“we risk removing the old and replacing it with chaos..”

The newly-hatted Cardinal Sean Brady appears on today’s Irish News front page warning the Northern Ireland Education minister, Sinn Féin’s Caitríona Ruane, to clarify her vision for the post 11-plus system or risk chaos. [subs req] Adds It’s not the first call for more clarity from that sector

“It is vital that the minister ensures that there is root-and-branch cohesion across all these initiatives. Thus, it is one thing to announce that the end of the 11-plus and a transfer at 11 based on parental election,” he said. “But before that can have any meaning there need to be systems in place to promote an area planning process – and that will not be possible without a clear sustainable schools policy.”

The Cardinal went on to say

“However this exemplary post-primary review process will not be able to continue unless the department gives coherent policy coverage,” Cardinal Brady said.

“If we get clear directions and support from DE [Department of Education] and from the minister, we have the potential to develop a wonderful, robust system of sustainable schools into the future.”

“Without that clear guidance and appropriate sequencing of initiatives we risk removing the old and replacing it with chaos.”

And, in addition to the ministerial response yesterday, there are a few interesting paragraphs in the subsequent press statement, on an attendance at a teachers’ union’s conference, from the Education minister today

“There has been much interest, in particular, about transfer at age 14. Whilst there is consensus that age 14 is a key decision point, my plans have been interpreted as meaning wholesale structural change requiring huge capital investment.

“For those who believe this to be the case, let me say that I do not believe in a one size fits all approach to post-primary provision. I believe in the benefits of designing local solutions to address local circumstances and that is why I will shortly be bringing forward the detail on an area-based planning approach. This will enable local communities to decide on the structures that will be most appropriate for their areas.

“There has also been interest in how children will transfer at age 11. For those unclear about how this procedure will operate, I would like to emphasise that children will transfer on much the same basis as they currently do. Admissions will be determined on family, community and geographic criteria, without the need for academic attainment criteria.”

Paragraph one doesn’t actually deny “wholesale structural change requiring huge capital investment” would be the result of the proposals – despite the previous references to their cost-neutralness – although paragraph 2 does point to “local communities” making that decision and, presumably, taking responsibility for it.

And in paragraph 3, “without the need for” doesn’t rule out the possibility of academic attainment criteria.

But here’s a reminder of what the Bain report had to say on area based planning

Planning: A Strategic Approach

11. The Education and Skills Authority should plan the schools’ estate on a local area basis, within a strategic framework of vision, policy, principles, and guidelines provided by the Department of Education.

12. Within the strategic framework established by the Department of Education, the Education and Skills Authority should have overall operational responsibility for the strategic planning of the schools’ estate.

13. Until the Education and Skills Authority has acquired the capacity to exercise its estate planning function, the Department of Education should act quickly and decisively to take forward area-based planning as soon as possible in the year 2007, with the full support of the relevant education authorities.

14. The Department of Education should establish a provisional timetable, to be refined and taken forward by the Education and Skills Authority, specifying target dates for the following key steps in setting up and implementing the area-based planning strategy: (a) the Department of Education’s strategic framework of vision, policy, principles, and guidelines; (b) the specification of local areas; (c) the review of local provision; (d) the initiation and conclusion of local planning; (e) the submission of area proposals to the Education and Skills Authority; (f) the finalised and approved area plans; and (g) the implementation of individual plans for the estate as a whole. [added emphasis]

15. Future school building projects should be approved only after area-based planning is established, and previously announced capital projects that are currently underway should be reviewed, according to their stage of development, for their consistency with the area-based approach.

16. Local areas should comprise coherent sets of nursery, primary and post-primary schools, and, as appropriate, special schools, as well as accessible further education provision, and as far as possible lie within a single local council’s boundaries.

17. Planning should ensure that proposals for contiguous local areas are considered together, and that their interrelationships are identified and taken into account, before investment decisions are made.

18. Area-based plans should ensure that each area is served by sustainable schools that provide high quality education for all pupils and that, taken together, balance the expressed wishes of parents and the projected requirements of each school sector, with the cost-effective use of capital and recurrent funding.

It’s also worth noting that we are still waiting for the “foundation for a radical new future for Northern Ireland’s education system..”

  • happy lundy

    It might seem a cop-out but area based branding might be one way to kick off the comprehensive process.

    For example in Bangor we have Bangor Academy, Glenlola Collegiate (girl’s grammar), Bangor Grammar (boy’s grammar) and the Bangor Campus of the South Eastern Regional College all along the gransha road (once the new Bangor Grammar campus is completed).

    Surely it wouldn’t be too difficult to use these buildings to ascribe different competences to different campuses of the same college (Bangor Inst?) – eg Junior School, 14+ Grammar School, 14+ Vocational College, Higher Ed College with student movement and some teacher sharing between them.

    I’m also for keeping the 11+ as a transfer test to be used in first year streaming if appropriate and as a finishing point for a measure of primary school success and as a starting point for measuring secondary school added value – ie something to measure the school by rather than an entry test.

    That’s most of one borough done. I can’t believe this needs to be as difficult as Catriona Ruane seems to be making it.

  • happy lundy

    I’m not proposing to bring the tech into the secondary “Inst” btw (though it reads like that) – just to share some facilities and staff if that helps improve the standards of vocational training at secondary level.

  • slug

    Bangor Grammar will probably join the band of schools that will continue to use academic selection.

  • happy lundy

    Won’t that depend on the attitude of parents?

    Offered a choice between gentle nudging at 14 and potential trauma at 11 I think you’d be pushed to find many Bangor parents who’d opt for the second.

  • Greenflag

    ‘and potential trauma at 11 ‘

    A lot of which could be avoided if the parents cut the cable TV for a few hours a day . I’m sure the eejit’s lantern probably lowers IQ in direct correlation with the number of hours viewing .

  • happy lundy

    Not quite GF. More study across the population would make no difference as we used a forced ranking approach under which 25% only get A’s. After that it’s down to capacity to decide who goes where (ie how many B’s or even C+’s a school takes).

    I’m not sure what economic forecasting genius made the original decision that we needed exactly 25% of our people to have an academic education.

  • Truth & Justice

    Her plans need Unionist support she wont get it she has made so many enemys all she will acheive is chaos surely the Sinn Fein leadership realize that if this happens it will be Sinn Fein that loose votes because of the mess she is making!

  • slug

    “Won’t that depend on the attitude of parents?”

    No I think it depends on the school leadership. No grammar school surely wants to become déclassé.

  • Shock&Awe;

    “Her plans need Unionist support she wont get it she has made so many enemys all she will acheive is chaos surely the Sinn Fein leadership realize that if this happens it will be Sinn Fein that loose votes because of the mess she is making!”

    Really? So SF will be to blame if unionists block a replacement to the 11+? You don’t think there’s the slightest possibility the voters might blame the people that are blocking the replacement? Don’t give up the day job Einstein.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Hey Pete,

    Since we’re talking about religion, can you do a blog about the huge worldwide protest against Scientology on February 10th ? There are plans to picket the Scientology office on Great Victoria Street from 11am on that day.

  • Mark Fartlighter

    Let me see.

    Getting rid of the 11+.
    Annoying Sammy Wilson.
    Taking on the Catholic Church.

    That is it, Caitríona for Uachtarán.

  • happy lundy



    But the head could be bought off with the promotion opportunity of running the whole multi-campus institution, the VP’s with the chance of his job and The Grammar School’s faculty would no longer need to teach 11-14 year olds so they could indulge in a more academic approach if they wished. Classes could be consistently thinned down (or maybe creamed off) with redirections to the other campus for students bored by the academic bias of the International Bac and more interested in the Foundation and Advanced Diplomas offered by The Academy.

    The Grammar would lose no more prestige by association with The Academy than the Faculty of Philosophy at Oxford does by association with the Said Business School. By that I mean that done properly involvement with a hands-on vocational school might do the Grammar some good.

    Anyway, I’m describing nothing clever or difficult here. In fact I think I’m just describing modern comprehensive orthodoxy. It’s a pity that although Ms Ruane has probably been briefed in the same way she’s unable to cite best practice in the wider UK system either because she thinks we have a knee-jerk aversion to the idea of “comprehensive” education or because of a party political aversion to all things English.

  • [aside] Cardinal Connell prepared to go to jail in Church v State dispute.

  • Reader

    Shock&Awe;: So SF will be to blame if unionists block a replacement to the 11+?
    Except that SF aren’t offering a replacement for unionists to block. If Catriona offered selection for controlled schools, she could get a plan through. If she offered the *option* of selection, she could get the plans through. She could offer the nationalist population the Comprehensive System they apparently desperately want, with no unionist objection. She will bang her head against a brick wall instead. But she can still fool some people into thinking that she has done her best for her voters, obviously.

  • happy lundy


    Good point.

    I wonder is it possible or legal for Maintained Schools to just adopt the Irish curriculum in full? And if it is why haven’t they done so before now? Or maybe I’m just ignorant and some have.

    The world’s full of international schools teaching to curricula and exams from outside their country of operation.

  • alan

    In my view, the Education Minister has handled this one very poorly, alienating schools, staff, teachers and parents alike. Though a thorough debate of this issue is only right and proper, the Minister could have helped the situation a great deal by stating a preference. This would not only fire and stimulate the debate but it would afford the Minister the possibility of showing how she had listened and responded if support for her stance shifted away from her.

    Instead, we are left with an Education Department that lacks visible leadership, is in need of direction and appears to be in complete disarray. Performances by the Minister before committees and TV cameras in recent weeks have been exceptional disappointing and only served to highlight her own ineptitude in this massively important position. Whether or not this is actually the case is irrelevant; that is the perception. Moral is exceptionally low for teachers, ancillary staff and parents and that is why I feel the Minister should resign her position.

  • Alan

    Must be another Alan around here somewhere !

    Interesting points though.

  • lib2016

    The minister has got her ‘opponents’ to the point of demanding that she introduce plans which will inevitably include moves towards comprehensive schools. I’m not sure that this doesn’t suit unionists too since they must have realised that they were on a hiding to nothing in trying to hang onto the grammar schools.

    Now in the guise of attacking the minister they have been able to change their position and will be able to claim that streaming is a victory for the sacred cause of ‘academic selection’. By the time the Minister makes a few more well judged interventions we may well have a compromise position where everybody gets something they want, always the best outcome. Tough on the parents with all this going on but politics are tough, nevertheless our sympathy should go out to them.

  • eranu

    i dont really see the sense in scrapping grammar schools. they perform well and generate the best results in the UK. the problem is with high schools. alot of the kids there just arent up to the academic route and would be better getting a basic academic schooling while also developing vocational skills useful in industry. you see this mentioned by industry figures on tv discussions. they say that they get kids from school that are absolutely no use and have to be trained from scratch. all thats needed is a proper vocational route.
    the anti 11+ people are all lost in some pc crap about not ‘branding kids a failure’ and not hurting little kidsy widsy’s feely weelings. its unreal nonsense. ive never been to a job interview where the employer said ‘you’ve all got the job because i dont want to brand any of you as failures!’ in real life your ability and willingness to work hard is what gets you places.

    dont destroy a good academic system. just improve high schools to offer useful vocational courses to allow kids to get trained up and gain certs that are actually useful in 21st century jobs. the 11+ is optional, many kids dont do it and just go to their local high school. no big deal. theres no reason to pull down your entire house just because your kitchen isnt up to scratch is there?

  • eranu

    the term ‘academic selection’ would be better replaced with ‘selection of an academic only or academic+vocational educational route’

    at some stage a choice has to be made. you can only evaluate a persons ability by testing them. theres no point acting like drama queens and coming up with emotive terms like ‘failure’.

  • Alan

    “the anti 11+ people are all lost in some pc crap about not ‘branding kids a failure’ and not hurting little kidsy widsy’s feely weelings.”

    Thank you – I hadn’t thought of it like that before. That has helped me immeasurably . . .

  • eranu

    well Alan, how do you see it then? is sitting an exam some sort of barbaric torture? do you think kids are scarred for life and go around with the word failure bouncing about inside their heads?

    its just making it dramatic for the sake of creating catch phrases for newspaper headlines, and to make people feel emotional about not hurting kids feelings.

    my own memory of 11+ days was that it was a serious exam and we studied alot for it in school. but afterwards we went for a game of football and round to the local shop for a quarter of cola cubes.
    i was still friends with class mates that went to the local high school, i dont remember any of them having mental scars. pc society today gets so worked up over things. thats all im saying.

    Theres plenty of academic kids that can quote Shakespeare but cant tie there own shoe laces. And plenty of kids that don’t know who Shakespeare is but can strip a car engine and put it back together again. Whos the ‘failure’? neither.

    Im just saying, we need education that suits academic kids and vocational kids and not get hung up on modern pc ‘everyones the same and if you say otherwise you’re bad…’ cobblers.

  • Reader

    happy lundy: I wonder is it possible or legal for Maintained Schools to just adopt the Irish curriculum in full?
    It wasn’t what I was getting at, but I am sure it is both possible and legal. For starters, I am sure some local schools focus on the International Baccalaureat already, and the Irish Curriculum has probably got international credibility in any case, and would qualify pupils for access to UK (and other) universities.

  • lib2016


    The IDA estimate that over 60% of the jobs they attract require people with third level qualifications but the grammar schools aren’t fitted to supply those people since they are designed to cater for only a small percentage of the population.

    We have to make a choice, prepare to be part of a modern economy or stay locked into an outdated system.

  • Reader

    lib2106: The IDA estimate that over 60% of the jobs they attract require people with third level qualifications but the grammar schools aren’t fitted to supply those people since they are designed to cater for only a small percentage of the population.
    Well – there’s shifting ground here:
    1) Only a fixed 25% get A in the 11 plus. Archaic and arbitrary.
    2) Some Grammar schools take B or even C, therefore Grammar schools are dying, apparently.
    3) Tony Blair wanted 50% of UK citizens to get a 3rd level qualification.
    4) IDA wants 60% of recruits to have 3rd level qualification, but the local council still wants people to sweep the streets.
    Apart from the dumbing down of the western world, there is nothing broken here. Allow the Grammar schools to expand, allow the Secondaries to contract or even close. Your problem is solved.

  • willis

    I think I can say without much disagreement that the standard of debate on selection is much higher now than a year ago.

    Maybe it would be worth saying a bit about the sector of Academic/Vocational education that I am most familiar with: Electronic Engineering.

    Sometimes it is good to look at the big picture and sometimes it is worth looking at a sector in detail. I’m going to do a bit of detail.

    EE, hope you don’t mind the abbreviation, is both an academic subject at degree level and also a vocational subject. In this regard it is different from Latin and Ancient Greek which are purely academic subjects because no-one today speaks either and from Plumbing or Gas Fitting which are currently vocational subject because you cannot study either at degree level. If you don’t believe me use Google to search inside the UCAS site.

    I work with a range of other engineers who have taken an academic or vocational route. What is the difference? Vocational is better, and I say this as someone who took the academic route. Those who took the academic route tend to think that they are somehow better when in fact they often lack a practical understanding of the work and expect others to do their work for them. Sound familiar?

    Thing is, we were saying the same thing 30 years ago.

    How many academic careers are there? None really, as the, academic in their purest sense should not have to sully their hands with filthy lucre but be paid just for being clever.

    So all careers need some kind of vocational study. There is a sliding scale of the amount of study required. It would be interesting to see how many commodity brokers and investment bankers the government thinks we need and how many of them need third level qualifications. Or indeed footballers.