‘Battle A Day’ Case Study No.1- Academic Selection

“To Battle or not to Battle: that is the question.” I’m afraid I’m with Gerry and Peter on this one. Whilst Deputy First Minister-in-waiting Martin McGuinness may be hoping for a more cordial work relationship within the new Executive, I think it’s safe to assume that there will be some serious Executive table spats and public grandstanding in the time ahead, particularly given the plethora of issues already in the public domain to which Sinn Fein and the DUP (as mutual veto-holders) will be approaching from wholly opposite perspectives.

The fascinating thing from the point of view of the onlooker and participant is that, in this MADesque (mutually assured destruction) scenario, the only hope for a future not characterised by permanent gridlock is if the working relationships between the two largest parties improves beyond the wildest imaginations of most observers, seasoned or otherwise.
Compromise will rapidly have to become the norm in this new dispensation if there is to be any legislation passed through the Assembly.

Over the next week I will be opening several threads inviting views on how the two main parties are going to find common ground on the specific issues at hand.

The first topic is Academic Selection. Sinn Fein’s Catriona Ruane is destined for the hot seat in Education. But given the diametrically opposed views held by nationalist and unionist politicians over this issue, where will the common ground be found for a replacement to the Eleven Plus as the method of transfer? With the clock ticking towards the 2008 date for the ‘passing’ of the final Eleven Plus test, can an agreement be reached that will satisfy not only the political parties but also the school governors, teachers and parents?

  • páid

    Academic Selection 1 – 1 Irish Language Act

  • SuperSoupy

    This MAD element is what makes me lean towards McGuinness’ assessment.

    I think the DUP will quickly move towards a more cooperative position and away from posturing on vetoes when they realise how mutually crippling that could be.

    The recent shift in DUP thinking away from ‘our way or the highway’ to the best option available is, to me, a hopeful sign of new pragmatism that could lead to strong debate but resolution across all issues no matter how contentious.

  • kokane

    Although they had not known each other for very long Martin thought he might pop the question to his good friend Ian “I will swop you an 11 plus for a devolution of police and justice bill”.

  • slug

    If the Voluntary Grammar schools set up their own privately run selection test, would the Executive have the power to stop them, given that academic selection is not illegal?

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Prediction: Academic selection (by another name, say, ‘self-selection’) at age 14.

    Prediction 2: Ruane’s legacy won’t be anything to do with the transfer test; she’ll be ‘fondly’ remembered as the Minister Who Shut Down My Old School.

    A poison chalice, but maybe that’s what SF intended.

  • SuperSoupy

    Slug,

    I assume if it wasn’t endorsed by the Dept of Education:

    -Primary schools couldn’t cooperate

    -No funding would be available

    -No funding would be available to assist administration

    It would then become a purely pay to attend system and I hope would exclude those implementing it from full/any funding as a result.

  • Sean

    If the Voluntary Grammar schools set up their own privately run selection test, would the Executive have the power to stop them, given that academic selection is not illegal?

    Posted by slug on Apr 11, 2007 @

    Theres a few blindingly obvious questions
    How would they administer it?
    How would pupils take the test
    Would it pass the exclusionary rules of the equality legislation?

    The system can only work in a universality vacuum not on a hit or miss way

  • seanzmct

    What is Minister Ruane going to do about the blatant discrimination that prevents Protestants from teaching in the Catholic Maintained sector? Nothing, I would confidently predict.

  • slug

    Test administration has its costs but then the Grammar Schools do have wealthy supporters, who already donate to them.

  • the meeja

    To seanzmct:

    I’m not so sure about that. My father (a protestant) was a teacher for 15 years and taught in St Gemmas for the last 2.

    According to him, the best school he’s ever worked at!

  • The Third Policeman

    I went to a Catholic Grammer and had a good few Protestant teachers.

  • slug

    “I went to a Catholic Grammer”

    Presumably not a very good one 🙂

  • SuperSoupy

    Meeja,

    You are correct. Neither ‘state’ nor maintained schools are allowed to deny employment on the basis of the applicant’s religion. However, both sectors are exempt from equality legislation and this is agreed at even European level.

    Claiming protestants are prevented from teaching in schools is just plain dishonest. But the author of the comment doesn’t note the equal imbalance for catholic teachers in the ‘state’ sector.

  • Pete Baker

    Of course this focus on academic selection obscures the actual major issue facing the Education Minister.. purely accidental, natch.

    That issue would be the competing aims of the Bain Report – “There are too many schools in Northern Ireland”

    The Catholic Bishops response to the associated reforms recommended in the RPA- “we cannot in conscience commend these proposals”

    And the already declared direction of that reform – “There will be an immediate move towards area based planning”

    But that’s obviously not a major concern when compared to a headline grabber such as the 11-plus… which, for the record again, is a vacuum which will be filled if there is not agreement.

  • SuperSoupy

    Another point:

    The amount of ‘state’ schools suddenly finding the desire for integrated status as their protestant pupil level drops beneath the level of a sustainable school is transparent.

    Reach out to the taigs now they need them in many cases.

  • the meeja

    To divert the topic a wee bit:
    I think the more pressing issue for the next education minister is not the 11+, but funding for state secondary schools.

    If state secondaries were matched with funding on grammar schools, then no problem.

    But having said that, any minister who throws his/her support behind 100% integrated schooling across the country has my vote too.

  • SuperSoupy

    Pete,

    Maybe you weren’t part of it. My school, the schools my children go to were built with church money.

    The building wasn’t provided by anything other than the church.

    In secondary school education was only recently fully paid for by the ‘state’.

    If people want to take it out of the hands of the catholic church they should buy back every brick we contributed to, every penny the church had to get from our charity and their coffers.

    Take them over…pay for what you didn’t create and what was built on the back of hard work and charity.

  • Pete Baker

    SS

    I’d suggest you tell that to George Bain.

    Oops, too late.. it’ll be a matter for the incoming Education Minister then.

  • SuperSoupy

    Maybe you find it something for sarcasm.

    My children go to a thriving school built on the back of parish contributions while a white elephant redevelopment of a long term undersubscribed multi-investment state school is going under (finally).

    School paid for. They can have it when we get our many years of fundraising back.

  • Pete Baker

    “Maybe you find it something for sarcasm.”

    No SS.

    I find it something for realism. As does George Bain and the RPA.

  • 11 plus

    No ill intent here, but how many Catholic teachers, teach in the public schools, are there more Protestant teachers there then there are Protestant teachers in the Catholic schools.
    11 plus.

  • 11 plus

    Sorry that should read, are there more Catholic teachers there then there are Protestant teachers in the Catholic schools.
    11 plus

  • Pete Baker

    At the risk of repeating myself..

    Of course this focus on academic selection obscures the actual major issue facing the Education Minister.. purely accidental, natch.

  • The Third Policeman

    Haha very good Slug. As anyone can tell, spelling is not my strong point. And that’s before any strong pint!

  • SuperSoupy

    Ok. Realistically how are you/Bain going to give people their money back?

    We paid for each brick, each pipe, each desk… over and above our taxes

    Bain may have grand ideas. No government paid for many of those schools. ‘We’ did, collection after collection, fundraiser after fundraiser.

    He wants them. Lets talk what we paid and be having it back.

    Thank you very much.

  • lies, damnd lies

    sorry to quote at such length but:

    “Pete,

    Maybe you weren’t part of it. My school, the schools my children go to were built with church money.

    The building wasn’t provided by anything other than the church.

    In secondary school education was only recently fully paid for by the ‘state’.

    If people want to take it out of the hands of the catholic church they should buy back every brick we contributed to, every penny the church had to get from our charity and their coffers.”

    tragic. if a prod posted that, you’d be up in arms. soupercatholic more like. christ knows I dont like the way things are going, but thank god people like you are just irrelevant. now say 20 hail marys for reading this.

  • Reader

    SuperSoupy: We paid for each brick, each pipe, each desk… over and above our taxes
    It depends when it was built, and how you account for the maintenance and running costs. And who do you suppose built Bangor Grammer school (Est. 1850 something, now in the controlled sector.) Meanwhile, 2 of my children attend a maintained primary, built and run by taxpayers money. I think the PTA raised more money than the parish, at least while my wife was in the PTA. So if there’s money to be divvied up, who gets it in this case?

  • Reader

    SuperSoupy: It would then become a purely pay to attend system and I hope would exclude those implementing it from full/any funding as a result.
    You fantasise over the power of central control and the ways it might be abused. The schools have the legal right to use academic selection, and are entitled to funding for the pupils they attract. They can certainly cut costs by working together to apply a centralised exam, and recoup the costs over the five-seven years education of the 30%-40% successful candidates. The schools can fund the exam themselves.
    Primary schools that refuse to cooperate will lose out badly in pupil numbers. But, if you charge up to the gates demanding your parish contributions back you might be able to influence one or two.
    Actually, that might be interesting. You might be able to persuade the maintained sector to unilaterally end selection. What do your reckon your chances are? Then if the maintained sector is finally assimilated, you will be providing the comprehensive schools of the future.

  • kensei

    The Catholic Church could probably support a fair amount of schools if it desired – as SS pointed out, it did build and run a lot of them for years. If it is handled in the heavy handed manner Pete is suggesting, it might end up being more divisive than present as the only change will be the amount of outlay for parents.

  • watcher

    Education, like DRD (with rates and water charges)could prove to be a major headache for SF, as I can just see lots of fire-storms ahead as local councillors and communities (including SF supporters and cllrs) start to oppose the closure of schools in their own localities – which is something that cannot be avoided following the Bain Review and falling enrolments.
    Ms Ruane’s cross-border education strategy won’t prove to be much of a comfort. And dependence on PFI’s for new capital build has already proven to be a major liability.

  • fair_deal

    As the campaign has become about academic selection not a defence of the 11 plus this creates scope for movement. The computer adaptive testing stuff is interesting.

    This may be a case were the separate systems provides an advantage. The controlled sector and voluntary grammar schools keep academic selection and the other sectors maintained/integrated/Irish medium don’t.

    Belfast Gonzo

    “she’ll be ‘fondly’ remembered as the Minister Who Shut Down My Old School. A poison chalice, but maybe that’s what SF intended.”

    It may not be as poisoned as a person would automatically assume. CCMS is pretty tough in its approach to school closures often aiming to have schools well above the minimum Bain levels and not the most willing to listen to local voices but all final decisions go to the minister. In some instances it could be the minister saving the school the CCMS wanted to close. Although the establishment of the ESA may make this a moot point.

  • Jon

    Deleted by moderator. Play the ball. You are legally liable for comments on this board.

  • watcher

    fair_deal, Re: CCMS – They have already lowered entrance criteria for many of the grammar schools under their control. This has resulted in most CCMS controlled grammar schools being above the minimum enrolment set by Bain. However, this move has also had an equally negative knock-on impact on CCMS controlled secondary schools where enrolment is markedly down. CCMS has, for several years, been prepared to sacrifice these schools of “lesser” acheivement as long as the grammars remain untouched.

  • Chris Donnelly

    ‘purely accidental- natch’

    Pete

    I see you’re catching the paranoia bug round here-careful, the consequences appear rather serious.

    Of course the issue of the school ‘estate’ is a major one, which will undoubtedly result in closures/ amalgamations and have future repercussions for planning of schools from the various sectors.

    But none of that takes away from the highly contentious nature of the issue of transfer arrangements between primary and post-primary schools.

    Pete may find that unimportant as an issue, but all of the political parties here and serious political observers have somehow managed to differ.

  • Chris Donnelly

    FD

    Computer adaptive testing- currently being piloted by the Boards in the guise of ALTA-Systems- are little more/ less than an 11-Plus on the computer. Some will favour that, others obviously will not.

    The CCMS has a quite good recent record of promoting amalgamations ahead of the curve (certainly in urban areas) to prevent the scenario of multiple simultaneous closures; though Watcher rightly points out how catholic secondary schools are experiencing alarming dips in their pupil intake as the Grammars fill up with what used to be the top tier of secondary level schools.

  • Pete Baker

    Chris

    “Pete may find that unimportant as an issue, but all of the political parties here and serious political observers have somehow managed to differ.”

    Well some of the political parties only realised there was a loophole in the academic selection issue very very recently..

    I did mention it some time ago..

    But it seems that some weren’t paying attention..

    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..

    Academic selection is a single issue with clearly drawn roles which will be easy for the various participants to play.

    The recommendations of Bain Report together with the impact of the RPA on the CCMS, in particular, is a different kettle of fish.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Academic selection is a single issue with clearly drawn roles which will be easy for the various participants to play.

    Aren’t they all ‘single issues’?

    Not sure it’ll be ‘easy’ for any of the participants, but we’ll see.

    And by the way

    I quite agree that Bain throws up a significant challenge to the political parties and Minister in particular.

    None of which takes away from the fact that academic selection and transfer arrangements remain a very significant issue upon which there remains a considerable division of opinion.

  • seanzmct

    SuperSoupy is wrong in terms of the application of equality legislation with regard to the employment of teachers.

    Equality legislation applies to the state but not Catholic Maintained sector. Of course there are some Protestants employed as teachers in that sector but not many.

    Prospective Protestant teachers are obviously at a disadvantage and this extends further if the South is included.

    Having cornered the market in the Catholic Maintained sector, it would not be surprising if Catholics were somewhat under-represented in the state sector. But this is not due to discrimination.

    Moreover,the evidence shows that Protestants are actually significantly under-representted in the region’s further education system.

  • fair_deal

    CD

    “Computer adaptive testing- currently being piloted by the Boards in the guise of ALTA-Systems- are little more/ less than an 11-Plus on the computer.”

    CAT is more sophisticated than that plus the spread of the testing avoids ‘bad day issues’ and their greater degree of unpredictability reduces the impact/value of coaching.

    Leaving aside whether or not they should be used for academic selection they can be educational tool.

    PS what do you think of the other suggestion?

  • Chris Donnelly

    FD

    I don’t think CAT really is more sophisticated, to be honest. It would be no less predictable/ unpredictable than the 11 Plus after a period of time- it could hardly stray outside the parameters of the curriculum up to the end of KS2, and even if it did, the scope of questions would soon become familiar to teachers/ tutors.

    Certainly it may provide more of a challenge to the teacher/ tutor, but professional study guides wouldn’t be long in appearing on the EDCO shelves.

    You may be on to something regarding a different approach from the distinctive sectors, though I personally would be opposed to that.

    I think the Catholic sector has begun taking a series of local steps to remove academic selection as an issue in certain areas- I’m thinking of the proposed Garron Tower and Strabane amalgamations, as well as speculation about the future of a couple of secondary schools in West Belfast.

    When you think about it, there aren’t that many post-primary schools in the north that localised decisions couldn’t be worked out if a universal system wasn’t agreed to by all the main players.

    Not ideal, but a possible scenario.