The worst of both

Catriona Ruane is considering the use of a transfer test as an interim measure with a steadily reducing proportion of Grammar school intake based on the test. If true, this proposal manages to combine the worst of both the present and proposed system, a test based on proportions rather than passing grade plus selection by postcode. It would appear to me to fall into the trap that Unionists so often fell into in the past, get together those of a like-mind to think what a compromise would be before presenting it to opponents. As an approach it generally fell flat on its face. UPDATE: The SDLP has condemned the notion as a climbdown by Sinn Fein, a theme that the SDLP have been pushing lately (see Dolores Kelly comments).

  • slug

    Its a transitional arrangement so it answers the question of what are the Minister’s plans but it does not resolve the fundamental issue, it won’t gain cross community support in the Executive, and the so-called breakaway Grammars will not be inticed by this to change from their declared plan.

  • Bob Wilson

    Seems like an offer to be killed slowly rather than quickly

  • joeCanuck

    I offer a new verb: to ruane (as in destroy).

  • graduate

    If they’re only going to allow 50percent to be selected, which 50% will they pick. I can see big challenges on that. If I had a kid who gotr same grade as another and didn’t get picked I’d be suing faster than you could say “legally actionable”.
    She’s got to go!!! Never dismantle a system without the new one in place.
    Also, her performance at the Big House today was as crap as usual. Where’s the detail???

  • Mark McGregor

    Their manifesto commitment:

    Finally end academic selection – using parental preference and a Pupil Profile to inform parents of children transferring to all ability (11-18) post-primary education.

  • steve48

    dup will jump at it, lets them of the hook without risking the pay packet

  • Garibaldy

    I thought we already had a transitional and temporary testing as the 11 Plus was not abolishd right away.

    If this is true – and it seems fairly likely this is an authorised leak – then it’s a disgraceful going back on what was said. And can only add to the impression that not just the minister but the party she representing did nothing to plan for the future education of our children. Not just incompetence, but negligence to boot.

  • steve48

    just like there could be a chief victims commissioner

  • Insider

    Slug – One point that this announcement may be quite clever regarding, is that a No. of commentators are speculating that she won’t need cross-community support anymore to push this through, as she actually is keeping selection, and as such is satisfying the St. Andrews requirement etc. She can describe this as a ‘form of selection’, and as such, is not therefore bound by the St. Andrews requirement – quite clever: as usual the devil is in the detail!

    Plus, did anyone hear the debate this morning on the Nolan show between the Headmaster of Portora Royal School and Sir Ken Bloomfield. The Portora Royal head talked common sense, saying the Association for Quality Education – AQE (what a pompous name!) was talking nonsense, and was actually helping to destroy the Grammar School system. The debate ended up with Sir Ken Bloomfield (How did this man ever Head up the NI Civil Service??) inviting the Portora Head to come and view the trophy cabinet at Inst, as this showed the importance of Grammar School education i.e. as the Portora Royal head said ‘so this is the definition of quality education by the AQE i.e. winning the Schools Cup the most times!’ – unbelievable!!

  • Observer

    What a mess, and grammar schools wouldnt be bound by Runes new 11+

  • slug


    Well I think it will lead to difficulties mainly because the Grammars won’t accept the end of selection. However, at least it is a proposal which can be debated and which has the potential to wrongfoot her opponents.

  • Turgon

    A very interesting suggestion.

    I suspect that had Ruane proposed a Dixon plan typed system she might have gained significant cross community support. That might also have contained an element of selection.

    The problem seems to be that there has not been adequate planning for anything. In the absence of a plan it is ludicrous to stop the current (highly imperfect) system as it will create total chaos. This latest suggestion may be a form of attempt at a compromise. The problem there is that Ruane has managed to so annoy so many politicians and people involved in education, I doubt she can manage to produce anything of value. It now seems that association with Ruane will make almost any proposal unpopular. She appears to have gained an inverse Midas touch.

  • Reader

    Insider: as the Portora Royal head said ‘so this is the definition of quality education by the AQE i.e. winning the Schools Cup the most times!’ – unbelievable
    Indeed. Does the head of Portora think that a trophy cabinet would only contain Rugby cups? I am sure the Inst. cabinet is more varied than that!

  • willis

    “The members of AQE are honourable individuals who care about their schools.

    They care little about other schools, however.”

    Quote from Neil Morton, headmaster of Portora Royal School.

    “Secondly, we have to ask what is the purpose of the overall education system? Is it to produce better grades than England for the sake of doing, or is it to produce a school-leaving and graduate workforce that is able to fill, and indeed create, high-wage employment in modern industries based here at home? Our system works for the former, but not for the latter.”

    Alliance Party education spokesman Trevor Lunn.

    I must admit that after a winter of one-sided comment and biased news from the Telegraph, it is like spring to read some fresh balance.

    Is Kathryn Torney on holiday?

  • fair_deal


    “One point that this announcement may be quite clever regarding, is that a No. of commentators are speculating that she won’t need cross-community support anymore to push this through, as she actually is keeping selection, and as such is satisfying the St. Andrews requirement etc. She can describe this as a ‘form of selection’, and as such, is not therefore bound by the St. Andrews requirement – quite clever”

    IMO a “no. of commentators” are plain wrong. In the age of the internet I’d expect the clever to bother to check the basic texts before making pronouncements on what hurdles have to be jumped to avoid cross-community votes.

    There is no ‘St Andrew’s requirement’ as is described.

    Education/academic/selection/schools are not even mentioned in the SAA itself. However, it does appear in the Act. Here are the explanatory notes to the meaning of that part:

    “Section 21: Amendment of Education (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 etc

    88. Section 21 amends the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 in relation to the abolition of academic selection.

    89. Currently, the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 includes provisions which prohibit the use of academic ability as an admissions criterion but defers the provisions’ commencement and makes them subject to an affirmative resolution of the Assembly, provided the Assembly is restored by 24 November. Subsection (1) of section 21 further defers the commencement of the provisions, in line with the St Andrews Agreement timetable.

    90. In the event of the repeal of the Northern Ireland Act 2000 under Schedule 4 to this Act, commencement of the provisions prohibiting academic selection will be subject to an affirmative resolution of the Assembly. However if Schedule 3 to this Act is invoked, the provisions will come into operation on the date on which Schedule 3 comes into force. In either case the prohibition will take effect only in relation to admissions on or after 31 July 2010.

    91. Section 21 also provides that, if the Northern Ireland Act 2000 is repealed under Schedule 4, schools admissions regulations may make different provision for different descriptions of schools. This will ensure that a restored Assembly’s options to agree new admissions arrangements are not constrained by a requirement for all types of schools to use the same types of admissions criteria.”

    The closest thing to a requirement is changes needing:
    “an affirmative resolution of the Assembly”

    Nothing about proposals needing a dash of selection to go through without a cross-community vote.

  • Hogan

    I hope the SDLP doesn’t manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory on this one?

    Their initial line doesn’t look healthy to me. How the hell has their sensible approach of highlighting the incompetence of a minister exstinguishing one system with no plan for a replacement morphed into a rabid attack on the fact that the SF minister didn’t implement the dogma fast enough?

    I hope in the clearer light of day they can manage to get their line shifted onto better ground?

  • Mark McGregor


    If the proposal is not to ‘prohibit’ but to reduce or change the methodology of selection it does seem as if Ruane can implemented graduated reduction short of prohibition without the vote.

    Could she in theory reduce it to a 1% or less limit and stay inside the legislation? To this uneducated eye it looks possible. She may have worked out a way to get you in the long grass.

  • Driftwood

    Quoted this before:

    It’s a mess, ain’t it, sheriff?
    If it ain’t, it’ll do till the mess gets here.

    It arrives here Thursday.

    Basil was actually good on Spotlight tonight, as how this shambles is showing the assembly for the 6th form(if even that) debating society it looks to many people. The question is, Is it a debating society populated by pupils from a nice grammar school?

    You can tell from the haircut Basil went to a good school, not as good as Boris mind you, but it was miles better than Sammy or John’s .

    As for Catriona’s, …

    So it goes

  • Gerry Lvs Castro

    It has to be said that while SF may have proved past masters at propaganda and vote gathering, the proof of the pudding is in their performance in govt.
    We can only assume that Catriona is some sort of British (or perhaps FF) stooge, designed to make the party look completely incompotent.

    By turns arrogant, patronising and clueless, she has managed to alienate swathes of the education sector and even SF supporters, whilst simultaneously managing the awesome feat of making Edwin Poots look capable by comparison.

    Some say she should go, but Unionism must entice her to stay. Truly she is a treasure, and this latest, leaked ‘strategy’ will succeed in pissing off the previously merely bemused.

    You go girl!

  • Gregory

    “Is Kathryn Torney on holiday? ”

    It wouldn’t do us any harm.


  • Gregory

    “We can only assume that Catriona is some sort of British (or perhaps FF) stooge, designed to make the party look completely incompotent. ”

    It hasn’t even begun to happen for her. Its your own side you have to watch.

    If you’re not in a box, you are fair game. Those are the chuckie rules.

    Fail not.


  • 0b101010

    Well, at least it’s a plan; though I really can’t see the grammars embracing it. I wouldn’t.

  • slug

    “Could she in theory reduce it to a 1% or less limit and stay inside the legislation?”

    Doesn’t this question misunderstand the legislation, which makes it legal for the schools to set up their own tests (rather than making it illegal for the minister to abolish her tests)?

  • slug

    And here is what the DUP are saying:

    DUP education spokesman Sammy Wilson said that “under no circumstances” would his party agree to anything which saw academic selection being taken off the statute books.

    “Why would we do that when it was agreed at St Andrews that selection would remain unless there was cross-party support to ban it?” he said.

    Thus, selection will remain.

  • willowfield

    If academic selection is going to be retained, but gradually reduced or phased out over three years, won’t the next Education Minister (if a unionist) simply reverse the phasing-out and start increasing the number of places filled by academic selection?


    Amazingly, the SDLP have managed to mess up.

    An open goal and they still miss.

  • Hogan

    The SDLP decision on this smacks of not appreciating the importance of the opportunity that SF handed to them on this issue. In a rush to get a statement out in repsonse to a SF tactic of leaking, they have made the decision on a purely policy basis. The problem being that on issues of huge political impact, political considerations should be taken into account.

    The decision for how to proceed on this issue should’ve been taken at a level no lower than Durkan. There was no need to rush it.

  • Insider

    Fair Deal – Nothing you’ve stated re. the Act takes away from my point. The minister can state that she’s keeping selection – the Act mentions that the abolition of selection would require cross-community support in the Assembly, – Yes, but if she says she’s keeping selection, then none of the Act that you quote will apply. As usual, the devil is in the detail – What you define, or don’t define as academic selection!!

  • jaffacakes

    Would Catriona be within the act if she kept academic selection by permiiting all schools to use it?

    If as seems the idea, all future secondary “institutions” (per O’Dowd) are to have an academic or “Grammar” stream from 14 then allowing every school to stock that stream with potential top 30% recruits (the 11+’s A’s & B+’s?) would place, for example, the newly housed, centrally located, co-ed, Bangor Academy on an equal but different footing to the single sex, outskirts relocating, Bangor Grammar School.

    This then offers incentive to achieve at Primary School (rewarded with a place nearer the front of the queue for the secondary of choice and perhaps higher initial streaming on entrance), and better local traffic management (as 70% would presumably be recruited on the basis of domestic proximity or other connection).

    How about another few percent of preference allowance for sporting, mechanical or creative talent.

    Regarding the “post-code lottery” my nearest local boys school used to be Bangor Grammar. It’s about to move across town to re-build on land previously used by the Boys’ High Schools’ – the Boys’ and Girls’ High Schools have already been amalgamated into my new closest school – Bangor Academy which sits on the old Glenlola Collegiate (Girl’s Grammar) site in the centre of town.

    It’s a bit of a lottery, this post-code lottery.

  • fair_deal


    IMO think two issues are being confused. The requirements under the StAA Act and the discretionary powers of a minister. The ‘requirement’ as outlined by Insider is incorrect about what is in the act.

    SF seem to think that by going for guidance rather than regulation or law they avoid the vote. However, IMO there is a question mark over whether that would work (no doubt a judge could end up deciding). Also as guidance not regulations it could be ignored by the schools (despite the attempts to create legal bogeymen) so you still do not Achieve SF’s desired outcome. Additionally it opens a can of worms for the department in the rest of its plans around education which requirement the involvement of other departments.

    Plus all this ducking and diving is not particularly impressing the general public and has a question mark of is it worth it when failure seems more likely than success? Plus in terms of the blame for the mess all the others and media have been pretty successful at getting it to fall on Ruane and to a lesser degree SF.

    IMO while an Executive committee to look at it would be a partial climbdown by Ruane. If it produced a solution people would not be overly concerned about the backtrack. However, creating an ever greater and longer-term mess will create ire that has distance.

  • jesuswept

    Jesus wept,get her the f**k away from education, the executive, the assembly………..

  • slug


    Presumably the key development here is that a new kind of test is being devised which is taken in Grammar Schools themselves and set by CCEA.

    In some ways this sounds like DENI doing their own test in order to stymie the plans of the 31 breakaways to set their own test.

    Thus I wonder if the DENA-sponsired test allows the Grammars to select 100% using this test, in violation of the guidelines of 50%? Or will DENI be able to enforce their guideline percentages because they are in control of the test results?

    If the latter this would seem to present a challenge for the Grammars: either set up their own test in parallel with the DENI sponsored one or go along with Ruane’s percentages.

    Hopefully it will be clearer soon.

  • Driftwood

    Hopefully it will be clearer soon.


    Anyone driving along the Upper Newtownards Road tomorrow, look out for flying pigs…..

  • fair_deal


    Interesting questions. Don’t know the answers

  • joeCanuck

    no doubt a judge could end up deciding

    That would be the ultimate refutation of the political system we have set up and would be a terrible shame, especially to Minister Ruane, if she is capable of being ashamed.