Education: fair trade or Colombian?

The Education Minister’s unveiled her proposals to make educational transition at 14 rather than eleven (even as some English authorities are resiling from such arrangements) got her something of rough ride, not least from the DUP’s education spokesman, who nevertheless evinced a rye smile from the Minister herself with a reference to Colombian coffee. Never the less, the proposals seem long on words, but extremely short on detail. Indeed, there is not even a draft timetable for the reforms.

Mr Butler: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Does the Minister agree that those who advocate the retention of academic selection have a very narrow and elitist agenda that enables only a very few to succeed? [Interruption.]

It would be far better if those people advocated the promotion of academic excellence rather than academic selection. Does the Minister agree that rather than lowering standards, abolishing academic
selection would raise standards in our schools?

Ms Ruane: I agree. It is very important to find a way of matching our education system with children’s needs. At the moment, children must sit two one-hour tests at a very young age. As I said, I would prefer that children make their selection at 14. Our young people naturally make choices at that age; Members who have children will know that it is at that age that children decide whether to choose maths or science or which vocational courses they should take. There are some very innovative models and there is collaboration between schools. Rather than make a political football of the issue, people should work to create a system that best meets the needs of all our children so that no child is left feeling that they are a failure as a result of two
one-hour tests.

Mr B McCrea: Northern Ireland has the best education system in the world, and it does not need to be broken by people who do not know what they are talking about.

Some Members: Hear, hear.

Mr B McCrea: Does the Minister agree with CCEA that 31 January 2008 is absolutely the last date by which a decision can be made on a transfer test or alternatives to it? Will the Minister say whether she intends to bring proposals to the House before that date, or will she simply let the clock run out so that there can be no discussion on the matter?

Ms Ruane: I am very disappointed by Basil McCrea’s remarks. I wish that he had been with me the other day in Coleraine or three weeks ago on the Shankill Road; I wish that he had been with me when I met principals in north Belfast or when I was in Mount Vernon. People need to wake up and smell the coffee.

Mr S Wilson: Is that Colombian coffee?

Ms Ruane: It is fair-trade coffee.

Basil knows that we fail 4,000 of our young people every year and that they leave school with poor qualif­ications, poor literacy and poor numeracy skills. What chance do they have? If we have such a
world-class education system, why do we fail so many young people? We need to create an education system that provides every child with a fair opportunity. I will do that.

Some Members: When?

Hmmm… ‘Basil’: isn’t there a protocol for speaking through the Ceann Comhairle Speaker?

This contentious issue is unlikely to garner support even within the ruling Executive cartel of the DUP and Sinn Fein. Unionists simply will not accept that selection should come down to parental choice alone. Such a move would go far beyond the scrapping of the unpopular (and creakingly ancient) 11+ exam, and finally put an end to Northern Ireland’s Grammar School system.

Although this legislation has been tipped in some quarters as a candidate for horse trading on a possible Irish Language Act. Neither is currently in an acceptable state to buy the other team’s approval.

So, Colombian stand off or ‘fair trade’ deal anyone?

,

  • Ahem

    ‘Rye smiles’ doesn’t do anything for the merits of grammar school education. More seriously, nor does a changed transfer age mean anything in itself. Tripartite systems (junior, middle and senior school) are common in the US and several continental countries; even here, public schools transfer at 13, not 11. But the red herring is Mick’s implied claim that there could ever be meaningful ‘parental choice’ in the state sector. You choose from what you’re given is the sole maxim of government-supplied schooling. That’s why I, for one, will always support the 11+, or similar, because it works to the advantage of academically inclined children. And though politicians will never admit it, they’re the ones disproportionately interested in beinf educated. Claiming that most children, let alone most parents are ‘interested’ in education, either for its own sake or as a means to some other end (material or spiritual) is a lie daily demonstrated both at school and at home. Reject elitist lies! Accept that most people dislike school! Teaching people who don’t want to be taught wastes everyone’s time.

  • Mick Fealty

    Ahem, I was simply restating what the Minister’s position, and then going on to point out that as a bare policy position it would not be acceptable to unionist nor, perhaps, the CCEA.

  • Ahem

    No, you postulated the possibility (in the state sector) of there ever being something you called, “parental choice alone”. Such a thing can’t happen – it physically can’t happen. Thus framing the debate, or even restating positions taken by other people, in that context is meaningless.

  • Mick Fealty

    Nice try. Next?

  • Ahem

    Um, for smug, pointless non-responses, that takes the biscuit for 2007.

    Saying, or to be more precise, you saying (do give up on fobbing this off on other folk), ‘Unionists simply will not accept that selection should come down to parental choice alone’ necessitates it being feasible that selection ever could be a matter of ‘parental choice alone’. It isn’t. It never has been. It never could be. Or are you, and you alone, about to astound the world by demonstrating how this minor, no, major miracle of state-supplied secondary education might be wrought? An anxious internet awaits. Or alternatively, since the Mirabelle beckons, it doesn’t.

  • Forget about Colombian or Fair Trade coffee, for educational success Irish Medium Coffee is the way to go.

    According to the latest research, shortly to be published by Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Ghaeilge (NUIG), pupils attending Irish medium Gaelscoileanna get results SIGNIFICANTLY better than the national average in standardised English reading tests. The story was first reported in Lá Nua last Friday (16 November) and that edition is available as a free downloadable PDF on http://www.nuacht.com.

    This research, which comprised an analysis of 3,000+ results for students throughout Ireland, mirrors the results carried out by the Education Research Centre, St Patrick’s College of Education, Drumcondra, in 1988 (published in 1991). Strangely, the Department of Education is still insisting on compelling Gaelscoileanna to teach English to junior infants (p1) after first term. Forcing English down their throats?

    The Minister of Education down south could well to take a leaf out of Caitriona Ruane’s book. Minister Ruane firmly endorses the principle of early immersion, as she sends her own children to a school which follows that method. The best results were obtained in the schools which use total early immersion for at least one year.

    You will be probably aware that these standardised reading tests are carried out in every school in the country at 2nd and 5th classes. The results for each pupil are expressed as a standard out of ten (STEN) or a percentile. For the purposes of this analysis, the results were expressed in their sten format.

    The national average is as follows: Approximately 33.33% achieve a result in the 0-4 range, 33% achieve a result in the 5-6 bracket while the remainder achieve a mark of 7/10 or higher.

    The Gaelscoileanna results are as follows:
    These are the results for 2nd class. The results for fifth are slightly better and can be forwarded if required:

    22.8% achieve a sten mark in the bottom range – 0-4 (a 10.5% drop in comparison to the national average)
    35.1% achieve a sten mark in the mid-range 5-6 (a +1.8 hike in comparison to the national average)
    42.1% achieve a sten mark in the top range 7-10(8.8% above the national average).

    The results where the pupils have their first full year totally immersed in Irish medium education are even better than the results from schools where English kicks in after 1 term or two terms.

    In short, if Sammy Wilson is really concerned about ensuring the best possible education for the children of the north, he should call immediately for the conversion of all the north’s schools to full Irish medium, with total immersion in the Irish language for at least one year.

    Then again perhaps he’s not that interested in the best education possible for the children of NI. Perhaps his real interest is in making smart ass jibes at a minister who knows what she’s talking about and who understands the concerns of parents of children attending school because she is one herself.

  • Shore Road Resident

    Actually, “Minister Ruane” sends her kids to a grammar school in Newry. She blew off the local high school by claiming it didn’t have proper Irish provision, although its Irish provision has been consistently rated as excellent.

    Like her English ministerial counterparts, it’s do as I say and not as I do on education from middle-class Catriona.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Mick – re: the Ruane’s ‘rye’ smile while talking about the coffee. Does that appetising mix not qualify as an Irish coffee?

    …rye being a whiskey, obviously, as opposed to a ‘wry’ smile or remark, often marked by a dry humour, with a hint of irony.

    Anyway, if Ruane does go for what is essentially a revamped Dickson plan, what unionist is going to say that Prods in Portadown got it all wrong?

  • She sent her children first to an Irish medium school. The fact is that there’s no Irish medium secondary school in Newry yet so she was compelled to send them to a Grammar School where, no doubt, they could be together with their friends. That’s also part of their education….

  • Mick Fealty

    Ahem,

    I wasn’t trying to fob you off. I tried twice, but I have actually got no idea what on earth you are saying. If that reflects badly on me, so be it!

  • Shore Road Resident

    There is a high school though, with Irish language provision rated as good as the grammar. Entry to the grammar requires sitting the 11-plus. Ruane is a total hypocrite and you are a party stooge.

  • Mick Fealty

    For once, at least in a very long time, I agree with Oili. I’ve always been a big fan of diversity in education. Not easy to achieve within the often overly rigid British and Irish systems, but at least the Tories are starting to talk a good talk on this.

    It seems to me (though I’ve no pedagogical evidence for this first beyond that offered by Oili) that simply learning two languages to fluency is key to the quality of educational achievement in bilingual schools, but also the degree of parental involvement and commitment that it takes to get such projects going.

    It would be good to hear the minister bring forward legislation that loosened some of the restrictions on setting up schools, though of course, if it is state money involved it may which to retain control over certain controversial aspects of the curriculum.

  • I am no-one’s stooge, SRR. Caitriona Ruane is about the only SF minister I have time for. But if you want to dismiss my point of view on that basis, go ahead, don’t let the truth get in the way of your own petty prejudices.

  • I’ve referred to this previously in another thread – but the evidence as to cost is that per head, pupils attending Irish medium schools get less in state aid than pupils attending any other sector. That information came as a result of a pq asked by Roy Beggs in 2004 – when the answer didn’t suit him, he kept shtum.

    Not alone educationally but also economically does Irish Medium Education emerge at the top of the class!

    Don’t expect to see this as a headline in the Newsletter anytime soon!

  • Mick Fealty

    Oili,

    If if you’ve got the text of that PQ handy, feel free to dump it here.

  • Reader

    OILibhear Chromaill: In short, if Sammy Wilson is really concerned about ensuring the best possible education for the children of the north, he should call immediately for the conversion of all the north’s schools to full Irish medium, with total immersion in the Irish language for at least one year.
    If you can correct for the effect of committed parental involvement and small class sizes and still get some demonstrable benefit from all that mental exercise, then wouldn’t total immersion in Spanish be as cheap and more useful? Or parents could be given some choice, as favoured by Ms Ruane and Mick Fealty!

  • Alan

    If we can’t have comprehensivisation, then transfer at 14 is the way to go. It is an honourable compromise that should be grasped by the DUP and UUP.

    It is all very well to make grandiose claims for our current education system, but it continues to fail too many young people, and to restrain the economy by insisting on producing ever more lawyers, doctors and civil servants.

    At some stage, the grandstanding on this matter has to end. Unionists and nationalists have to agree a system that will work. If it cannot be selection at eleven, if it cannot be comprehensivisation, then let it be transfer at 14.

    Let’s take the easy option and sink our money into supporting gifted children through special measures ( something that we know how to do )instead of pretending that we can tackle underachievement by failing the majority of our young people.

    Remember, this Friday sees the start of another unholy waste of childrens talents and ambitions. Let it be the last !

  • red branch

    Clearly the Minister has looked at the excellent work that has been going on for years in Education. The “Dickson plan” has operated very sucessfully in Craigavon since the late 60s though it has never been given the recognition it deserves.

    Maybe before individual MLAs make wild and wacky claims about the current education system they should look wider and further than the school they last attended – in some cases 40 – 50 – 60 even 70 years ago

  • These are the figures as outlined in an answer to Roy Beggs question on 9 December, 2004. You can chase up the complete answer on TheyWorkForYou.com – an excellent facility.

    BELB Irish medium 2,971
    Maintained 3,252
    Controlled 3,661
    Integrated 3,508

  • wild turkey

    ‘Claiming that most children, let alone most parents are ‘interested’ in education, either for its own sake or as a means to some other end (material or spiritual) is a lie daily demonstrated both at school and at home. Reject elitist lies! Accept that most people dislike school! Teaching people who don’t want to be taught wastes everyone’s time. ‘

    Ahem, the evidence base for you claim that most people dislike schooling? In a similiar vein, do most people dislike crude unsubstantiated assertions?

    ‘they’re the ones disproportionately interested in beinf educated’

    have looked up ‘beinf’ in wikipedia, dictionary.com and websters hardcopy. no luck. perhaps you could enlighten us?

  • ” then wouldn’t total immersion in Spanish be as cheap and more useful?”

    A very fair and equitable point. Spanish, French, Russian, whatever.

  • sms

    yes chekov
    Spanish,French,Russian, or watever, anything except that dreaded “Irish Giberish”

  • gaelgannaire

    Shore Road Resident,

    “Actually, “Minister Ruane” sends her kids to a grammar school in Newry. She blew off the local high school by claiming it didn’t have proper Irish provision, although its Irish provision has been consistently rated as excellent.”

    Are you refering to Newry High? It is a state school and completely Gaelic free to my knowledge.
    http://www.newryhigh.co.uk/pages/frame1.htm

    Actually, if you wanted to learn Irish in a post primary school in Newry its pretty much Grammer School or nothing, unless you wish to go out to Bessbrook.

    What school are you taking about?

  • joeCanuck

    There is absolutely no need for selection. We don’t have it in Canada and I think our schools and universities compare well with any other country.
    We manage quite well to turn out our fair share of Academics, Professionals, Business People etc.
    I think the suggestion that children have the choice at age 14 to pursue a mainly academic career or otherwise is an excellent one.

  • To answer Chekov’s puerile point: International research suggests that it is far easier to learn a third language – such as German, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, Cantonese, Japanese – when one already has two languages.

    And, done that way, rather than the manner you sugggest, might be a cheaper to increase the linguistic capacity of our students.

    Chekhov appears to have the same problem as the UUP website, any language except Irish.

  • latcheeco

    Absolutely right Ahern!
    Never try to teach a pig to sing ;it wastes your time and just annoys the pig.

  • gaelgannaire

    Chekov,

    Would you be willing to out the effort in to get say a French immersion school? Would many people?

    Has any Ulster-Scots group made any progress towards Ulster-Scots medium education?

    I am sure the vast majority of Gaels would support ‘larin sums an spells in tha hamely tongue’.

  • Mick Fealty

    Interesting how far the conversation has drifted from the Minister’s non announcement. I begin to see where the confusion arose from at the beginning of this thread. Is this a statement of policy if it has no tangible substance? It would seem not.

  • Turgon

    I know this thread has turned to the discussion of Irish and so this is off topic but does anyone know what the grammar schools are going to do if selection is truly ended? I have repeatedly heard rumours that some would consider going private. Has anyone any evidence for this? Also how many private grammar schools would be economically viable? What would their status be since most of their buildings for many many years have been paid for by the state? Would the be allowed to declare UDI?

  • joeCanuck

    They would simply become ordinary schools, Turgon. The same amount of classroom space will be required. Some of them could possibly become the academic schools to which some youngsters will transfer at age 14, if that proposal is taken forward.

  • kensei

    Mick

    As much as I deplore the fact that the Assembly seems to have done bugger all since it got back, is Ruane not in a hole here? Any concrete policy will be voted down by Unionism probably with a straight majority but certainly with a cross community vote if they can’t manage that.

    I’d guess this is just to test the water and gauge reaction. I suspect there is more going on behind the scenes anyway.

    But the more pressing question is: what happens if nothing happens? The 11+ goes regardless, doesn’t it?

  • joeCanuck

    With regard to Gonzo’s comment 8, I certainly remember quite a few of my grammar school teachers coming to class with a ”rye” smile in the morning. Those classes were usually not very pleasant, corporal punishment being believed to be an effective way to get pupils to learn, or, alternatively, an effective way for sexually frustrated hung-over teachers to relieve their frustrations.

  • sms

    turgon your point about what happens to grammar schools if selection goes is an interesting one but I think the question is already being answered in practise there a only a few schools now that demand A grades for entry many more accept B’s and C’s even D’s because of falling pupil numbers. Maybe we are all arguing about something that is going to solve itself

  • stooges everywhere

    Forgive me for getting a bit off topic, although this is of course about education and the SF Minister in charge.

    It has come to my attention that SF sent a memorandum around to all of their elected officials sometime last week ordering them not to support the striking classroom assistants.

    Obviously this was building up to Ruanes attacks on NIPSA members engaging in strike.

    In a word – stinking.

    I hope all NIPSA members and all in sympathy for workers rights will remember this and Ruanes crude attmepts at undermining union collectivism (I refer to her direct ‘heart felt’ appeals to the individual union membership to think of the children (pass the bucket) come election time.

    SF undermining union collective action, who’d have thought it?

    Nothing is beyond them now – it is ‘power’ at any cost, I hope it costs them dear.

  • DC

    “Basil knows that we fail 4,000 of our young people every year and that they leave school with poor qualif­ications, poor literacy and poor numeracy skills. What chance do they have? If we have such a
    world-class education system, why do we fail so many young people? We need to create an education system that provides every child with a fair opportunity. I will do that.”

    If they didn’t fail there would be no one left in Northern Ireland because they would wake up and smell the shite that is ethnic politics and segregated living based on difference and opt for mature more diverse economies that offer up a better life style that meets their educational achievements.

  • New Yorker

    Welcome to the web page of An Cumann Gaelach at
    St Paul’s High School Bessbrook
    http://www.stpaulsbessbrook.org.uk/Portal.aspx?tabindex=77&tabid=4952
    Bessbrook is adjacent to Newry.
    Irish Head Teacher (on leave) Dominic Bradley, MLA

  • Reader

    kensei: But the more pressing question is: what happens if nothing happens? The 11+ goes regardless, doesn’t it?
    Yes, the 11+ is government run, and will go. However, schools can still ‘select’ based on criteria which can include academic criteria. So the schools could operate collectively or individually, and sort out a replacement selection process. That could potentially be vastly better than the 11+, or much worse.

  • lámh dearg

    But to get back on topic, surely the children, parents, teachers, boards of governors and curriculum and examining bodies deserve clarity now about what happens next.

    If the majority desire to abolish academic selection; fine, if the majority wish to retain academic selection; fine, if the decision is to delay selection until 14; fine (and remember that there is academic selection at 14 under the Dixon system).

    But how are the current Primary 5 pupils going to be taught next year, and how are they going to be allocated/pick a school from age 11 to 14?, postcode, lottery, parental choice? If an 11 – 14 school is oversubscribed how will who decide which of the applicants gets a place.

    Surely a Minister of Education introducing change has a duty to inform his or her electorate and those who will have to implement her decisions such vital details in time to allow for an efficient transition.

  • Reader

    sms: but I think the question is already being answered in practise there a only a few schools now that demand A grades for entry many more accept B’s and C’s even D’s because of falling pupil numbers. Maybe we are all arguing about something that is going to solve itself
    A lot of the headline cases are where there are other criteria applied – for instance, children of teachers at the school, or siblings of other pupils. Grammar schools are of course being hit by falling numbers in the system, but if it means they end up taking 50% instead of 35%, that doesn’t solve the problem, so far as there is a problem to be solved!

  • Reader

    Joe Canuck: They would simply become ordinary schools, Turgon.
    Unlikely, they are already in gentrified locations. House prices will climb further, close to the old Grammars, as people try to get their children in to the ‘better’ new comprehensives. Can you blame parents who do that? Post Code selection; Is that an improvement?