Nature and vacuums – redux

In the Belfast Telegraph, Kathryn Torney reports that the Department of Education has confirmed that

“post-primary schools will be able to set their own admissions criteria – which can include the results of academic tests – if, as expected, a restored Assembly fails to agree on a way forward.”

That shouldn’t come as news to anyone paying attention.. or reading Slugger on a regular basis.. but it seems that some of our politicians still don’t do that..
From the Belfast Telegraph

[The DUP’s Sammy] Wilson said that the assurance that schools could set their own criteria was secured during the St Andrews talks.

“There has now been confirmation that schools will be able to do their own thing if there are no centrally agreed arrangements for 2009,” he said.

“We would not want this to be a permanent arrangement but at least there will not be the chaos people feared because schools will be able to set their own criteria. This can be used as a safeguard if people decide to stick their heels in and go for no agreement. That is one reason we asked for it.”

Sinn Fein’s education spokesman, Barry McElduff, revealed that the possibility of schools setting their own admissions criteria was “news to me”.

“I am very concerned and will be seeking clarification from Maria Eagle’s office on this issue,” he said.

“Whether it is computer adaptive testing or school entrance exams, I am opposed to academic selection by the front door or back door.”

UUP education spokesman, David McNarry, said that he could not tolerate a situation where schools would be left to set their own admissions criteria.

“I feel it is totally unprofessional for the department to leave schools to sort out the mess they have created,” he said.

“There would just be a free for all and it would create more confusion for parents and lead to pupils being caught in a whirlwind.

“There is also the risk of court action if parents are not satisfied with a school’s decision.”

The SDLP’s education spokesman, Dominic Bradley, said: “I think it would be a total mess if schools set their own criteria and it would be much more confusing for parents, schools and pupils than even the present situation.”

A spokesman for the Department of Education said: “If a restored Executive and Assembly cannot agree on new arrangements or on the content of new admissions criteria regulations, each school would have to determine its own criteria.

These could include academic selection, on a basis chosen by the school. In the interests of the children and their parents, there is a clear expectation that the Assembly will work to end the uncertainty about future arrangements as soon as possible and ensure that an effective admissions system is put in place.”[added emphasis]

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  • Pete Baker

    Perhaps I should have highlighted some of the politicians’ comments…

  • Alan

    So DUP policy is for kids to have to study for 6 or 7 separate tests rather than one. The fact that none of the tests will provide an answer to the problems in education is of course something to which the DUP is wholly oblivious – or should that be careless ?

    After Iris’s irrational comments on integration earlier in the week, you really do have to wonder if the DUP are competent to trust with our childrens’ futures.

  • Pete Baker


    Actually I was more interested in the fact that some of the politicians quoted in the report hadn’t realised that this could happen.. despite the fact that it was obviously possible.

    Btw.. I know you don’t want any academic selection at all, but there are other scenarios to the multiple systems you suggest.. either the schools co-operate to agree a common approach.. or the Assembly parties compromise by allowing academic selection as an option available to schools.. but they also specify which method of testing they can use – or even allow the schools to view the Pupil Profiles.

  • willis

    As you say Pete

    “That shouldn’t come as news to anyone paying attention..”

    If my child was in P6 I’d be a bit less than impressed.

    Still there is a lot of growing up to do. I know you don’t want this thread to turn into another rantfest about selection but consider this quote from the ex-head of the Civil Service, ex BBC Governor and all round wise man.

    From today’s Newsletter

    “Our aim must be to achieve the best possible “match” between pupil and receiving school, within a differentiated system offering both more academic and more vocational emphases, both aspiring to excellence. In the longer term we can expect to see a grammar system where two thirds of the subjects taught would be academic and a third vocational, alongside a parallel system where two thirds would be vocational and one third academic.
    Those different pathways ought to enjoy parity of esteem.
    If you can look to a future where two such streams do enjoy parity of esteem, you then ask the question how do you decide whether a son or daughter is better suited to one stream or the other? That’s what we are trying to debate now.”

    Fine words “Parity of esteem”

    So, are they proposing a test for vocational ability?


    Are they proposing a test 50% academic 50% vocational?


    Are they proposing a 100% academic test, in which those who fail are labelled “vocational”

    You got it!

    Parity of esteem!

    Yeah right.

  • Pete Baker


    The actual mechanism of selection is still not decided.. but, given that the primary schools and parents are expected to select the appropriate post-primary school based on the Pupil Profiles, I don’t see any existing rationale for the selected schools not to be able to view that same Pupil Profile – beyond ideological opposition to any kind of selection of pupils by the post-primary schools that is..

    But as you correctly identify… I’m much more interested in the lack of analysis of the situation – regarding the Assembly and not making a decision on selection – from some of the politicians quoted.

  • willis


    I think the problem is that we have too few Grammar Schools. Also we have an over-prescriptive National curriculum which forces teachers to spread themselves too thinly. It is also a huge insult to label anyone who is not ‘academic’ as ‘vocational’.
    I’m an engineer which as a profession straddles both academic and vocational.

    I suspect that if there really was parity of esteem, then we would not accept the desperate levels of underachievement in primary schools. Let’s be honest though – parity of esteem is a joke.

  • Pete Baker

    That’s a different argument though, willis.

    The government’s stated objective is to identify and promote specialist schools in particular subjects, and for the time being in particular geographical areas.. but it will not allow those schools to select appropriate pupils.. that is a joke.

  • willis

    Fair point Pete

    StLouise’s is a Specialist Drama school.

    How do they select on the basis of an academic test?

  • Pete Baker

    That’s where the Pupil Profiles could, and should, come into play.

    Just a thought…

    But anyway.. back to the ignorance of our elected representatives.

  • willis

    This is me for tonight

    It could all be very good. Generally we have a lot of respect for teachers and education.

    We do not have anything like the poisonous print media of GB.

    We just don’t seem to get the big world. You can moan about GB and Dublin but they have been amazingly patient with us “spoilt brats”

    We seem to spawn geniuses in non-academic careers at will. Why?

  • willis



    We are given to understand that the DUP in the not-inconsiderable-person of Sammy Wilson MP MLA (Boo-Hiss) did a side deal with the Government that in the eventuality that a future Assembly might not be able to agree ??????????????? on an educational structure for This Place, then individual schools could invent their own admission criteria.

    Others appear upset.

    As the Sammy the Magician says

    “If the other parties were daft enough not to seek clarification that is their problem, not ours.
    I don’t have any regret or feeling of embarrassment that we did not spell this out to them.”

    You do get a sense that the education of future generations is in safe hands.