It’s about the principle of merit

Professor Tony Gallagher attacked the DUP for wanting to hold on to the 11 plus. He argued it was a barrier to a 21st century education and accused the DUP of playing politics but abandoning their working class voters. However, Sammy Wilson, DUP Education spokesperson, took Gallagher to task pointing it out the DUP wants to maintain academic selection not necessarily the 11 plus and highlights that our present system provides greater social mobility that the English, Scottish and Welsh systems.

  • Continental Drifter

    Well what precisely *does* the DUP want, Sammy?

    And what precisely *did* the DUP get at St Andrews?

  • fair_deal

    They got at St Andrews the retention of academic selection.

  • Percival

    Sammy is right to point out that the present system allows for greater social mobility. I myself come from a working-class background (dad is a painter and decorator, mum is a shop assistant) and by passing the 11+, I was afforded access to an education that would have been totally unavailable on the mainland.

    Does anyone seriously believe that if academic selection is abolished, schools such as Inst., Methody, Royal School Armagh, Portora and even the likes of Grovesnor, will haapily go along with it, or will in fact become private institutions with no working-class access whatsoever?

    Continental

    Presumably if no agreement can be reached on what is to replace the 11+, the default position is the status quo, therefore the DUP have got the maintenance of the SQ?

  • Tampico

    That Tony Gallagher, who has had a great influence over education policy in recent times, feels free to issue such an obviously partisan statement is a sign of why he and others in his cabal of dogmatic educationalists should have nothing to do with determining the method of transfer to post-primary schools in NI.

    Clearly Mr Gallagher is bitter about the demolition job the DUP have done to dogmatic dream.

    Hard cheese Tony. The majority view has won out.

  • Julian Robertson

    Sammy is quite right to point out the benefits of the grammar school system here qand it should be protected.

    Howwever, wishing schools to have the ability to select on academic aptitude does not necessarily mean the 11+ exam – this is simply the current way in which it is done. The majority of people do view this as hardly the best way to do it, even those who support academic selection.

    As to what has been agreed – its not as clear cut as some might have us believe. The 11+ is gone (there is no deafault to the status quo) but nothing has been agreed to replace it. Whatever is proposed, including bringing back the 11+, will require a cross-community vote in the Assembly – so what chance of that then?

    In the meantime, we are hurtling towards 2008 with no identifiable method of transfer at all.

    All you lawyers out there, get ready cos there could be a bonanza for you.

    Hardly ideal for the kids then but sure they’re only pawns in a bigger game aren’t they?

  • joeCanuck

    Don’t worry folks.
    Both my kids passed the 11+ just before we emigrated to Canada. I knew there were no grammar schools in Canada, just high schools to which all children went on to, and i was a bit worried.
    The percentage of kids going on to higher education after graduating from High School here greatly exceeds the number that do so from N.I.
    So, as I said, don’t worry. The brighter children will go on and the less bright will nonetheless get a good education to prepare them for adulthood and for getting an entry level job somewhere.
    Concentrate on developing the economy so that they will have jobs to go to.

  • Nevin

    “What we can have instead is a system which places the key decision points at ages 14 and 16. A system which provides the same range of choice to all pupils, thereby truly allowing them to select the pathways which best fit their aspirations and aptitudes.

    We can provide every child with the same wide range of academic and applied options at 14 and 16 if schools work collaboratively, each contributing its particular strength, tradition and expertise.

    We can and should maintain the academic traditions of the grammar schools as part of these collaborative networks, but in a context where schools are mutually supportive, rather than one where they are obliged to pursue narrow institutional interest.” .. Gallagher (link above)

    This sounds a bit like the Dixon plan which has been running for many years in north Armagh. The Catholic Church opted out and, presumably, some parents opted out by sending their children to grammar schools outside the area.

    The Dixon plan has a junior high school system running for three years and pupils IIRC can then opt for grammar or technical college education. It certainly removes the 11-plus emotional pressure but I don’t know whether or not it improves the educational performance of its ‘clients’.

    PS Does Gallagher have much or any experience of secondary school teaching?

  • I bet this thread will run for a while.

    As for Gallagher, his ilk of educationalists in England have been extolling the virtues of comprehensive education – even when it became clear that children from less privileged backgrounds were suffering.

    Since you’re here, Julian, can you explain why Dave Cameron supports academic selection in Northern Ireland but regards the very thought of it in England with blue murder (excuse the pun)? Why shouldn’t kids in England benefit from academic selection like their Ulster counterparts? (Or perhaps, like the retention of Trident, a focus group didn’t like it?)

  • Ulick

    “This sounds a bit like the Dixon plan which has been running for many years in north Armagh. The Catholic Church opted out and, presumably, some parents opted out by sending their children to grammar schools outside the area.”

    No they didn’t. In the Lurgan area, CCMS include St Paul’s, St Mary’s (junior high schools) and St Michael’s Grammar (senior high school) which accepts students from age 14.

  • Nevin

    Thanks for the correction, Ulick. Are those the only two? Are they both co-ed?

  • Julian Robertson

    Watchman
    “Since you’re here, Julian, can you explain why Dave Cameron supports academic selection in Northern Ireland but regards the very thought of it in England with blue murder ”

    He does actually. What more can I say?

    Don’t confuse the position of not aggressively spreading grammars in England with wishing to see them eradicated.

    I do not pretend to be an expert on the English education structure butthe problem in England I am told by the great and the good higher up in the party is that because the comp system has been running so long in England it is not as simple as just reintroducing grammars.

    I also believe that things are so bad in some ways that there are other priorities to get sorted – like getting kids leaving school who can read. You should also note that the Labour gov is reintroducing streaming within schools so perhaps getting this through is the first step in a long war….

  • Ulick

    Currently St Paul’s takes boys, St Mary’s girls and St Michael’s take both. There are plans to merge the two junior high schools and St Michael’s would also take some students at 14 and 16 from other non-selective CCMS schools in the area such Lismore Comprehensive in Craigavon and Drumcree College, Portadown.

  • Sammy Wilson is right in what he says here, and the ramblings of educationalist ideologues such as the Professor just demonstrate that education does not always being common sense!

  • Nevin

    Thanks, Ulick.

  • Yes, Julian, things really are bad in English state schools. But the point is that Cameron has explicitly ruled out selection as one way of dealing with it. He even raised the old spectre of the 11 Plus at the weekend, like any good lefty, as if you couldn’t have selection without it. Fair enough, he isn’t proposing the end of the surviving grammars. But David Davis planned to make the opening of new grammars party policy, had he been elected. As for the Heir to Blair, like many Tory products of public school over the years, there isn’t much interest in using the grammars as a vehicle for social mobility.

    You should be careful what the “Great and the Good” (sic) in your party tells you. Most of them are pretty mediocre and would sprinkle Polonium-210 on their pheasant rather than take a principled stand on anything.

  • willowfield

    Ludicrous that Gallagher attacks the DUP for supporting academic selection, when Gallagher himself supports selection by parental wealth.

    For all its faults, academic selection is much fairer than Gallagher’s alternative.

  • Julian Robertson

    Watchman

    Plenty to say on this, includng Davis stance and whether it would work / be possible etc etc

    Pity you had to spoil it rather by trotting out a glib comment trying to stereotype everyone in the Party with the pheasant gibe lol lol, yawn yawn. Nice try to update with the polonium reference though please don’t take up scriptwriting.

  • Alan

    I fully support Tony Gallagher’s position on this. DUP have been up the bicycle sheds and around the boilerhouse on alternatives to the 11+. They have rarely seemed sane.

    Consider Sammy’s recent suggestion that individual schools should set their own exams. Kids sitting eleven 11 pluses, rather than one – imagine the cost to the schools of all those appeals and judicial reviews.

    And do you remember the trial by computer which had already been shown to be faulty?

    The current selection system produces generational social immobility for the majority. That is what the Educational debate is about – not what we can do for the brightest pupils.

    If we need to add a funding measure for the brightest kids, then let’s do that = call it the “Mensa Measure”.

    I believe that we can reach agreement on the future of education, but, as in so many other facets of our political life, we may have to wait while the DUP recognises that grandstanding for their own chosen policy only damages children.

  • joeCanuck

    Alan

    I agree. See my post above (#6).
    Ontario also introduced a special program 25 years ago for gifted children to extend their critical thinking skills. They did special projects and got out of school experiences.
    The children were selected for the program based on their teachers assessments and on a poll of their peers.

  • willowfield

    Alan

    The current selection system produces generational social immobility for the majority. That is what the Educational debate is about – not what we can do for the brightest pupils.

    If generational social immobility is a bad thing why are you advocating the scrapping of academic selection in favour of selection by parental wealth? Surely the latter will be worse?

  • pondersomething

    The Tories have explicitly rejected the argument that academic selection ‘boosts social mobility’ – like any form of rationing, it does no such thing.

    This is Willetts at their conference:

    Now there would be a real danger that more academic selection wouldn’t spread opportunities but would entrench advantage. The Sutton Trust have looked at the 200 best secondary schools in the country and have measured the social backgrounds of the children at them. In general across the country 16% of children are on free school meals. In areas where the good schools are 12% of children are on free school meals. In those schools themselves only 3% of children are on free school meals. This includes many grammar schools. It is just not the case that they are as effective a device as we would wish for reaching out to children from deprived areas. If you really want to spread opportunity and advantage you have to look at the opportunities facing much younger children. One study in America quoted by Sue Palmer tried to measure how many different words children from different social backgrounds had heard in conversations with adults by the age of 4. Let me quote from her account of the findings:- ‘On average it appeared that a professional’s child has heard around 50 million words, a working class child 30 million and a welfare child a meagre 12 million.’

    original link to Willetts speech

  • joeCanuck

    So what exactly are you recommending Pondersomething?
    Eugenics? Hearing Aids? Forced sterilization?

  • New Yorker

    One of Northern Ireland’s strategic advantages in the world is a high quality educational system. A key part of that is academic selection of some manner. Do you want to throw away that advantage? That could make you much less competitive in the world aconomy and certainly make you less attractive for high level inward investment. Wouldn’t that be the net effect of only all state schools and schools for the wealthy?

  • Statistician

    What utter nonsense pondersomething.
    Are you really suggesting that someone grouped families into 3 groups, professionsal, working class and welfare. Then they researched these families using statistically significant numbers ( one thousand or so from each group. Then sent out out thousands of researchers (2 shifts) and bilingual, of course, with clickers and clicked each time a different word was used.
    For your information, The Global Language Monitor estimates that there are slightly less than 1 million words in the english language.

  • joeCanuck

    OK New Yorker

    Seeing the economic success of the USA over the last century, please tell us all about your academic selection process and how it has benefitted your country.

  • willis

    JoeCanuck

    No. Actually I think that he is suggesting turning off SkySports and having a conversation with your kids.

  • joeCanuck

    I’d be most surprised if most welfare families could afford Sky TV. Or perhaps welfare benefits take that into account as an essential need.

  • willis

    New Yorker

    I don’t know if you have noticed, but Northern Ireland is not a key player in the Global aconemy. Take a good look at the Irish Republic with an education system fair to all and decide which side of the border is a ‘Global’ player.

  • miss fitz

    At the risk of getting shouted at, can someone help me please? Does anyone know if Brian Kennaway actually resigned from the OO? He doesnt make it clear in his book, or if he does, I;m on a deadline and dont have time to find it. Thanks!

  • willis

    Miss Fitz

    Check your inbox

    Willis

  • willowfield

    As far as I know he resigned from the Education Committee but not from the Order itself.

  • joeCanuck

    Not sure Miss Fitz but looks like he just resigned from their education committee.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/northern_ireland/791859.stm
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/Northern_Ireland/Story/0,,1762384,00.html

  • miss fitz

    Cheers guys, thats all very helpful. Genius idea Willis, delighted with that!

    The book says he resigned from the education committee but its not clear about his position in the Order. I can get out of it by avoiding it entirely!!

    Thanks again……. head back down

  • willis

    Anyhow

    Back to the debate

    “Professor Gallagher also rather conveniently forgot to check the statistics on the percentage of children from working class areas in Northern Ireland that get to University under our system of academic selection.”

    Sammy Wilson

    This is a fundamental question.

    If it really is the case that academic selection at 11 results in the currently high proportion of students from disadvantaged areas in Northern Ireland going to University then the system is worth defending.

    However

    Is Sammy using the proportion of disadvantaged students at Queens and UU as a basis for his thesis?

    Surely this has something to do with mobility?

    If a large proportion of well-heeled students choose the bright lights of Edinburgh, Newcastle and Manchester rather than Belfast, what will that do to Queens and UU?

  • New Yorker

    JoeCanuck

    In the US there are academic tests for admission to the best secondary schools. In NY City such tests are not only for private schools but also for the best public schools. The tests are taken when students are 12/13 years of age.

    Willis

    NI has attracted some major international companies but not as many as the ROI. NI has many problems but not the educational system. Are you really sure the educational system in the ROI is fair to all? There are private schools with hefty fees.

    My point is that in the rush to make education fair for all in NI you may destroy a system that produces excellent graduates at university level and thus reduce attractiveness for inward investment for high level jobs.

  • Alan

    “My point is that in the rush to make education fair for all in NI you may destroy a system that produces excellent graduates at university level and thus reduce attractiveness for inward investment for high level jobs. ”

    What complete and utter balderdash !!

    Sammy’s ( and McCartney’s ) figures on University entrance do not count any student who leaves NI to go to University. So it is a half-truth meant to avoid the reality of discrimination.

    As for Gallagher wishing to reserve quality education for the wealthy, that is another half truth. This argument is constructed from the possibility that schools might introduce proximity to the school as a tie breaker. That would be up to the school to introduce, not the Education Minister. Many popular schools already use a system based on initial letters of family names.

    We should be basing our political decisions on our children’s futures on hard evidence, not contesting the issue with inadequate and misleading rhetorical flourishes.

    The fact is that we do produce wonderful results for a tiny minority of pupils. No-one is arguing against that. The paradox is that we are also failing huge numbers of children. Who are more important? The answer to that is that neither the bright nor the disadvantaged are more important than the other – so lets treat both equally – according to their needs.

  • The Watchman

    Sorry, Julian, that my jibe (that’s spelled with a “j”, by the way) didn’t meet with your approval. Mind you, even a limp gag from Yours Truly is still wittier than anything from your Front Bench empty vessels. Can I have another go. “Tories win Assembly seat in North Down” – how’s that for a geg?

    Perhaps you can tell us whether you agree with the rubbish from leading Cameroon wonk Nicholas Boles in today’s Torygraph that grammar schools in England did not adequately advance social mobility? Just why are the upper echelons of your party so hostile to academic selection? Is it because most of them were privately educated, plan to educate their children privately, and have no real personal interest in the subject?

    Oh and if you think David Davis’s plans for a grammar school expansion are so impractical, do you mind telling us why?

  • 50 million words. If we assume (based on “one thousand… two thousand…”) that you say about 2 words a second, that’s 25 million seconds of speech, or 289 days of continuous speech, over four years of life. Given that the blighters must spend some time sleeping, the study probably refers to the amount of conversation (or talk radio) the kids hear, rather than the range of vocabulary.

    But that’s a red herring. It (along with all the other posters here) utterly fails to indicate why selection by parental income would “entrench advantage” less than selection based on ability of the pupil. On the face of it, giving brighter kids access to better education would seem to promote social mobility.

    And what’s so egalitarian about using parental wealth (whether measured by postcode and cost of house, or by affordability of school fees) as the means of selecting pupils for better schools? Or are we talking about somehow rotating kids round groups of schools so they all get a turn in the crap ones?

    Perhaps what we need is some kind of, er, assisted places scheme, whereby gifted kids can get access to high quality education? I wonder if that’s been tried anywhere 😉

  • willowfield

    Paul

    Those are the questions the pro-Costello crowd are afraid to answer.

    I’ve posed them several times on this thread and been ignored.

  • Alan

    “Those are the questions the pro-Costello crowd are afraid to answer.”

    Because they are non-questions. Your assumption is that the selective system is only good when it has been shown in report after report to be hugely damaging to a shamefully large percentage of children.

    I have answered the other non-issue point about selection by wealth in previous posts. You really are trivialising a crucial developmental issue that will impact on children and our society as a whole.

    The only reason that assisted places were required was that the then Tory government had failed state schools. Look at the figures on high achievement on Grades A-C at GSCE under the Tories in 1997 only 75 schools were making the grade, in 2005 550 schools had reached that standard.

    The key to this issue is to make every school a good school.

  • willis

    I’ve just been skimming thru the Leitch Report published today.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/6209212.stm

    Page 105 of the complete report contains an interesting graph

    http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/media/523/43/leitch_finalreport051206.pdf

    It shows that the N.I. workforce has the worst qualifications imbalance of the four countries of the UK. Guess which is best? Scotland.

    Ok, Ok lots of caveats I’m sure, but it still shows that our education system needs to be improved.

  • New Yorker

    Alan

    The fact is that some students are better than others. It’s not the school but the abilities and dispositions of the student. Dumbing down is not a good policy.

  • Hmm…

    New Yorker
    Who said anything about ‘dumbing down’? The problem with Northern Ireland’s educational system is that it is failing to give all our children a genuinely equal opportunity to develop their talents and abilities. Selection as practised here simply isn’t selecting the talented.

  • kensei

    “Who said anything about ‘dumbing down’? The problem with Northern Ireland’s educational system is that it is failing to give all our children a genuinely equal opportunity to develop their talents and abilities. Selection as practised here simply isn’t selecting the talented.”

    Or helping the less talented achieve their potential. You don’t have to be brilliant to succeed, and they also deserve a good education.

  • willowfield

    ALAN

    Because they are non-questions. Your assumption is that the selective system is only good when it has been shown in report after report to be hugely damaging to a shamefully large percentage of children.

    “… the selective system is only good …”: I’m not sure that makes sense. Anyway, you miss the point. You are advocating a selective system, so the comparison is not between a selective system and a non-selective system, it is between a system based on academic selection and a system based on selection by parental wealth. It seems quite obvious to me that the former, for all its faults, is the fairer of the two.

  • Hmm…

    …so the comparison is not between a selective system and a non-selective system, it is between a system based on academic selection and a system based on selection by parental wealth. It seems quite obvious to me that the former, for all its faults, is the fairer of the two.

    But this is what’s at issue: we’re just not faced with a choice between selection on academic ability and parental wealth because the 11+ is implicitly operating selection by parental wealth already.

    The problem is to design a system that minimises the impact of parental wealth and gives all children a genuinely equal opportunity to develop their academic abilities. Scrapping the 11+ will hardly eliminate the unfair influence of parental wealth on educational opportunity, but it’s obvious that it will reduce it. The gains will not be significantly offset if a handful of grammar schools going private (and the market is such that it will never be more than a handful)

  • willowfield

    Hmmm

    But this is what’s at issue: we’re just not faced with a choice between selection on academic ability and parental wealth because the 11+ is implicitly operating selection by parental wealth already.

    To a degree, but not as blatantly or explicitly as the new proposed system.

    Under the current system an intelligent son of a pauper living in a housing estate far from a grammar school can access the school by passing an academic test. Under the new system said child would not be able to access the school because his parents could not afford to buy a house within its catchment area. Meanwhile the stupid son of rich parents will be able to attend said school.

    Scrapping the 11+ will hardly eliminate the unfair influence of parental wealth on educational opportunity, but it’s obvious that it will reduce it.

    It’s not obvious that it will reduce it. On the contrary, it will increase it by making it the primary determinant of entry to a school. At least at the minute there is the opportunity for the children of poor parents to get to a good school. Under the new system, only those with parents rich enough to afford houses near the good schools will be able to go.