Grammars take a wide range of grades…

The Belfast Telegraph reported last week that Northern Ireland’s Grammar schools are taking a range of abilities, from A to D grades. Interestingly the two schools they highlight at the top of the article draw kids from the same catchment area: Sullivan Upper which only takes A grades and Campbell College, which takes as little as a D. The former is a state Grammar and the latter a private school. However several Grammar heads have been at pains to point out that “88.7% of pupils accepted into grammar schools have obtained A or B grades in the 11-plus, the grades awarded to the top 35% of those eligible to sit the test”.

  • slug

    Campbell College is a fee paying school. It really isn’t a grammar. They are rich, but thick.

  • Nathan

    I marvelled when Stephen Copeland, one of our esteemed commentators, told me that he attended Campbell College in his early years. Perhaps he can shed some light on this – have things gone belly-up ever since you departed from that educational establishment.

  • Hugh Green

    Any word on what the breakdown is between A and B grades?

  • John

    It’s good to see a COMPREHENSIVE approach by our grammar schools!!!

  • slug

    Nathan – Cambell College has always been thus. It is not a selective grammar, it is a fee paying school for people who fail the 11+.

    It is socially prestigeous (because it shows you have money) but it is not intellectually prestigeous all all (quite the reverse).

  • Nevin

    [i]They are rich, but thick[/i]

    Well, what do you expect from the cream of society?

  • Nathan

    Cambell College has always been thus. It is not a selective grammar, it is a fee paying school for people who fail the 11+.

    It is socially prestigeous (because it shows you have money) but it is not intellectually prestigeous all all (quite the reverse).

    Has this always been the case, slug. Fergus Pyle, the former editor of the Irish Times, was educated in Campbell College. He ended up in an intellectually prestigious institution (i.e. TCD) afterwards, so it just goes to show that failure in the 11+ doesn’t really affect the Prod toffs much.

  • Shore Road Resident

    Sure Martin McGuinness doesn’t even have any O-levels and he ended up education minister – so apparently academic failure doesn’t affect republican toffs much either.

  • Animus

    Failure in the 11+ needn’t be a burden on the toffs, they’ll do well regardless. It’s the average to above average kid who can’t afford Campbell College who misses out on the social benefits of mixing with the more well-heeled and improving prospects.

    Anyone who seriously thinks the debate about grammar schools is about maintaining excellence in education is either idealistic, deluded, or a bit thick themselves.

  • Hugh Green

    top 35% of those eligible to sit the test

    Are we to infer that there is a difference between the top 35% of entrants, and the top 35% of those eligible to sit the test?

  • Occasional Commentator

    Coincidentally I was reading this essay on science and education by Richard Feynmann when I came across this thread. It’s a damning indictment of the way the education “establishment” hides the fact that their fancy notions have never been shown to work.

  • willis

    The really interesting story here is that the Telegragh seems to be changing it’s editorial line from acceptance of the Grammar Lobby’s view to one of much greater sceptecism. Interesting that Wilson and McNarry seem to be caught on the back foot.

  • Yes, we can all laugh at Campbell and, although personally I’m always the first to put the boot in, let’s remember the real point. As I’ve pointed out here on Slugger recently, the people who will lose out if/when NI goes comprehensive will be those from modest backgrounds. Selection creates the nearest thing to a level playing field that we’re ever going to get. Comprehensivisation simply means selection by postcode, a reality that seems to be beyond many of its advocates.

    Occasional Commentator

    Melanie Phillips’s book All Must Have Prizes is a savage indictment on the “education” establishment of GB.

  • Jonny

    Err – Sullivan and Campbell are both Voluntary Grammar Schools.

    Any grammar school is allowed to charge fees for pupils whose parents will pay and who they therefore don’t get govt funding for.

  • willis

    Watchman

    Re Postcode Selection. Is Inst not the closest school to the Shankill. Will that not improve their chances?

  • Voluntary Grammar

    Campbell College is not a “private school”, it is a “voluntary Grammar School”, which means it is run by a board of governors, and is funded directly by the Department of Education for Northern Ireland. Voluntary Grammar Schools are, however, allowed to charge a fee of £110-120 each year. Campbell College, is allowed to charge £497–£575 for some reason. RBAI also charges more – although just £230. Compare this with Blackrock College (Dublin) which charges €4300, or Fettes College (Edinburgh) which charges £3115–£4629. Campbell College has money, but it is important to keep these things in perspective.

  • jonny

    Campbell and RBAI receive no capital funding from DE so are allowed to charge higher fees. These schools receive the same per-pupil funding as every grammar/secondary school in th country.

    But any voluntary grammar can charge whatever fees they want for pupils they don’t claim govt funding for.

  • Willis,

    I suspect Inst will go private rather than lose its academic ethos, not least because “Academical” actually appears in its name.

    As for improving life prospects, I know of an excellent grammar school in London’s Hackney that was turned into a comprehensive in the 1960’s and ended up being so bad that it was shut and replaced by a city academy. As for the Shankill there are other issues affecting educational attainment, more salient than having Inst up the road.

  • willis

    Watchman

    All you say is true, yet you continue to parrot this nonsense about “postcode lottery”.

    For a proper assessment of the English experience you have to look outside London and the South East.

    As far as the Government’s proposals go, I am deeply depressed by both the Ministers and The DUP/UUP. Both sides would rather trade spin and misinformation than address the read issues.

    So much for an education debate!

  • Willis,

    I will reply to you at the end of my working day.

  • Occasional Commentator

    There are thick kids, average kids and smart kids, and everything in between and many ways to measure these things. The fair thing to do is to give them all a reasonable and equal chance of reaching their potential. This means giving them all a different education.

    Trying to give everybody the same education is just as daft as forcing every doctor to give the same prescription to everybody, no matter whether the patient has cancer or has just been involved in a major car accident.

    If the schools for the less gifted were given good managers, teachers, funding and discipline, then sensible parents will be queuing up to take them out of the more academically advanced schools. Most parents want the education that best suits their children.

    The current arguments over comprehensives versus selection are a bit of a sideshow.

  • Reader

    willis: yet you continue to parrot this nonsense about “postcode lottery”
    Since the Shankill postcode is not going to change, what he said surely still stands. Whether Inst relocates, or goes private, or collapses into a bog standard comprehensive, the problem with education on the Shankill will not be fixed – bricks and mortar won’t fix the underlying issues.
    Postcode Selection will happen. House prices will start to shift once the changes are confirmed. City centre schools will start to decline, schools in the suburbs will go into a feedback loop of improvement or decline depending on their initial catchment area. Instead of academic selection, pupils will go to schools based on their parents’ ability and willingness to buy houses in the vicinity of the better schools.
    How it that an improvement on the selective system? And how could you stop that from happening?

  • Willis,

    Reader is correct in what he says. You assert that “postcode lottery” is only confined to London and the south-east. Well, Ruth Kelly didn’t believe that, or else she would not have floated the idea of bussing children into comparatively distant schools as if we were all living in Alabama, before being told that it was a buck stupid idea. Before her, David Blunkett took steps to rezone some catchment areas to prevent the emergence of secret grammar schools.

    I don’t think I’ve used the “postcode lottery” term because I believe that it’s misleading. I restate my previous argument: that the well-off can get a decent comprehensive education for their offspring simply by using their financial leverage to live in a good catchment area. There is no reason why this self-interest should be confined to London and the south-east. As Reader asks, how can anyone stop that process happening. I suspect Inst is well aware that it would be particularly vulnerable as a city centre school to it degrading into a bog-standard comprehensive and will choose becoming private as a means of retaining its academic ethos.

    On the subject of the Tele’s report, it does seem misleading to imply that those schools are being less than honest about their intake. But it’s also true that many of the grammar schools have undermined their own rationale for existing as selectively academic by letting in people who don’t really belong there. I know from my own experience that there were people in my grammar school who weren’t particularly academic.

    We need more selection, including academic, not less – not just schools choosing pupils but the other way round as well, as Occasional Commentator suggests.

  • willis

    Watchman, OC & Reader

    I didn’t suggest that Postcode Selection only occurs in the South East and London, I said if you want to judge the English system you should look outside that area as it is heavily skewed by Independent Schools and the mix of selective and non-selective areas.

    I perfectly accept that some movement may happen, but consider this: How many farmers are going to sell up and move closer to a good school? Are Irish medium or integrated schools going to use postcode selection?

    I have listened for at least 10 years to opponents of change saying that the kids on the Shankill need help, better Secondary schools etc. Has it happened?

    It seems that there is a lobby determined to protect Catholic schools and a lobby determined to protect selective State/Prod schools and no-one prepared to stand up for the rest.

  • Mac an Aistrigh

    Campbell was always a comprehensive school, subject to class and money. When I was there, about 30% passed the eleven plus (or ‘qualy’) but that made little difference. Nevertheless, there were some very bright pupils.

  • willis

    And I bet more than 30% got decent O levels!

  • Alan

    The detail in the Telegraph’s figures is a broadside against the pro 11+ Lobby. It slices the legs from underneath it.

    On these figures, the current system does not select according to academic ability. 500 or so young people with C2’s and D’s gained entrance to grammar schools last year. Why ? Because of the existing post code lottery in which, if you live in an area with reducing numbers of young people, you will get a grammar school place.

    Any new post code lottery will be introduced because schools use it as a tie breaker for allocations, not because of the order going through parliament.

    What I find shameful is that a school like Inst – which I attended from home at the top of the Shankill – seems intent on turning it’s back on the radical tradition from which it springs. They are happily joining the “black man” across the street.

    Look at a list of those who worked to raise money for the establishment of the school and you will find names associated with the Linenhall Library, Clifton House, the Harpers Festival and the United men. What has the vision of those leading the school these days been reduced to? Arguing for an academic selection that, on the basis of these figures,is nothing but a chimaera ?

    What is the argument to be now?

  • Puzzled

    Question has to be does the Comprehensive system work in England, is it a resounding success. Not really.

    Does the school influence house prices. YES

    Why do parents select the Church of England Schools, because the local comprehensive stinks?

    Who are strongest advocates of comprehensives, lower middle class parents who are concerned about their children’s ability?

    Will sending all children from the Shankill and Sandy Row to Inst mean they all suddenly get 4 A grades at A level? Not a chance.

    Do all children have equal academic ability? If NO then why are we proposing the same education for all?

    If some Grammar Schools are selecting low grades does it simply mean that some should be demoted?

    Ever sat in a class where some of the children take forever to grasp the obvious?

    This needs proper debate about the very real short comings in education and less of the ideologically driven rhetoric.

  • Reader

    Alan: Because of the existing post code lottery in which, if you live in an area with reducing numbers of young people, you will get a grammar school place.
    But it’s a mighty leap of reasoning to suggest that the fix is to get rid of all grammar schools. It’s the grammar schools that can still fill their seats.
    There seems to be over-capacity in almost every educational sector here (except integrated schools). It doesn’t help that the system is so fragmented, but a better fix is to merge some single-sex schools rather than losing (or faking!) academic selection.

  • Stephen Copeland

    Nathan,

    I marvelled when Stephen Copeland, one of our esteemed commentators, told me that he attended Campbell College in his early years.

    Why did you marvel? Because I am able to put together a coherent sentence, despite my ‘rich but thick’ education?

    Fergus Pyle, the former editor of the Irish Times, was educated in Campbell College. He ended up in an intellectually prestigious institution (i.e. TCD) afterwards

    That was my trajectory too. Lucky Trinity provided the intellectual challenge that Campbell lacked.

    Slug,

    It is socially prestigeous (because it shows you have money) but it is not intellectually prestigeous all all (quite the reverse).

    I don’t know what it is like now, but when I was there, there was nothing wrong with the ability of the kids. Even the level of the formal education was quite good – in my day Campbell used to get some of the best results in the UK for O and A levels.

    Mac an Aistrigh,

    When I was there, about 30% passed the eleven plus (or ‘qualy’) but that made little difference. Nevertheless, there were some very bright pupils.

    I did my 11+ when I was in Cabin Hill (the Campbell prep school) before I went to Campbell (since it was only a secondary school in those days), but the pass rate there was considerably higher than 30% – well over 90% IIRC. Then again, since the 11+ results didn’t actually matter (only your ability to pay the fees did), maybe there was an element of institutional cover-up or personal truth-manipulation going on.

    Willis,

    And I bet more than 30% got decent O levels!

    Again, standards may have slipped, but in my day almost everyone got good O and A levels, and almost all went on to university.

    However, to my unceasing amazement, almost none of the kids I knew in Campbell have ever gone on to do anything of note. It appeared to have produced a generation of mediocrity (myself perhaps included). Northern Ireland is a fairly small pond, so they would be noticed, yet they are largely absent from the top of the heap in politics, economics, culture, law, you name it …

  • Alan

    *But it’s a mighty leap of reasoning to suggest that the fix is to get rid of all grammar schools. It’s the grammar schools that can still fill their seats.*

    For some reason this reminds me that Sammy Wilson said in the Tele that there would be a problem if grammars had to start offering SEN support to pupils. Leaving aside the issue of why that would be a problem, the DUP are clearly in the same camp as those in the GBA who want to reduce the numbers of places available in grammar schools to reflect the actual number of A Grades. The question that has to be asked is which schools will you “demote” to secondary status. Oh, and how you would sell that to the electorate.

  • willis

    I suspect that if the Govt allowed Integrated schools to expand until everyone who wanted a place could get one, similarly with Irish medium schools. If they allowed the Maintained sector to go Comprehensive as it wants to. The State grammars could still use selection to fill their places and the rest could go to “Sammy schools” since that is what the DUP wants, a loyalist underclass forever angry with the world, unable to understand why Poles can speak better English than them

  • Alan says “The detail in the Telegraph’s figures is a broadside against the pro 11+ Lobby.” Well, I’m not part of that lobby and even those in favour of selection want an alternative to the 11+. So why do the supporters of comprehensives try to muddy the water by using terms such as “pro 11+ Lobby”?

    It’s also specious to use the fact that some do presently attend grammar schools who really should not as an argument for comprehensives. The better response would be to work towards a genuine level playing field for everyone in which selection would operate.

    As for Inst turning its back on its radical past, those who founded the school did so to create an academic institution that could be open to all, not what we now call a bog standard comprehensive. Sadly it may only be able to retain its academic ethos by becoming independent and placing access beyond the means of those from Alan’s Shankill background. I fear it is a price worth paying.

    I didn’t know that Alan was a fellow Instonian from the Shankill. My dad came from a humble west Belfast background and getting to Inst helped ensure that his children grew up with more prosperity. I think it’s sad that someone who may well have greatly gained from grammar schooling wants to see the same opportunities snuffed out for those in the Shankill today.

    Yes, far too few from places like that get the chance to benefit from academic education but that is why we should try to widen access, not tell everyone that they can have any school they like so long as it’s comprehensive.

  • willis

    Watchman

    “Yes, far too few from places like that get the chance to benefit from academic education but that is why we should try to widen access, not tell everyone that they can have any school they like so long as it’s comprehensive.”

    Right then. How?

  • Reader

    willis: Right then. How?
    (1) Continuous assessment, (2) Transfers possible in years subsequent to first selection, (3) High impact education plans for deprived or depressed areas.

  • willis

    Reader

    I’m glad that you are concerned about this and accept that the present system has failed.

    I disagree with you and OC and Watchman because you are characterising the changes in an extreme way, as if lessons had not been learned through 40 years of Comprehensive Education.

    I think it is fair to describe Ulster schools as a success but the system as a failure.

  • Alan

    “It’s also specious to use the fact that some do presently attend grammar schools who really should not as an argument for comprehensives. *

    I’m not arguing for comprehensives – I’m arguing that every school should be a good school. I’ll remind you that it is Sammy W and the GBA who keep raising the issue.

    On bolstering the secondaries – well, that has been worked on for 40 years. Millions have been sunk into the issue. It won’t work because the key fracture line is the result of selection. Its baleful influence distroys the good work in the grammar and secondary sectors.

    *As for Inst turning its back on its radical past, those who founded the school did so to create an academic institution that could be open to all, not what we now call a bog standard comprehensive.*

    So you agree that the school should support the Order as it proposes ending discrimination and is determined to retain academic education. There is certainly no intention to close grammar schools.

  • Nathan

    Stephen,

    I marvelled at how someone so unstuffy and seemingly outward looking as yourself could have ever attended such an educational establishment, what with its public school ethos.

  • Stephen Copeland

    Nathan,

    I marvelled at how someone so unstuffy and seemingly outward looking as yourself could have ever attended such an educational establishment, what with its public school ethos.

    Are you familiar with its ethos? My own thoughts are that, in some way, the suffocatingly anti-intellectual nature of the place triggered in me a counter-reaction. The fact that I went from there to a genuinely liberal educational establishment (TCD) probably made the contrast too great to ignore.

    I sincerely hope that Campbell has changed since I left, because it was a real case-study in petty snobbery, petty b1gotry, and narrowmindedness. The one point I return to, time and time again (and it is one that the school should also seriously reflect on), is that Campbell produces almost no-one who subsequently stands out in any field of endeavour. That was true even when its formal educational standards were high, and it appears to be still true today. The school took in the kids of the high-achievers in (Protestant) Northern Ireland, but managed to mould them only into small-town accountants or solicitors. I can think of much less well-endowed schools that have a far superior track record. Before some-one mentions CS Lewis as an Old Campbellian, bear in mind that (a) he was there for only 2 terms, and (b) he apparently detested the place.

  • Alan,

    “I’m not arguing for comprehensives – I’m arguing that every school should be a good school. I’ll remind you that it is Sammy W and the GBA who keep raising the issue …

    “There is certainly no intention to close grammar schools.”

    I’m afraid you’re dissembling. Abolish academic selection and what are now grammar schools automatically become comprehensive. That’s a pretty obvious point – what else could they be?

    Oh, and if selection really is the “key fracture line” then why did the abolition of selection in England herald not improvement in schooling but decline that is still ongoing?

    As for the Order ending “discrimination”, I am tired of repeating the same point: namely that no government can legislate to prevent middle class parents exploiting a comprehensive system. Such parents can effectively segregate their children by moving house. Support comprehensives if you like, but at least answer the arguments, instead of parroting cliches.

  • Nathan

    Stephen

    As a southerner, I’ve hardly heard of the place, apart from the time when I read a discussion about its ethos through slugger, quite a while back actually.

    From what your saying then, it looks like the public schools in the south are better performers when it comes to producing the high-flyers in Irish society e.g the likes of St Columbas which has produced Ivan Yates, Alan Ruddock, Mr Justice Barron and Prof Robert Heuston amongst others

  • Stephen Copeland

    Nathan,

    … it looks like the public schools in the south are better performers …

    The schools in the south aren’t actually ‘public schools’, but I know what you mean. In fact, if you look at almost any school it will (or should) have produced someone who stands out from the crowd – look at Synge Street CBS for example, it is hardly a privileged area and yet its allumni are visible all over the place. The same is true of all sorts of ordinary schools. Campbell, however, despite having the ‘cream of Ulster’ at its disposal, seems to have done nothing with them! Now it is obvious that merely having rich parents doesn’t actually make you any way special, but one would think that a combination of good nutrition, well qualified teachers, discipline, a supportive home environment, etc, would have had some effect, but this doesn’t appear to have been the case. Maybe the real key to success in later life is to have a slight hunger early on, which gives you a keener desire to get ahead. Campbellians are usually privileged, and traditionally could look forward to inheriting the family linen mill or large farm, so perhaps never tried very hard.

  • willis

    Don’t forget that the best performing LEA in England (Isles of Scilly) is fully Comprehensive. Ok it is small and rural.

    Look, I understand the desire to protect all that is good in Ulster schools, but it is the quality and quantity of good teachers that has made the best schools great, not selection.

    Of course there are students who are not academic and who only desire to annoy other people but thankfully they can get work in politics.

    You are right to point to ‘Mad Mel’ Phillips’ critique of English Progressivism. Many students did indeed miss out on a decent education because of political dogmatism. But hey that happened here too, though for different reasons.

    I’m an engineer and therefore by conviction, a pragmatist. Different pupils develop at different rates. By 14 students have a good idea of what they want and are capable of, don’t destroy some of them at 11 for the sake of dogmatism.

    As to the investment necessary turn round the Shankill and Inner East Belfast, perhaps the best thing to do is follow the wisdom of the UVF/UDA. If Madden and Finucane are the best solicitors, perhaps the Christian Brothers should take over education?

  • idunnomeself

    seems a strange place to talk about Campbell, but here I go..

    Derek Bell, one of the greatest traditional musicians ever, went to Campbell.

    My experience was that if the local kids got an A they were sent to Sullivan. If they got anything else they went to Campbell. So unless you were one of a few who wanted to go anyway (maybe you were good at rugby, or wanted to board, or had come from a public school background) you could go to a more academic school which was cheaper- like Sullivan or Methody.

    But Sullivan has even less high achieving famous past pupils.

    So I’d have to ask what schools can you tell me that do have famous Alumni?? Bangor Grammar and St Columbas? What schools did our judges go to? what about the senior civil servants, university professors or captains of industry? I just don’t know. I know about sportsmen and musicians a bit better, but these are not the talents that Grammar schools are meant to develop.. and they get famous a few years out of school so you often hear more about it.

  • “By 14 students have a good idea of what they want and are capable of, don’t destroy some of them at 11 for the sake of dogmatism.”

    That has been my point all along: selection with entry and exit points to ensure that everyone can benefit from the branch of education best suited to their needs. The challenge is to make selection operate more fairly, not to copy an English system that fails those who most need good schooling to escape from modest backgrounds.

  • willis

    I’m glad we are agreed on ends, if not means. There is much much more wrong with the state of education in parts of England than the Comprehensive system. Yet overall it still serves the least able better than selection.

  • Paul Haslam

    I don’t know if the Tele printed the letter below but it might of interest to readers of this column.
    I was very pleased to read that Sammy Wilson MP, and presumably quite a lot of the pro-grammar lobby, said that the grammar admissions statistics, published in the Belfast Telegraph recently, make it more difficult to argue that grammar schools are all about selection. I am really surprised that he wasn’t aware that grammar schools have been and are becoming more and more comprehensive in their intakes. How the grammar schools are going to sort this out, in his words, is a very good question. Will, for example, the number of grammar school places be considerably reduced? However, there are more fundamental questions that need to be asked by the grammar school lobby. What is meant by a grammar school education? What proportion of pupils should be going to grammar schools? If they are to survive, how do we deal with the issues the variation in provision by gender, area and tradition? How will they differ from non-grammar schools? How will they deal with the new entitlement curriculum? Do we need grammar schools in the future? Etc., etc.

    The statistics produced show some fascinating details. The classic one is that of Campbell College where over 70% of the intake has a grade B2 or less and that there are more pupils with grades D and C2 than with A and B1 – a comprehensive intake if ever I saw one. The only amazing thing is that it did not take any ‘Others’. Is this an example of informed parental choice or one of class and social networking? Its results at GCSE hardly reflect that of a grammar school.

    In terms of Board areas there is a range of proportions of grammar schools with an intake of grade As from 57% to 77% and this ranges from 20% to 100% for grammar schools as a whole! 40% of the grammar schools have intakes with less than 75% grades A and B1. Yes, these statistics are truly a minefield for the grammar school lobby.

  • willis

    Out of interest.

    Did Lord Laird pass the 11+?

    What were his O level grades?

  • bertie

    Are there any schools at all west of the Bann?