Education, education, education..

The Hearts and Minds discussion on post-primary education wasn’t as confrontational as the Assembly Committee meeting with the minister last week, but then the minister wasn’t there. Neither was the Sinn Féin spokesman on Education, Paul Butler. Interestingly instead of the other SF member on the Education Committee, Michelle O’Neill, the party’s chosen designated hitter for the programme was John O’Dowd, Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee – and he conceded that individual schools would be able to set their own academic selection exam, a year after that was made clear. Also on the panel were the DUP’s Mervyn Storey and the SDLP’s Dominic Bradley. It’s worth noting, in particular, that during the discussion area based planning was highlighted as “the lynch-pin” of any proposals for the future.

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  • Mick Fealty

    Another thing struck me aside from the general civility of the discussion. That was the divergence of opinion on what the Minister had presented.

    Mervyn Storey asserted that the Minister was planning to bring matters in two legislative stages, something that was not actually denied by John O’Dowd. The latter simply said we don’t know what’s being proposed.

    Was that one of the leaks that we have grown so accustomed to hear from inside the Executive? And if it is being discussed in such concrete terms within the Executive, why can’t the Minister share it with the Committee?

    As Bradley noted in this discussion the information gaps seem to be wide and getting wider.

  • J Kelly

    The area based planning process is well under way within the catholic sector with some areas nearly ready to go and the Cardinal’s speech at Armagh on Tuesday was ensuring that he has the policy backup to carry it forward. With close to 90% of children currently going to their first choice school I don’t think we have far to go. The issue is how do we ensure that all schools are good schools that will deliver for our children.

    The problem Catriona faces is not about making decisions. When attepting to build consensus its dangerous to lay down the law and the opponents especially the unionist are seizing on this to portray her as dithering. Tuesday’s catholic was very significant and with the catholic church on board she is over the biggest political hurdle.

  • runciter

    The problem Catriona faces is not about making decisions.

    The problem we face is about Catriona not making decisions.

    If she’s trying to ‘build concensus’ she’s not not doing a very good job of it.

  • “The area based planning process is well under way within the catholic sector”

    Isn’t this an oxymoron in many parts of Northern Ireland? Second level education is provided by a wide range of schools, not just the CCMS.

  • eranu

    “The issue is how do we ensure that all schools are good schools that will deliver for our children.”

    by offering some vocational courses for the kids that just arent up to academic study. then there would be a chance of them leaving school with some meaningful qualifications that would help them get a job.
    i really hope grammar schools stay, as they are the half of the system that works well. this is proved by the high exam results they get every year.
    academic qualifications are fine, but it doesnt suit all kids. there needs to be a route to achieving something useful for kids that arent suited to academic courses.

  • joeCanuck

    What you say is very true, eranu. But the question remains as to when you can be sure that a child is not academically suited. I had a couple of kids in my class who failed the 11+ but were able to transfer into grammar school for senior years and went on to university.

  • Buggerhed

    “What you say is very true, eranu. But the question remains as to when you can be sure that a child is not academically suited. I had a couple of kids in my class who failed the 11+ but were able to transfer into grammar school for senior years and went on to university.”

    Evidently these kiddies weren’t failed by the current barbariac system

  • Gav

    Eranu,

    The reason why grammar schools do so well is because they are able to choose the best teachers and the best students to the detriment of everyone else. Also, grammar schools perform well under simple elitist theory that if you tell someone that they’re smarter than everyone else then they will perform better. The flipside is equally true, tell a child that they have failed a test and therefore will be attending a worse school then they are going to perform worse.

  • whisperingulster

    Where was Basil McCrea? Who has be falled out with this time?

  • Mick Fealty

    You are doing a good job of mixing and matching a few things there JK. The Cardinal may not have uttered the words “sacrificed on the altar of experimentation”, but his speech was hardly a warm affirmation, never mind an indication that he’s already on board. Indeed the Cardinal cannot be expected to be for or against something that has no substance, surely?

    None of us, but the Minister and presumably her party, know what she is planning to do. I suggested last night that this is all likely to played out through the body of the schools themselves, and nothing I have heard since has dissuaded me from that provisional view.

    It’s not even clear what fight she’s actually fighting. Is it against selection, or the 11+? Local planning or top down control? Politically speaking, none of these are as clear cut as the Minister would have us believe.

    How it looks is that the minister is simply trying to by pass the Executive and the Assembly. Yet there is no guarantee that we will note, as the Cardinal put, end up with ‘chaos’.

  • joeCanuck

    No Buggerhed, those two weren’t. But how many others were screwed?

  • lib2016

    She has the Catholic system on board and the defenders of the state/Protestant system are clamouring for details of a system which will include moves in the direction of comprehensive schooling. They will naturally spin that streaming is the same thing as academic selection and claim a famous victory. Only the UUP are daft enough to stick with the old negative campaigning strategy which has served them so badly.

    Nearly there and she hasn’t even had to disclose details which will only give more room for her opponents to play political games with our children’s future. Masterful strategy by a really talented politican – loved the tasteful pastels and the touch of the brogue when she drove the committee mad! 😉

    Looking forward to seeing what happens when it hits the Assembly – all those suits standing up to attack anything which might help the Shankill will be another famous victory for the UUP but how will the DUP handle it? They aren’t stupid enough to go down that road and will need to claim a victory as Sammy Wilson has already done.

  • eranu

    gav, ‘best students’ is the issue here. because there are no other qualifications than academic ones in the school system (i think), people make a judgement on that. you think academic students are better than kids that didnt get good academic grades at school dont you? society does too. but its just because people have no other measurement to judge by.
    if school was about sport then some kids would get a gcse in hurling and an a level in rugby, but what about kids that couldnt catch a ball for love nor money? but if they happen to be good at maths theres no qualification for that and its not even considered by people when they make a judgement on whether the kid is a good student or not.
    ive seen a few tv debates on this and vocational qualifications seem to be a good route for some. it doesnt matter if a school is comprehensive/high/grammar, if the kids not up to doing maths and physics then they’re just not going to get a good grade. doesnt matter where they are.
    if we had an “academic and vocational” type of school, the kids there might come out with a basic set of academic qualifications but also have some useful vocational certs. industry figures could tell us what they need and courses could be designed so that kids are skilled up and ready for work. maybe it would help NI business and the economy. you might find the academic and vocational route is more attractive than just academic. we’ve all heard the stories about people with degrees stacking shelves in tescos?
    i think the 11+ could be seen more as an aptitude test. if you’re academic go to a grammar. if your not then go to an academic and vocational school. both systems would allow kids to study/get skills in something they’re good at. Of course theres going to be kids that arent good at anything, theres nothing we can do about that. perhaps they should choose a career in NI politics 🙂

    joeCanuck, yeah, we’d need a mechanism to allow transfer between the 2 types of school if it turned out the kid was suited and was more interested in the other sysyem. In my day the mechanism was unfortunately money.

    what is the point of school? at the minute its putting all kids through an academic system when we know that lots of them cant do it and will come out with next to nothing. surely we should have a system that lets kids follow something they’re good at and come out with qualifications that are useful? either to go into work or go onto further study.

    all thats being discussed as a far as i can see is a bit of reorganisation and renaming. any kid that was going to get poor results in a high school is still going to get poor results in whatever renamed academic system we come up with.

  • Mick Fealty

    lib,

    “…details which will only give more room for her opponents to play political games with our children’s future.”

    You may call what you wish, but this looks like lack of confidence from where I’m standing.

  • Buggerhed

    “No Buggerhed, those two weren’t. But how many others were screwed?”

    I would imagine fewer than would have been under a “one size fits all” comprehensive approach

  • feismother

    < >

    That seems to be taken as read but this governor in the Catholic system still hasn’t been told what exactly is going to happen.

    Attendance at the Armagh conference left me no more the wiser.

  • J Kelly

    I have spoken to teachers, principles and govenors very recently and a number of options on how post primary education is developed in the future is currently being discussed. From what i can gather these discussions are moving along nicely.

  • feismother

    < >

    Exactly, we should be beyond that by now. Umpteen talking shops and committees and visions but no concrete proposals for how transfer is to be arranged beyond next year.

    Meantime the clock’s ticking away.

  • lamh dearg

    < >

    I know of at least one Catholic Grammar which is well down the road of setting an academic selection test, and if one does it will be easier for others to follow.

    There is a risk for the Catholic Sector that if it abandons selection Catholics who want their children in an “academic” school will head to the state/Protestant grammars (as will some of the staff of the Catholic ex-Grammars)

    It’s not in the bag just yet.

  • Nestor Makhno

    I’m not so sure that ‘academic’ vs ‘vocational’ schooling is really relevant any longer.

    Yes, we’re still going to need plumbers and builders but, increasingly, we’re a post-manufacturing economy.

    The services sector (particularly financial and business services) and knowledge industries are our only long term defence against global competitors. And such sectors need employees with ‘academic’ skills.

    We can’t, therefore, just dump the kids who are more difficult to teach out of ‘academic’ education and console ourselves that they’ll get a well paying job in manufacturing.

    They won’t – and they haven’t been for decades.

    Instead such kids will face few options and a good chance of experiencing a life of deprivation.

  • joeCanuck

    So do you have a proposal, Nestor? If they’re not academically able, you can’t wave a wand and make them so.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Yet there is no guarantee that we will note, as the Cardinal put, end up with ‘chaos’.

    Mick

    Firstly, it’ll be important to clarify that the Cardinal never suggested nor spoke of ‘chaos,’ something I’m led to believe the Bishops have made clear to specific newspapers in the past 48 hours.

    Secondly, the appearance of John O’Dowd is no more significant than that of Mervyn Storey instead of Sammy Wilson or Michelle McIlveen. If the party’s can’t rely on more than one or two MLAs to carry the line, then surely they’re all in trouble…

    Thirdly, I’m going to agree with Pete on the importance of Area Planning at this stage- and also agree with your good self that details will need to be rolled out with increased clarity in the coming period, which I fully expect to happen.

  • Mick Fealty

    I’ll take your word on the first. Agree, largely, on the second: no party has the strength in depth to field precise members of the team in a flagship current affairs programme like Hearts and Minds.

    But the third is the sole credible reason that she’s in such trouble already. If it was purely down to mischief-making from political opponents, her performance on last week’s Politics Show, surely, would have been much stronger?

    Area planning is certainly important, but as Minister, I don’t see what she has to gain by trying to side step the Executive and the Assembly.

    Apart from anything else, she’s wasting the potency of any prospective ‘coup de grace’ by a lack of answers to some pretty straightforward questions.

    If, what now looks like a premature, the announcement of a timetable for the abolition of the 11+ was intended to ‘wrong foot the unionists’ it hasn’t worked. If it wasn’t it’s hard to see what other purpose this stonewalling is intended to achieve.

    The application of ‘Occum’s Razor’ might suggest something else. That is, that she just hasn’t completed the necessary work, and may have relied on an intemperate political backlash to draw the blame away from her department.

    In lieu of something concrete emerging, we can only speculate.

  • kensei

    Mick

    I can’t help wonder if the aim isn’t to create a sense of crisis when really, there is no need. The heat could be taken out of this instantly by an announcement that it is important to get this right and present arrangements will be extended if needed.

    As you pointed out above, there are hints that more is going on in the background than we know about. Relief and a sense of urgency might help push things through when they do arrive.

    Poor preparation is perfectly feasible but I can’t grasp any party not working out the consequences of screwing this up. Though entirely speculation, as you say.

  • lib2016

    Difficult to believe that Sinn Fein would have reclaimed the education ministry if they didn’t have a strategy already worked out. They’ve made lots of mistakes in their time but they usually learn from them.

  • runciter

    The application of ‘Occum’s Razor’ might suggest something else. That is, that she just hasn’t completed the necessary work

    Never ascribe to malice, etc.

    Ruane’s political life expectancy must be even shorter than Junior’s at this stage.

  • kensei

    Ruane’s political life expectancy must be even shorter than Junior’s at this stage.

    Expect for the lack of anything from SF to suggest that they’d pull her. Moreover, unlike Junior her destiny is in her own hands.