupils in Northern Ireland outperform their peers in terms of the percentage of young people obtaining 5 GCSEs at grades A*-C.
• Pupils in receipt of Free School Meals, a common indicator of poverty, outperform their peers in Great Britain by a wider margin than the population as a whole, in terms of the percentage obtaining 5 good GCSE grades.
AQE opposes a system in which schools would be forced to select pupils on the basis of post code. We advocate instead that schools be given the freedom to develop academic, technical and vocational pathways to ensure that all children have the opportunity to attend a school which will cater for their interests and accommodate their needs and abilities.
AQE Ltd has developed and administers the CEA on behalf of schools to enable them to do this.
Since its inception AQE has tried hard to produce relevant, unbiased and challenging papers to address a range of issues on our society and to maintain regular contact with a range of political leaders and party spokesmen on education on a broad spectrum of issues. These papers can be downloaded below and cover many areas, including:
Academic Selection: Demonstrations have been arranged for party representatives of Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT) as a mechanism for transfer to post-primary schools. In the final round of television interviews with party leaders before the May 2011 Assembly election, First Minister Peter Robinson referred to CAT as a potential replacement of the existing examination system. (The Leaders’ Debate, BBC1 May 3)
Finance: Apart from representations on the effect of cuts in the education budget, AQE has emphasized the importance of increasing, as circumstances permit, resources for pre-school and primary school sectors.
Curriculum: AQE has stressed the value of traditional methods of teaching and advocated an examination of the impact of the Revised Curriculum.
Achievement/Social Mobility: In all our discussions with politicians, AQE has put forward a number of suggestions to deal with the problems of under-achievement and low levels of aspiration in economically-deprived areas.
Special Education Needs: AQE considers that this is an area of concern which requires urgent attention. At the moment too many young people are not getting the help that they deserve.
Nursery Education : Fundamental to the well-being of our children is the start which they get on the educational ladder.
Over the past number of years AQE has produced many discussion papers to help instigate dialogue on the way forward:
There have been many articles in the newspapers about the Northern Ireland post primary system and some can be seen here.