On those ‘sweeteners’: Chapter 1: Academic Selection

Media outlets are tonight reporting the DUP as boasting that they have saved academic selection, and the Grammar schools with it. The theory goes that, if the British government does a u-turn on its stated intention of bringing into effect the proposed legislation to ban academic selection next month, the decision would require cross-community consensus in the Assembly, which unionists insist would not be forthcoming.
BUT wait a moment. All of this may be true, but the question remains: without the 11 Plus, what will replace it if academic selection is to be retained? And in the process of attempting to find an alternative, unionist parties will likely find the barrier of cross-community consensus being reciprocated.
Like it or not – and personally I’m in the latter category- the 11 Plus provides a clear cut mechanism to achieve academic selection, unlike some of the proposals being floated. One of these includes on-going teacher assessment of individual pupils, to be recorded in individual pupil files and sent to schools for consideration.
I know that the teaching trade unions have indicated they would fiercely resist any such moves on the grounds that they would be a recipe for disaster. Picture it: parents banging down the doors, demanding to know exactly what was being recommended to the Grammar school. Who could guarantee that each child would be treated equally, given the external- and in many cases internal- pressures which would be placed upon teachers to give ‘wee Johnny’ a glowing report?
The other major factor driving the reform debate has been the significant problem of empty school desks, which has meant that previously ‘Grammar’ oriented schools have begun to take in children reaching grades in the 11 Plus that wouldn’t have been sufficient to gain entry to the same schools only a couple of years previous. Right across the north, schools are contemplating closures, mergers and specialisation in specific educational fields in spite of the on-going wrangling about the 11 Plus and the method of transfer.
Like the other ‘sweeteners’ on Water Rates, Rate Capping and Reform of Local Government, this one’s far from over. The likely lesson which will be learnt when the dust settles in the post-March scenario is that the cross-community veto is a two-way sword which will either engender a culture of compromise or lead to a de-stabilising period of gridlock.