Hearts and Minds: what education debate?

Top of tonight’s Hearts and Minds is a curious debate on proposals that the Education Minister Catriona Ruane has yet to disclose to the education committee, never mind make public. Basil McCrea was the politician who made public an internal Sinn Fein discussion paper which suggested that the Minister will several weeks after the ‘real deadline’). In truth the Minister is being forced to adopt sub optimal measures because without support in Executive or the Assembly, she cannot hope to get the legislation necessary of abolish selective education. It has been suggested to Slugger by one senior Sinn Fein source that the exam services currently being provided by CCEA could simply be withdrawn to force the hand of wavering grammars.

This would leave individual schools like the Catholic grammar Lumen Christi College in Derry to find sufficient resources within their budgets to run their own entrance examinations: budgets that the Education Minister could be minded to squeeze in order to prevent such re-deployment. The head teacher Pat O’Doherty was clear that his was a provisional move to fill the gap left by absence of legislation:

“The legal position is that academic selection will remain, subject to a vote by the Assembly, and obviously all the arrangements we have put out are interim arrangements in the expectation that there will be some form of academic selection accepted by the Department. If that is the case, obviously we will fall in line with whatever academic selection process they advise.”

Yet if such a move were construed as “discriminating against children”, as the Minister of Finance put it in back in February, budgetary constraints in turn might be applied to the department. Alternatively, it might be countered by a decision to move responsibility for CCEA away from Ms Ruane’s department, possibly to the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

DUP sources say that a compromise could be hammered out, if Sinn Fein is prepared to deal. The Bain report has highlighted huge duplication and over resourcing in the schools sector, so there could be some amalgamations under a new regime. There are also a sub set of Northern Irish grammar schools that already accept mixed ability students, who might happily adjust to official comprehensive status.

But as Basil McCrea remarked tonight, the Minister, at the moment, only seems to have one plan: the abolition of all academic selection with pain, or without. Clearly, the Minister is planning to keep her opponents squarely in the dark right up to last minute. Without firm legislative proposals, her guidelines will lack teeth, and could lead to incoherent and untested reforms. Since the clock is ticking for the schools themselves, the next two to three months should see the issue climaxing and, hopefully, coming to some kind of conclusion.

Blame game anyone?

  • PeaceandJustice

    Whether or not you agree with academic selection, Cat Ruane is completely incompetent. Is this the best Sinn Fein IRA can come up with? Cat Ruane is more suited to campaigns such as the ‘Bring Them Home’ campaign for the provos who were in Colombia. The SDLP are safe in South Down.

  • Mick Fealty

    It’s more useful if you make an argument rather than rely on assertion. There’s enough distraction going on in the political domain without us joining in.

    Clarity comes from attention to detail people!

  • RepublicanStones

    She holds a ministerial position in your country P&J;and can speak two languages, also according to some she’s a dab hand at tennis…..how many aces have you served ?

  • Driftwood

    What are Catriona Ruane’s qualifications to do this job?
    Oxford, Cambridge?
    Even Trinity would do.
    What subject?
    Irish and Tennis….
    Oh, and Colombian law
    Unbelievable.

    Ruth Kelly, please come back

  • Gregory

    “Cat Ruane is more suited to campaigns such as the ‘Bring Them Home’ campaign for the provos who were in Colombia. The SDLP are safe in South Down. ”

    FARC employ sex offenders, procurers, & pimps, et alia do you think she picked up her bad habits when she was out there in Daz country?

    That could explain her pro-nonce policies.

    Just about everything is being banned from schools except sex offenders.

    G.

  • Gregory

    Ruth Kelly, was given orders by Tony Blair, she was told she couldn’t ban sex offenders because the NASUWT were going crazy about it.

    (details on request)

    Ms Ruane on the other hand probably doesn’t have Gerry Adams absolutely insisting she allow perverts to work in our schools.

    It is *her* policy.

    G.

  • Gregory

    “She holds a ministerial position in your country P&J;and can speak two languages, also according to some she’s a dab hand at tennis…..how many aces have you served ? ”

    Well, in Ohio she’d be doing five years in jail and her kind would deserve every one of them.

    ‘A spokesman for the minister added yesterday that the department is not in a position to say whether any current employees in education boards are convicted sex offenders “because there is no reason for the department to have this information”.’

    http://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/Sex-offenders-may-be-working.3896882.jp

    No reason for her to take an interest so to speak.

    ‘Minister Catriona Ruane said she did not know whether or not any such offenders were currently working as teachers here but she affirmed that so long as their sexual offences were not committed against children they may still work as teachers.’

    Philosophy of child friendly sex offenders. What else is it, if it is not that?

    What is worse, the pervert, or the person who allows the pervert to work with kids?

    That’s the question.

    G.

  • Steve

    in my wee pravince in Canada we have grade school till the eighth year or approximately 14 years of age and then the student and the students parents can choose to follow an academic or vocational educational track. the student must apply and be accepted by the vocational tracks otherwise they must follow an academic track. Even in the academic tracks there are more or less academic tracks with appropriate rigorous or not so rigorous training.

    The vocational tracks are funded as well or better than the academic training and credits earned can be applied to post secondary education such as plumber, electrician, mechanic or welder. All regulated fields with apprenticeship requirements.

    everyone is expected to graduate high school at 18 regardless of the track they choose to follow. Some jobs in particular require that you have completed high school and actually the drop out rate is relatively low

    You probably wont believe it from my writing but I chose the academically challenging route but I will admit english and grammar have always been my weak point. But it was my choice not the choice of the school, as I believe it should be

    Istarted out with the intention of taking a four year accountancy training corse but in my senior years I worked in heavy construction and fell in love with the personal freedom and sense of accomplishment that comes with an honest days work

    now at 39 I sometimes wished I had continued in a more strictly academic carreer but I can’t honestly say I regret my decision, I think its just mid-life enui about a road not taken.

    Now despite what you think I haven’t told you my life story to bore you to tears but to show that it should be the students decision not the schools. I or any student should be afforded the chance to try and fail then denied the chance to try at all.

    Academic selection merely allows the education institution the right to discriminate and instead I believe it should be the students right to discriminate against the educational institution

    By the way it might just be because of the industry I operate in but in my opinion vocational students should recieve every bit as much funding as academic students and nIreland’s current funding formula is unfair in this manor

  • Steve

    by the`way greg you need medication

  • I caught sight of Ms Ruane during a recorded Assembly debate one Saturday afternoon on BBC Parliament (sad, I know). I don’t think I have ever seen a more pitiful performance from any minister anywhere. Sammy, Basil and to be fair even some of the backbench Chucks happily took interventions during their speeches. Not Ruane. She refused all interventions and delivered an atrociously hectoring speech. She should be grateful for the unusual set-up at Stormont – anywhere else, she’d be toast.

  • jim

    Watchman- I was in the public galleries at that debate (sad I know). I went to see my strange country works, but was left confused and unhappy.

    The motion seemed to be asking the minister to hurry up and give some detail. It was a few hours of everyone in the room getting a chance to put her on the ropes and her tring feebly to explain that the committee wasn’t giving her enough info. When it came to a vote though, everyone voting against the motion. (or so it seemed)

    If anyone can explain what was going on I would be most grateful.

  • Pele

    So has anybody actually played the ball on this thread? If so please point if out because I can’t find it.

  • Gregory

    “by the`way greg you need medication ”

    Thanks for reminding me.

    We must always remember the beauty of our own nightmares, gimme danger little stranger.

    I have these zonk tablets for my back, I nose-dived into the third lock at the Lagan Valley Park. I think I’m a martyr to it.

    I might have to upgrade that cycle spill to a suicide attempt or something.

    G.

  • Gregory

    “by the`way greg ”

    If you are in Alberta,

    I’m doing your teachers next. The funding has been sittig there for six months.

    I might take a break in BC first. I have to deliver a Teddy Bear to Whistler.

    You bin da Seattle Steve?

    G.

  • kensei

    Mick

    I am interested in the suggestion that either responsibility for the CCEA or appropriate funding could be removed from the Department of Education. Is this possible without:

    1. SF vetoing the proposal.
    2. This ending up in the courts – surely the only body that has any authority on whether a measure can be declared “discriminating against children”
    3. A MAD scenario that rips through the Assembly.

    This issue seems toxic, and if the DUP were serious about compromise, surely it would be briefing on its own proposals at the moment?

  • slug

    Wasn’t too impressed with McCrea in that debate.

    Its useful however that the SF policy paper is out.

    Finance of the tests is not too big an issue as most parents will be willing to pay to take the test and others who can’t pay can be cross subsidised.

  • Ken,

    That question occurred to me too. And I am not sure of the answer. It would undoubtedly be messy: if it goes that far down the road. I’m not sure that if either of these parties put a foot over the line, that it won’t end up in court. If I was a parent in NI, I’d be watching them both like a hawk.

    Coherence of the policy has to count for something too. The likelihood is (as slug notes) is that we get a two teer system. Those who can pay for their kids to get into the selective schools, and those who can’t. I’ve yet to be convinced that ‘guidelines’ which are unenforceable through anything other than fiscal coercion will leave us with much other than an educational mess.

  • Alan

    There is something pathologically counter intuitive about the Unionist parties’ positions on selection. No matter where the debate may travel, no matter what verities may be placed on the table as options, they insist on returning to a form of discrimination as a first preference. In this case it is discrimination against our own children.

    The case they make is well made, that we have a successful education system at the top end. Our stressed out teens get a few more glossier gongs than equally stressed out teens in England. The fundamental flaw in the unionist position is that those gong winners will count for very little when you place them against the mass of other children. That small number of High fliers will also tend to fly away anyway, it’s in their nature.

    Yet the top grammar schools demand that unionist politicians support their tried, tested and discriminatory methodology against all comers. If we want to encourage high fliers then support them in schools, push them in schools, challenge them in schools, but you don’t have to distort the system and disadvantage other children in order to mollycoddle those achievers. You can mollycoddle them within the existing school timetable.

    There is also a sense of the unreal in the notion of reducing the number of grammar schools so that only A grade students could get places. Imagine the situation – two days after the release of results of an academic selection to a list of grammar schools reduced to, let’s say, just 7 schools, as I think a GBA rep once suggested ( a grammar intake of perhaps 1200 across NI ). Who is going to get it in the neck, then?

    “Alternatively, it might be countered by a decision to move responsibility for CCEA away from Ms Ruane’s department, possibly to the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister.”

    Not without cross community support, surely?

  • Ahem

    Unionist politicians defend grammar schools because, with a handful of exceptions like Basil & Dodds, they all went to grammar schools (though obviously schools like Portora, and even essentially Campbell, are now, in effect, little more than tarted up grammars). They also defend them because middle class voters matter so much to them, partially because of their turnout ability, but chiefly because they supply the upper echelon of the activist base (even in the white-socked DUP).

    Grammars in Northern Ireland have mutated far and wide from the old Butler ideal on the mainland, with it now taking some effort not to get into one. Believe me, the middle classes wouldn’t be a quarter so happy about them if only one in child in ten, for example, got into them.

    As far as I can see, there’s absolutely no pain in this for Unionists – it’s a bone they chew on that cheers up their own side; Sinn Fein have selected a minister so painfully incompetent, she lacks even the skill to successfully make the basic egalitarian pitch this could all be cloaked in; and it’s not (cf. Sinn Fein ministerial inability) going to work anyway. This is liable to lead to years and years in the courts before, as things stand, it resolves itself to the Grammars (and their resting on a selective intake) surviving. Win, win, win for political Unionism (albeit in the process Sinn Fein will have caused vast sums of public money to be p*ssed away – but who in Norn Iron cares about that?).

    So for Unionism it’s Brer Rabbit and the tar patch time.

  • kensei

    Mick

    That question occurred to me too. And I am not sure of the answer. It would undoubtedly be messy: if it goes that far down the road. I’m not sure that if either of these parties put a foot over the line, that it won’t end up in court. If I was a parent in NI, I’d be watching them both like a hawk.

    Has there been an actual compromise in the Assembly yet? The Victims commissioner one is all I can think off the top of my head, and it’s tearing at the seams. I cant think of non controversial measures getting through, Ministers happy to bask in a announcement glow, or the DUP killing the Irish language act, etc, but no actual compromise. It does not bode well.

    Coherence of the policy has to count for something too.

    There are diametrically opposed views; I can’t see how coherence comes from that.

    The likelihood is (as slug notes) is that we get a two teer system. Those who can pay for their kids to get into the selective schools, and those who can’t. I’ve yet to be convinced that ‘guidelines’ which are unenforceable through anything other than fiscal coercion will leave us with much other than an educational mess.

    I’m not so sure it’ll come straight down to money. A lot of the grammars are intensely interested in maintaining their reputation, so I think they’ll waive fees in order to pull in brighter pupils from the lower end. I am also not entirely sure chaos would be a bad thing: it will almost certainly cause a variety of schooling models to be pursued here and from that there may be some useful innovations and data. Unethical, probably, but I’m intellectually curious as to the result.

  • gram

    It amazes me that anyone still supports academic selection. Two years training our 10 and 11 year olds in exam technique rather than another language, maths or science.

    I get a sense that the pro selection lobby know they have lost the debate and are left throwing muck at the minister.

  • Alan,

    Good spake.

    There was an opportunity here to hammer something out that actually works. Top end performance does not seem to have featured in the Ministers’ rhetoric thus far, and Unionist’s seem willing and able to shrug off the disgracefully poor performance at the lower end.

    I’ve long been a fan of the Danish system, in which the splits come into specialist schools after a largely comprehensive system (Folkeskolen) from 7-16, but the specialisms are highly regarded, and well resourced. And the Gymnasia (the nearest equivalent of Grammars) choose by performance in examination.

    But then Danes have not been so cursed with class differences as we have in both Britain and Ireland. I suspect this is part of the catch here. We are not as egalitarian a society as we often like to think.

  • Del

    Basil seems to have got it totally wrong! What Sinn Fein have actually admitted is that the DUP are right – they cannot abolish academic selection and she cannot stop grammars from setting their own admissions exam. Her ‘guidance’ is not and can not be enforced by law. Of course the ones who will lose out most are the secondary schools, but sure Ruane doesnt really care about getting a system that works – she just wants to be stubborn and sectarian.

  • Gregory

    “But then Danes have not been so cursed with class differences as we have in both Britain and Ireland. I suspect this is part of the catch here. We are not as egalitarian a society as we often like to think.”

    Denmark is a dog’s breakfas, the quality of the schools varies, by significant margins, some of the schools are in as much chaos as some in Britain.

    One can’t escape the dustbin syndrome.

    When you see a Danish biker, don’t think Harvard, think bomb factory in garage. They all went to a dump of a school somewhere.

    G.

  • slug

    Ken

    I suppose the councils was a compromise?

  • slug

    With respect to finance, the Voluntary Grammars should act as the independent self governing units that they are by raising alumni donations to cover the cost of the tests for the least well off. As someone who works in the university sector I am aware that a good number of people are willing to give money to ensure that bursaries exist to allow deserving less well off people to get an education; it is the aort of thing a lot of people who themselves have benefited from an education consider worth coughing up for.

  • Bob Wilson

    Bottom line is that if Ruine decides to go down the Guidance route she will be tearing up the whole concept of cross community consensus.
    Regardless of the educational arguments that can only spell the start of a downward spiral

  • Mick Fealty

    I guess that would come down to the ethos of the individual schools slug, as to whether they would be inclined to do such. It would certainly make sense for those wishing to underwrite current high performances.

    I’m not sure it will split entirely that way Bob. We don’t know as yet whether Lumen Christi is the exception that proves the rule or the tip of a Catholic school iceberg.

  • willis

    I wonder why this document was leaked to McCrea.It makes Ruane look really bad. Interesting that it came from Tyrone. Plenty of food for conspiracy theorists.

  • lamh dearg

    I don’t think the pro selection side know they have lost the debate (ken), they feel their arguments remain valid and the risk of dumbing down our schools is as real as ever.

    There is a sizable Catholic middle class who do support selection and will happily send there children to a non Catholic grammar if there is not a Catholic grammar available. The idea that the Catholic side is behind abolition is very much an oversimplification.

    Grammars do want to protect their reputation, they also want to retain and attract good staff, one of the risks for grammars who go comprehensive is that their best teachers leave, starting a downward spiral in results and then difficulty attracting pupils and then difficulty attracting the next generation of staff. Remember the heads and governors of our schools have to have a longer vision than our (thankfully) transient politicians.

    Catriona’s threats about governors putting themselves at risk are no big threat. A grammar could run its own or a joint entrance exam at little cost, cross subsidize children from poor backgrounds and buy insurance against legal appeals, if the school is big enough this would be affordable by itself, or it could be purchased through the GBA.

    But of course an actual plan would make all this speculation unnecessary and might actually lead to an acceptable compromise.

  • Driftwood

    Given the timeframes, surley Ruane, or her SF leaders can swallow some short term pride, maintain the transfer test for another 2 years and allow a consensus to be built that will allow the parents and schools a real input. This has become a party political spat, with unionists (correctly IMO)smelling the blood of a wounded animal in the SF pack. Parents and teachers deserve better than the present uncertainty.

  • Mick Fealty

    The irony of John O’Dowd’s (highly accurate) remark about McCrea’s reference to what was or was not agreed at St Andrews was a political rather than educational argument, is that that is also a precise description of this particular ruck.

    Thus the title above: where exactly is the educational content in any of this? Raw ideology, yes. Educational reality, no.

  • Paul Haslam

    Looking across to Lumen Christie College reminds me that there is quite considerable support for the continuation of grammar schools amongst the Nationalist community not only in Derry/Londonderry but also across Northern Ireland/the North of Ireland. Does this imply that support for the abolition of selection is not universal across SF and the SDLP/FF! Correspondingly, the Unionist support for selection is not monolithic.

    Contributors to this debate might be interested to read some of the articles in Dr Niall McCafferty’s pamphlets in Reform 21 which can be found at http://www.reform21.org . especially his most recent ones. Another recently published article by Eric Maurin and Sandra McNally of the Centre for the Economics of Education at the LSE about the overall effects on educational attainment of widening access to the more academic track using the ‘natural experiment’ of the grammar school system in Northern Ireland, http://cee.lse.ac.uk/cee.dps/ceedp84.pdf , is quite an interesting use of the data. Whilst I have some doubts about their interpretation of the data it does provide a useful input to the debate.

    The use of guidelines for admissions in England and Wales does not bode well for here, ie coercion/legal basis is necessary. It would be extremely sad if the result of the present crazy situation results, as in RoI, with the formation of an independent/private school sector and the remaining bulk of pupils attending non-selective schools in some form or other and within those schools a hierarchy of schools based on popularity and esteem.

    Seniorhas

  • Hogan

    I see the transition of putting in O’Dowd as Ruane’s minder is complete.

    Must give SF voters in Lagan Valley a warm fuzzy feeling inside when they consider the faith the central party has in their man Butler!

    BTW Basil missed an open goal in this debate. While O’Dowd was blethering on about the SF document giving shape to this argument, Thompson then switched to Basil who immediately should have knocked the big guy out with a point about how it is the beligerency and vaugeness of the very person who is supposed to be leading the debate that has led to it being ‘un-structered’ in the first place.

    And how appropriate is it to have a discussion which will affect every child in Norn Iron just with SF party activists? Do the wider public actually matter? (Answers on a postcard to Balloo House.)

    Although if this excerise was all a SF ruse as part of a wider plan you just know if they were going to deliberately leak something that candidate number 1 would be the housewifes favourite. His appetite for publicity dwarves his tactical political judgement.

  • Driftwood

    2 more years of the transfer test as a stopgap.
    I’d like to hear alternative short term proposals to this.
    The middle to long term is a different debate. Parents of children (and teachers/principals)in p5 would like a short term answer, given the physical infrastructure for pronince wide Dickson plan is simply not there.
    Leave the personalities aside for a moment perhaps?

  • Driftwood

    province, not pronince

    I see the alternatives to the transfer test are threatening to overwhelm the thread…

  • IJP

    Slug

    I’m not sure it’s good politics though.

    If you’re interested in trying to secure consensus on the detail of how the educational system is to be re-structured, it’s probably not a good idea to publicise other parties’ internal documents to attack them. This is a comprehensive misunderstanding of the debate – the task is for Executive parties to come to agreement, not use the issue to turn the issue into a tiresome political football.

    Mick

    Spot on, of course.

    Btw, Margaret Ritchie doesn’t really have any qualifications for Ministerial office either, but she’s making a far better fist of it than most.

  • ulsterfan

    How can we come to a judgement when Ruane will not tell us details of her plan as to how children will transfer post primary.
    It is time she came out with a detailed comprehensive statement to be discussed at Stormont.
    Her delay is unforgivable.

  • Driftwood

    Catriona Ruane- Plan???
    Well, maybe we’ll be proved wrong, and she will come up with a magnificent plan mext month. Don’t hold your breath.
    One of the most important policies that will affect most people in NI has been left in the hands of someone, who in my opinion,and others, is clearly out of her depth.

    We can keep the transfer test for another 2 years, shit we’ve had it for over 50, and try and build consensus, or alternatives?????. We can hold until O’Dowd or someone with a bit of wit takes over from the pathetic Ruine.
    This issue has the power to show the assembly up as a sad parochial bunfight. SF can act now to let Catriona “spend more time with her family” or risk alienating (the assembly) for a large segment of the population.

  • willis

    “This issue has the power to show the assembly up as a sad parochial bunfight. SF can act now to let Catriona “spend more time with her family” or risk alienating (the assembly) for a large segment of the population.”

    Yep, that is about the height of it.

    What I find staggering is the relative restraint of the Grammar School lobby. Normally one would expect a fair amount of foaming at the mouth, but they have been very restrained, perhaps sensing that unlike Martin McGuinness, Ruin is expendable, and if they hold back with the criticism normal service will be resumed.

    The whole question is:

    Will SF go for a “Barrack Buster” which may destroy the NI Education system or will they accept that they are partners in a less than perfect partitionist regime?

  • Driftwood

    I think SF realise Ruine is a liability.
    But don’t want to be first losers.

    DFM could step in here and keep transfer for a couple of years, until Ruine is gently moved off stage with mininum Unionist smugness.

    Will SF go for a “Barrack Buster” which may destroy the NI Education system or will they accept that they are partners in a less than perfect partitionist regime?

    The latter seems the most likely option, now that they have accepted British rule here. But shsss.
    Unionist Applecart still intact, SF caught on a 3 way hook. But we’re not supposed to mention the fact Britain won the war. Don’t mention it again.

  • BfB

    2 cents

    I’ve always been very proud to associate with the fine products of your excellent educational systems on both sides of the island. When our bunch started turning out useless, entitlebots in the ’90s, I lobbied heavily to up the Irish quota of lottery green cards. They’re still laughing. Had to get all non-english speaking, 2nd grade, third world masses in first. They’re much more deserving of our largess, I was told. I even tried to migrate some business over to the olde sod. You were still using 150 Baud simplex modems out west ;-), so it didn’t work out. Please don’t go the US route and destroy your youngsters’ futures. Play the hard line and insist on nothing but what you’ve succeeded on in the past.

    ok, 4 cents.

  • Gregory

    My Ruane doll is so full of pins, I might have to buy it a hat or something.

  • Steve

    lol Driftwood the transfer test is dead as unionist superiority, get over it, get on with it and move on

  • Gregory

    “lol Driftwood the transfer test is dead as unionist superiority, get over it, get on with it and move on ”

    Don’t you find Ruane a bit of an arrogantly gaelic gauleiter?

    I know people who have been waiting months for a reply to their letters,

    She is a wind-up

    Gregory

  • steve,

    The transfer test as it already stands is dead. No one wants it. There is a perfectly acceptable compromise on the table: pupil profiles. Up to now, the minister has given no indication that she’s interested in any suchcompromise.

    What will keep it alive is a messy outcome to this debate.

  • Garibaldy

    What happened the idea of regionally-based systems she was mooting a while back? Is it gone?

    I’m no fan whatsoever of academic selection, but it should not have been abolished without a proper replacement system in place. And it’s not like there haven’t been about 5 years to come up with one. The whole thing is a mess. And I blame not just Ruane but PSF. They knew they were going to get back into government; they knew they were going to go for this ministry; why didn’t they have a plan in place?

  • Driftwood

    Move on to what Steve?

    Pupil profiles, Mick? Unworkable and a field day for lawyers.

    There is no Plan B. Sure we can wait to see what catriona comes up with in next few weeks, but given recent history, we shouldn’t get our hopes up.

    When you’re in a hole……

  • willis

    If this starts to hurt SF at the ballot box you will see swift action.

    Pupil profiles can work fine if the alternative to a Grammar School place is a place at a solid well-disciplined High school or Integrated College. And if there a clear routes to Academic qualifications for late developers.

  • Graham

    Del,
    Sinn fein have obviously got the DUP by the balls. The education ministry can do what it likes to education – selection is a timebomb and the Shinners have the controller. Whilst Ruane can’t enforce it by law, she can operate by other means; most grammar schools won’t be able to afford to set up their own reliably-tested entrance exams and will have to turn into comprehensive schools. This is all the DUP’s fault, they came out of St Andrews assuring us all that they had secured ministerial accountability and they had saved selection. This was all a big con and the DUP have been caught out.

  • Garibaldy

    I think they haven’t saved the 11 plus, but it looks a lot like selection of some sort will remain. Quelle surprise.

  • Driftwood

    but it looks a lot like selection of some sort will remain

    Yup…but some sort is needed fairly swiftly

    What was that line in No country for old men

    “It’s a mess sheriff”

    “Well, if it aint, it’ll do till the mess gets here”

    This really does have the potential to show the assembly up as a lame duck. It’s not the only issue that’ll end up in a bunfight, but its the most serious. A lot of despairing parents and teachers out there.

  • Mick

    Graham,

    “The education ministry can do what it likes to education – selection is a timebomb and the Shinners have the controller.”

    The obvious caveat to this is that it can do almost anything short of legislation. Thus there are guidelines, not hard rules. There are few ‘carrots’, and what ‘sticks’ there appear to be (potential legal actions) seem indistinct. And, of course, control implies responsibility. Any resulting mess is more likely to adhere to the Minister, rather than ‘the Opposition’.

    I would be surprised if these guidelines will have much effect in the state sector. Although, as Pete pointed out to me privately earlier today, one longer term outcome (if the Bain report is right) will the closure schools that are short on rolls. That, for the most part, will be High Schools, rather than Grammars.

    So we may just end up with a higher proportion of Grammars to Highs in the state sector.

    In the Catholic sector, well we don’t know yet. Lumen Christi is the first to pre-emptively opt
    for selection. It may not be the last.

  • Driftwood

    There will be more threads on this as the clock is ticking. I think Ruane will be the 1st casualty of this debacle, but party point scoring is of no use here.
    What is going to happen to pupils entering P6 in September?
    1. Transfer kept for another 2 years
    2. Schools choose by selection, as the few remaining grammars in England, individually, or as a group. ( simply the Transfer Test administered by schools or outsourced to NFER, and parents pay)
    3. Chaos

    Parents, take your pick!
    Assembly- credibility zero. Remember the halcyon days of direct rule, sigh…life was so simple then.

  • Alan

    “I would be surprised if these guidelines will have much effect in the state sector. ”

    You are seriously underestimating the support for the ending of selection across the teaching profession in NI.

    You have to remember that within education this argument was settled a long time ago in favour of ending selection. There are simply no benefits to the current situation beyond a tiny cohort of top achieving children who will achieve regardless of the system.

    This is a wholly political dispute on the pro-selection side, based on the flimsy, Enid Blyton premise that the right sort should always come out on top and they should be helped to do that. The grammar establishment define ” the right sort” in their own image. So the nice kids get lemonade and biscuits while the rest just don’t feature.

    We can’t continue to allow a small group of schools to block change for the better.

  • willis

    I think you need to be more specific there Alan or you will get lambasted by the right wing. The argument was won long ago in favour of getting rid of academic selection at 11. Academic selection continues and is supported for entry into Sixth Forms, HE and FE.

  • Mick

    Alan,

    It’s a shame we’ve not heard more from the teaching profession generally in this debate. The problem at hand is political (ie, the parties and employers, and not the teacher’s unions will make the key the decisions), but the debate could certainly do with more attention to the educational detail.

  • Driftwood

    The grammar school teachers are happy with the status quo, at least the ones I’ve talked to. Selection happens throughout life and in work etc. It may not always be fair, certainly not perfect, but no serious alternative is available.
    Unless we follow England down the comprehensive road to mediocrity. And the people on here attacking academic selection are the guardians of mediocrity.

  • willis

    “The grammar school teachers are happy with the status quo, at least the ones I’ve talked to.”

    That is probably not a surprise.

    Do you know any other teachers and are they happy?

    Don’t get me wrong, At this point I would vote for the Status Quo even though I believe it to be unfair, simply because I am not convinced that the minister has a practical plan. If I had primary age children I would be deeply uneasy, and I sincerely hope the minister feels the wrath of the electorate at the first opportunity.

  • Smithsonian

    Alan
    You have to remember that within education this argument was settled a long time ago in favour of ending selection.

    This is simply incorrect.

    The comprehensive system in England has been a disaster. Educational under achievement in certain sectors of society owes more to the socio economic background than it does to academic selection. In fact academic selection gives at least some children the chance to escape from such constraints.

    The support of parents is more important than the type of school that the children go to.

    Responsible parenting should be encouraged and parents should be allowed to send their children to the school of their choice.

  • Driftwood

    Willis, the status quo is not perfect. Secondary school teachers probably feel aggrieved. So do FE lecturers but they’re left out of the equation. But you’re right on your second point. You don’t abolish something without proposing a viable alternative. The electorate will not have the chance to vent their wrath on this because we all know Ruane is dead in the water. So be it.
    WTF is going to happen in the next 18 months?
    Anyone???

  • Alfred

    It’s good that this came out in public so we know where we stand better. I’m sure an awful lot of parents will be concerned by the Minister’s bloody-minded attempts to destroy selection with nothing really to replace it.
    Academic selection is by no means perfect and requires working on, but is an unclear “postcode lottery” any better?
    It seems as if St Andrews did not save academic selection, and we’ve been left in a confusing mess.

  • Mick

    My sense is that the debate in England has long since moved away from selection. the bigger debate on that was ‘won’ by labour when it forced through wide ranging, and untested, reforms in the 1960s. A big bang experiment, that John Kay refers to as “The centralised road to mediocrity”: http://url.ie/bx4.

    The latest crisis inside the Labour government is an almighty fracas between the centralising Secretary of State Ed Balls and the minister in charge of the City Academies, Andrew Adonis: http://url.ie/bwz.

    It may be significant that the Tories have abandoned the re-introduction of state-funded Grammar Schools in England, but I suspect this is more because they barely exist other than in a few fragmentary pockets. Adonis basically stands for greater autonomy for schools, and more scope to develop their own pedagogical approaches often with a range of partners.

    Paul Kelley, headteacher at Monkseaton HIgh School for instance has been working with Microsoft, The Open University (in order to enable degree study in a school environment http://url.ie/bx0), Independent Television Commission, BBC and others in order to develop innovative approaches to learning.

    One debate raging at the moment (http://url.ie/bx3) is less about high end achievement and more about how effective, or otherwise, the qualification route is compared to skills based learning in the workplace.

    Coming back to NI, the educational problem, as Alan pointed out earlier, is how does the minister plan to keep NI’s current high performances at the top end, and address the underachievement at the lower. The political problem arises partly from an refusal to engage on basic educational questions.

    The result is a highly sterile, self referential debate, in which political semantics routinely over power any sense of the real problems facing kids in school today.

  • willis

    Mick

    I thought your Brassneck article (http://url.ie/bx3) very good but was most taken by one of the comments.

    “A very well informed post. An apprenticeship is a very rare these days and difficult to get and there are many reasons for this:

    1. The big employers like British Gas, Councils, Water Authorities that typically trained our youngsters have been replaced by sole traders, franchised networks and private groups. They don’t have the capacity or the money to take on large numbers of apprenticeships.”

    So long as shareholder value is the first priority we will not have decant vocational education in this country.