Education, Education, Education

Martin McGuinness will doubtless be pleased to see that his time as Minister for Education did no obvious harm to Northern Ireland’s education system. The Sunday Times reports that Ulster grammar schools are top of UK class according to their Parent Power guide. Lumen Christi College in Londonderry is Northern Ireland’s top secondary school.
However the excellent status of our schools (“when compared to population, Northern Ireland grammar schools perform better than their equivalents in England and Wales”) may cause some to point out- in respect of proposed abolition of the 11 plus- if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

  • Alan

    And how many kids didn’t get into Lumen Christi and other “top” grammar schools? How many can’t claim Gymkhana as an extra curricular activity? How many get left behind by our corrupt and unbalanced system?

    The 11+ isn’t fair, it’s an educational meat mincer. This year’s first test was a horror, agreed by every teacher I have spoken with to have been abusive – the worst in around 8 years. 23 pages of literary,rather than numeric questions, a flood of words, questions with more than one answer, questions without the syllabus. That was childrens’ first test, calculated to shake their confidence.

    Some years ago CCEA stated in their evidence to the Assembly Education Committee that it was difficult to set truly discriminatory papers because they could not justify the trauma that more difficult tests would cause to young children. They have clearly risen above such scruples. It is time to examine the examiners.

    It is also interesting that those who trumpet the A level success of one or two schools here are also inclined to bemoan the decline of difficulty at that level. Yet we hear nothing about abuse at age 11 – because it suits the system.

    Forget which school gets the top marks – it changes each year depending on the ability of the kids going through the school gate – just like school rugby or gaelic results. The system is supposed to work for all our kids and it doesn’t.

  • Davros

    As all our kids have differing abilities, do you think going to the same schools as the more academically gifted will enable them all to get the same qualifications ?

  • David Vance

    Surreal comment, Ambrose.

    “Martin McGuinness will doubtless be pleased to see that his time as Minister for Education did no obvious harm to Northern Ireland’s education system.”

    Apart from ensuring that the Grammar Schools you single out (rightly) for praise are to be axed, you mean?

    Contrary to what you suggest, McGuinness was a destructive influence, a moral disgrace, and a political dead-head.

  • willowfield

    McGuinness didn’t ensure that grammar schools would be axed: he didn’t have the balls. Bizarrely, he advocated a system – the worst of both worlds – where grammar schools remain yet the (relatively) objective means of entry to them would be abolished and replaced by other means such as family connections and postcode.

    This is a very tricky subject. I accept that children of different abilities should be taught in separate classes, but I am unconvinced of ht need to have physically separate schools that promote social division.

    I believe, however, that NI’s socially-divided system of grammar and secondary schools is preferable to the probable alternative: a more acutely socially-divided system of comprehensive and private schools.

    Comprehensive systems don’t work while private systems are permitted to exist alongside them.

  • fair_deal

    For once I’m with willowfield are present system does have problems however the alternatives seem worse.

    I am also startled that the debate about division in schools focuses on social division and separates it from the religious division. Bring back the 1924 Education Bill one secular state system.

    BTW Good piece about Condileeza Rice in the Sunday Times and the importance she places on education on getting her where she did.

  • Davros

    Damn FD- you destroyed your post – do we want more Condi’ Rices ? 😉

  • cg

    Our kind’s should not be labeled as failures at 10 and 11.
    No matter what the alternative it has to be better than the present.

  • Davros

    That’s an emotive term cg, labelled as failures.
    If we run with the idea, why is it ok to label some kids failures at 15 or 16 with formal exams, and why is it right to label some kids failures with marks for homework, or marks for spelling tests in primary school ? Should we abandon all examinations and all tests ?
    All through life we experience selection, be it being chosen for a team in primary school or secondary school, or being selected for a job, or promotion, or being selected by a constituency party to fight the next election.

  • James

    I was talking to two teachers in Derry this October over some really crappy red wine. You guys should really buy more California wines BUT NOT the stompings of Ernst & Julio ferchristsake!

    They were an interesting pair: One of the women was just entering the workforce again after raising a large family and the other was a 26 year old woman with maybe three to four years in the trenches under her belt.

    The older gal started off talking about how she was implementing what she had recently learned and was excited and confident of what lay in store for her in the new career. What I next heard from the younger woman was similar to the Blackboard Jungle rap of the 50’s. The kids she mentored were passed over by the 11+ and knew for certain they had a one way ticket to Palookaville. According to her, they were making damned certain that they raised hell along the way. Their parents were uninterested and disconnected, possibly losers themselves. She, a surprisingly edgy kid, said that she was just there to keep the lid on the dustbin. That, Sluggiepoos, was a juxtaposition.

    This leads me to ask if the academic and vocation tracks are suited to an age when the vocational jobs are not at H&W or Shorts but outsourced to Sri Lanka?

  • Butterknife

    Is the ex-Minister responsable for the signing off of the cheques that helped the education boards overspend?

  • Davros

    As I point out to my Kids – a plasterer earns more per day than a Locum Veterinary Surgeon.

  • Henry94

    Davros

    It depends on the plasterer.

    The biggest problem in talking about education is that people think education systems should be designed with political and ideological objectives in mind.

    Thus socialists think schools like airlines and utilities should be run as state monopolies, capitalists think a darwinian rat race is the best system and tough luck on the losers. Then you have the religions the secularists and the Irish language enthusists all with their own agenda.

    The only people who can be relied on in most cases to want what is in the best interests of the child are the parents. parents should be given the maximum possible choice from a range of options.

    The state should fund pupils equally and the schools should be competing for pupils not the other way around.

    I have become convinced by arguments here and elsewhere that a recovering sectarian society may need to address the issue of denominational education. This should be done by giving funding priority to integrated and non-denominational schools in order to promote the growth of that sector.

  • Davros

    Unless there’s been a huge change since I quit Practice Henry, a Locum vet in London was £125 per day, you wouldn’t get any sort of plasterer for less than £150 per day in London – usual rate was £200.

  • Davros

    Bedtime! Thanks for an enjoyable series of discussions. Slugger at it’s best.

  • cg

    “That’s an emotive term cg, labeled as failures.
    If we run with the idea, why is it ok to label some kids failures at 15 or 16 with formal exams, and why is it right to label some kids failures with marks for homework, or marks for spelling tests in primary school? Should we abandon all examinations and all tests?”

    Failing a child of 10 is totally different than failing a teenager of 15 or 16.

    While still not nice it is totally different from calling a child at 10 a failure. You also decide the school which will affect the rest of their lives at that age. That is much too early as a child is still maturing and developing. To me the 11 plus is tantamount to child abuse.

    It also really pisses me off when unionist politicians go for the 11 plus simply because nationalist politicians go against it.
    If unionist politicians look at their own communities they will see that fewer and fewer Protestants from working class backgrounds are going to university. To me that is a serious problem that needs to be addressed before we leave entire communities behind. It’s about time politicians stop playing politics with education and start doing what’s right for children and their community.

  • willowfield

    Henry94

    parents should be given the maximum possible choice from a range of options.

    What parent is going to “choose” a secondary school if he or she has the option of a grammar school?

    The state should fund pupils equally and the schools should be competing for pupils not the other way around.

    I have become convinced by arguments here and elsewhere that a recovering sectarian society may need to address the issue of denominational education. This should be done by giving funding priority to integrated and non-denominational schools in order to promote the growth of that sector.

    Fund pupils equally, but give priority to integrated schools? Isn’t there a contradiction here?

    You make the mistake of equating state schools with Protestant denominational schools: they are not. They are only predominantly Protestant because of the existence of the Roman Catholic sector. By encouraging the “integrated” sector you actually only serve to make the state sector even less integrated and even more Protestant, because you take even more RC pupils away from it.

  • Ziznivy

    I firmly believe that different types of teaching are needed for different abilities of child and what is needed is a more realistic appreciation of that fact rather than the abolition of grammar schools.

    And while we’re on the subject of edcucation, less of this ludicrous supposition that everyone should be entitled to a university place.

  • Alan

    *By encouraging the “integrated” sector you actually only serve to make the state sector even less integrated and even more Protestant, because you take even more RC pupils away from it.*

    Which is a recipe for doing nothing! I personally would like to see a wholly integrated, wholly secular education system, but it won’t happen. We have to take the victories that we can achieve.

    On Davros’ issue about differing abilities – schools can band pupils of equivalent abilities across key subjects. Banding means that they can move up and down through the bands, so there is an incentive to achieve. Streaming, in which pupils remain in the same group no matter how they develop is wrong, it is also the core of our current system.

    While we may have foibles about not calling pupils failures if they *fail* to pass the 11+, the kids will know it themselves. It is heartbreaking to see the emotional distress when the results come out.

    CG, as someone originally from the Shankill, I share your disquiet about Unionist politicians’ failure to support working class protestant communities on this one, though perhaps from a different perspective.

  • willowfield

    Alan

    Which is a recipe for doing nothing!

    It’s not. What should happen is that state funding should be gradually withdrawn from denominational schools with the aim of funding only integrated (i.e. non-denominational) education. Public funds should not be used to support sectarian segregation.

    I personally would like to see a wholly integrated, wholly secular education system, but it won’t happen. We have to take the victories that we can achieve.

    What victories? While a separate RC system exists with the full support of the state you will never achieve integration.

  • Alan

    *And while we’re on the subject of edcucation, less of this ludicrous supposition that everyone should be entitled to a university place.*

    Or perhaps less of the ludicrous conservative / DUP supposition that we need to deny young people access to university to save taxpayer’s money. If we all became plumbers, the piece rate would collapse!

    I fully support the Government’s position on retaining access to university, and supporting students in real hardship, even if it means loans for most. The future will depend on much higher levels of intellectual skills, less on manual dexterity. The background skills needed for people to compete is a steep upward curve, not a plateau. Politicians need to be selling that to all our people, replacing the shipyard with the schoolyard.

    Any country that cracks that nut will succeed.

  • Ziznivy

    And a system which produces devalued, almost useless degrees in everything from History to Hairdressing will achieve that? Utter rubbish. Further education has been completely devalued.