‘could define the executive’

Whilst Sinn Féin education spokesman, John O’Dowd, sets out his party’s opposition to the Association for Quality Education plans for post-primary academic selection the Northern Ireland Education Minister, Sinn Féin’s Caitriona Ruane, has reportedly written to all post-primary grammar schools warning them of the “legal difficulties” involved with such tests – a continuation of what a Belfast Telegraph op-ed has referred to as, “the wrong approach to what could be a laudable objective”. The Minister has resorted to claiming concern about legal matters before.. Meanwhile the new Chairman of the Assembly’s Education Committee, the DUP’s Mervyn Storey, has said the publication of the plan was “proof-positive of the reality that academic selection is here to stay” – that vacuum was always going to be filled. Interesting, given the circumstances, to note the reported comments from the NI First Minister, the DUP’s Peter Robinson

Resolving the problems over education is an issue which could define the executive, First Minister Peter Robinson said. He said everybody needed to get into negotiation mode and get down to the business of getting agreement. Mr Robinson said if they could agree over education it would show they could agree over anything.

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  • joeCanuck

    Mr Robinson said if they could agree over education it would show they could agree over anything.

    Hmmm. Bend a bit with Education and we
    ‘ll give you P&J;?

  • TT

    no doubt we’re all expected to believe that this teachers’ plan is the fruit of “hardworking” DUP MLAs who of course are firmly in control of not only Stormont but the Palace of Westminster.

  • Essentialist

    There has been no work by the political parties on solving the dilemma of removing academic selection just posturing and bluff. The blunt instrument of leglislative removal of the 11-plus has created chaos. It is of interest that the main movers and shakers in the educational establishment are all Catholic. Look back to the composition of Burns Costello groups etc Now would be a good time to flush out the architects of change and demand an explanation. The curriculum changes are a good place to start. One credible hypothesis goes along the lines of “this is an organised and systematic attack on the Protestant worldview.” Forget Ruane or Bloomfield they are mere distractions.

  • lamh dearg

    Christ! After a few Catriona free weeks I had almost forgotten about her.

    Is she still in post?

  • TT

    “Christ! After a few Catriona free weeks I had almost forgotten about her.

    Is she still in post? ”

    With the ejection of Edwin Poots and Ian Paisley from the executive I suppose you could be forgiven for thinking they were clearing out the inept ministers.

    Catriona’s continuing presence however, proves otherwise.

  • observer

    There has been no work by the political parties on solving the dilemma of removing academic selection just posturing and bluff.

    —–

    The problem is that many parents wish to retain it.

  • TT

    “The problem is that many parents wish to retain it.”

    And despite all this cock and bull about the wonders of devolution it’s still under threat.

  • Essentialist

    The extent to which parental support for the 11-plus cause diffulties for the education establishment were highlighted this morning when the Northern Ireland BBC news claimed the last of the transfer tests had already taken place. This misinformation persisted in spite of a correction being provided to the BBC on two occasions. At the time of the next broadcast the item was dropped leaving viewers with the distinct but mistaken impression that transfer tests were gone.
    Maggie Taggart must still have been dreaming.

  • “The extent to which parental support for the 11-plus cause difficulties for the education establishment were highlighted this morning when the Northern Ireland BBC news claimed the last of the transfer tests had already taken place.”

    Essentialist
    I would suggest the parents you talk about are in a minority, all be it a very vocal one who have the backing of powerful forces with their own vested interests.

    What I find interesting about the Education debate is that it is become increasingly clear the DUP offers nothing to working class Loyalists. The education of the majority of working unionist children is failing them, most accept this and in their hearts know at best selection will only lift a small minority of these kids to a place where they have a right to be.

    Yet the DUP has no interest in the education of the majority of W/C kids, all it is interested in is placating its middle and lower middle class core support base. The Unionist working class would be far better off, now SF has accepted partition, supporting that party, for at least it would throw the cat among the pidgins. To simply carry on being the voting fodder of unionist parties who do nothing for them borders on being masochistic.

  • Essentialist

    Mick, Where is the evidence for your claim of minority support for the 11-plus. Apart from asking unionists to swallow Sinn Fein’s poisoned chalice on education you ignore the equality of opportunity issue. The real issue is the role of teachers, particularly in Protestant working class areas, failing both parents and pupils by offering up povery of aspiration. The politicans don’t teach – that is a job for teachers. Perhaps some of these soi-disant professionals think of themselves more as social workers than public service teachers. Unlike those in deprived Catholic communities most teachers in the Shankill don’t live among the communities they serve and therefore seem detached and somewhat above the grubby realities of life there. If the teachers don’t teach these children who will?
    Do not confuse the voice of AQE with those of parents able to understand the forces at work here. Not all Protestant working class parents are fooled. AQE claim to speak on their behalf but most AQE parent spokespeople are teachers, principals, doctors,lawyers, accountants or retired educationalists. The DUP and Sinn Fein know that there are around 25 votes of ordinary citizens for every teacher. Pissing those voters off even more would be unwise. The UUP SDLP and Alliance have no better ideas. Politicans don’t understand the politics of education.

  • PeaceandJustice

    Mick Hall – “What I find interesting about the Education debate is that it is become increasingly clear the DUP offers nothing to working class Loyalists.”

    I agree that the focus of the DUP has been to maintain selection yet it ignores the majority of Protestant children who fail the test. The parents of those children don’t have a strong voice in the media and get ignored.

    Some form of academic testing is required – the age and format has to be agreed. But the DUP can’t just continue a single issue battle with Cat Ruin. They need to widen the debate to cover the education of the majority of children.

    The main problem in sorting out the education issue is the incompetent minister supposed to be in charge. The Sinn Fein PIRA leadership need to do just that – show leadership – by replacing her with someone who can do the job.

  • Driftwood

    All the parties have dug themselves (and parents) into a collective hole. SF have dug themselves into a slightly separate bunker by maintaining in post an intransigent minister who cannot possibly hope to rescue the situation.
    An emergency meeting to discuss, agree and implement a short to medium term solution is surely within the grasp of our mediocre politicians. And that means sidelining Ruane.

  • Essentialist

    You mean Martina Anderson,someone involved with the IRA, instead of Cat. R, who ostensibly wasn’t?

  • Essentialist

    Sidelineing the politicans is the main objective of the educationalists here. Just look at the ESA powers for example.
    Parents aren’t in any real hole since they have legal rights in this matter. It is clear that they are being actively excluded as stakeholders – a grave mistake. The rush to find a solution is an artificial panic created to achieve the basis for compromise. Compromise is impossible on this matter. The DUP know this. Concessions on Education in exchange for P&J;are not a fail deal. Parental choice on the basis of religion and/or philosophy is a right. Removal of that right can only lead to legal challenge. Back to the drawing board educationalists – better come up with a new and improved 11-plus soon. Tick tick…..

  • Brian Walker

    A deepening sectarian split is among the worst consequences of the academic selection fiasco, regardless of what side of the fence you’re sitting on in the main argument. It’s tragic that Sir Ken Bloomfield, our most eminent public servant for 40 years, finds himself at the head of Prods only body, as chair of the “Association for Quality Education.”
    It’s very telling that Lumen Christi, the sole Catholic grammar holding out for selection seems to be ploughing a lonely furrow with its own “aptitude test.” What a glaring failure all round.

    But in his recent article,did Bloomfield hint at suppressed support from Catholics who might yet join him? (Bel Tel Wednesday, June 18, 2008)

    “It is of course the case that other excellent grammar schools, have not so far decided to take advantage of the AQE initiative. We believe that in time some of these may decide to join us. We are aware of cases in which head teachers and boards of governors sympathetic to our aims may well be inhibited by influences above and beyond the boardroom.”

    Is he referring to the Catholic sector or have they been left outside the tent altogether? Bloomfield should clear this up.

    One neat point against the Prod pro-selection case has been made by the CCMS’s, (Council for Catholic Maintained Schools) Jim Clarke (Monday on March 10, 2008)
    http://www.onlineccms.com/current-issues/26/

    ” The education system does produce high levels of achievement at the top end but:
    * round 25% – 30% of young people leave Northern Ireland for their university education and 75% of these do not return;
    * Around 13% of those who graduate here subsequently leave Northern Ireland;
    * In summary we are a net exporter of talent because our education system is not aligned with the economy.”

    And that means it’s the Prod majority trickling away out of their not so beloved wee province, Clarke is too mealy- mouthed to say. Answer please, Sir Ken? Amazing that the DUP turn a blind eye to this, in their own narrow interest. I’ve always found the DUP’s warm embrace of selection a total puzzle, given their working class roots. An appeal to the garden centre UUs, perhaps?

    Both sides of both sides (Prods and Caths; pro- and anti-selection) badly need to debate these things TOGETHER, honestly exposing their sectarian analyses on the way. Unless they do, the whole awful mess will never get sorted out. And yet another generation will have been betrayed.

  • Essentialist

    Brian,
    It’s a bit late in the day to talk about debate. That opportunity long passed when it became clear that public opinion differed from the educational establishment. There now exists one comprehensive system of Catholic education (non-academical but 99.4&#xre;ligiously selective) and the mess of the rest. One size fits all, with prizes for everyone, is the only offer on the table. I for one see that as an attack on freedom, progress and social justice. Am I alone?

  • Driftwood

    We can keep the current situation, with the AQE maintaining the Grammar school ethos, or we can follow England down the path to mediocrity, but those parents who can afford it, going independent. But presently there is no coherent map for going anywhere. Some schools have taken matters in to their own hands because the Assembly is in a stand-off. And this wont be resolved before the assembly summer recess. The Assembly will increasingly be seen to be the white elephant it is. The AQE exists because there is an incompetent education minister who is beyond a joke.

  • Brian Walker

    On the contrary, Essentialist, and small wonder Driftwood and others sound so bleak. The debate has never been held; that’s the whole point about the Assembly’s glaring democratic and policy failure. Yes, the Assembly system has so far failed to rise to the level of society’s real needs. It has created a deep policy vacuum in education and forced the selectionists into a corner. From the main parties, there has been scarcely a word about the public interest as a whole. We can only take what comfort we can from the mildly encouraging if general noises coming from Peter Robinson, about the need to get down to the serious business of government. Less party Stalinism and spitting and snarling all round would help. For a next step, my own suggestion is to adapt and modernise a Green Paper approach by a long forgotten minister Lord Melchett in the 70s. First the parties need to agree the aims of education – easy to find them in A Shared Future – or start again if they must. Then they need to set theory aside and set up a Commission to draw up two maps of NI schools, first all taken altogether, then by religious affiliation, taking into account both demographics and curricular specialism – and compare the two. This would take the Bain report substantially further and give all sides something substantial to discuss, alongside the secondary schools budget. Next,on the basis of a widely drawn options report with recommendations by the Commission, hold open consultation by public forum, to introduce for the first time the essential accountability to the long suffering public. The approach would need some pretty deft facilitating but that could be done. The consultation outcome should be referred to the Assembly committee created for the purpose. Reaching agreement is the constitutional imperative laid on the Executive. Armed with the public consultation and committee reports, the Education Minister would be bound to submit a representative analysis to her colleagues for collective decision, no messing around with a legally dubious backstairs approach. The public could then judge the parties on the basis of their constructive contributions. This would adopt a consensual process for tackling the tangled confusion that is secondary schools policy. Sounds naive? Try it, or offer a better idea.

  • willis

    Essentialist

    The real issue is the role of teachers, particularly in Protestant working class areas, failing both parents and pupils by offering up povery of aspiration. The politicans don’t teach – that is a job for teachers. Perhaps some of these soi-disant professionals think of themselves more as social workers than public service teachers. Unlike those in deprived Catholic communities most teachers in the Shankill don’t live among the communities they serve and therefore seem detached and somewhat above the grubby realities of life there. If the teachers don’t teach these children who will?

    Ouch!

    Still, you have a point. A bit more evidence might be useful.

    If you are focusing on the primary sector in particular then good on you. This debate about post 11 ignores the damage already done.

  • lamh dearg

    Brian

    While the exporting of graduate talent is sad for we who stay and may possibly be bad for our economy it has nothing to do wih the process of transferring from Primary to Secondary Education.

    It affects both catholics and protestants and is, in my opinion, a Good Thing for the individuals concerned and, should they ever return here, we will all gain from their experiences of and contacts with the real world outside of our self obsessed little parish.

  • willis

    Brian W

    Not naive certainly. More like an Oxbridge interview for students who played lots of sport.

    There is an Debate to be had and an agreement to be got here. Peter Robinson looks like the right leader on the DUP. I would put my money on Gildernew for SF

  • “equality of opportunity”

    There is the rub of the question, with selection in place at 11, it becomes a road block on equality of opportunity. Although I do agree that one of the main problems for many working class children’s eduction, is that far to many of their parents have poverty of aspiration.

    In the past there would have been the ship yards, heavy/
    precision engineering and the like in which young working class protestants could hope to gain an apprenticeship, or if not semi skilled work. No more it seems, making many parents less sure footed as to what their child might do on leaving school.

    This is where the school should and in some cases already does come in, these parents need to be told that if their children work hard at school their life chances will not only be wider than their own had been, but also would be far more more variable.

    The school and parents need to draw up a contract to work in tandem over things like home work, discipline etc. To continue with selection, would for some of these parents, simply confirm that being working class means that some things are not for them and theirs, higher education is an example. Whilst I would discourage that attitude they would not be altogether wrong.

    There is also the question of what type of society people wish the north to be. Religious selection for school children in the north has proved a disaster, now it seems some are arguing for selection based on class. For that is what you end up with if you maintain grammar schools etc. Yes some bright working class kids will get through the net, but as with the rest of the Uk before they went comprehensive, they will be far and few between.

  • Driftwood

    Yes some bright working class kids will get through the net, but as with the rest of the Uk before they went comprehensive, they will be far and few between.

    I’d like to see some figures, but I disagree with that statement, coming from a ‘working class’ background and going to a grammar school did not make me look down on those who went to secondary, many of whom fared better than me. It’s about whether someone is suited to an ACADEMIC education or a vocational or pragmatic education.
    Selection happens throughout life. The one size (or type)fits all approach is old style communism, and it doesn’t work. I do think though that selection (which doesn’t mean *success* or *fail*) at 14 is the better option, but that opportunity appears to have been squandered.

  • Essentialist

    “Religious selection for school children in the north has proved a disaster, now it seems some are arguing for selection based on class. For that is what you end up with if you maintain grammar schools etc. Yes some bright working class kids will get through the net, but as with the rest of the Uk before they went comprehensive, they will be far and few between.”

    So please define the graduates of St Malachy’s College, Belfast. Loss of Equality of Opportunity is not caused by the 11-plus but by (a) failure to enter the pupil for the competition and (b) ineffective teaching of numeracy and literacy in primary schools to a cohort of disadvantaged pupils. This abuse of children is symptomatic of class divisions enhanced by teachers. In what other context would you handicap the weakest candidates by having them start the race a couple of laps after the strongest?

  • Essentialist

    The Association for Quality Education (AQE) is a front organisation for the Governing Bodies Association (GBA) The majority membership of the GBA is the Catholic Voluntary sector. No Catholic school supports the AQE position. Bloomfield has a lot of explaining to do. To better understand his aims and objectives it may assist to read his document on the General Teaching Council’s Website. http://gtcni.openrepository.com/gtcni/handle/2428/13554
    How can a group supportive of the useless Pupil Profile claim to support a valid and reliable test unless their purpose is to use the veneer of measurement to select on social criteria?

  • Sadly education is already run on a one size fits all basis, in that it expects all primary school children to advance at the same pace, and when they do not, those who for example are late starters find themselves at the bottom of the pack. With comprehensive education and good teachers this can be overcome at secondary level, but with selection the slow starters do not even get into the game by not being put forward for the 11 plus/whatever.

    Essentialist I am not up to speed on St Malachy’s College, Belfast,
    so I will come back to you on that, but I strongly believe selection plays a major role in what your call ” the abuse of children is symptomatic of class divisions enhanced by teachers”. as it is part and parcel of the system teachers are duty bound to teach.

    Driftwood,

    I am very suspicious of whether someone is suited to an academic education, or a vocational or pragmatic education. As something similar was practiced in England in the late 1950s early 60s. In reality it meant mainly middle class children taking the 11 plus and going to grammar schools, with the hope of going on the university, brighter working class children attending technical schools and gaining apprenticeships. The baulk of the rest of the working class kids attending the local sink secondary modern where they learnt sod all worth learning, as they were being turned out to become the factory fodder and muscle for the building sites, docks etc.

    In todays world even in blue color jobs a certain standard of eduction is needed, for example operating plant in factories and warehouse one needs to be computer literate. I’m not convinced there are the jobs out there for badly educated workers.

    And who is to decide who will go in the academic direction etc etc, the same type of mindset that refused to put bright working class children in for the 11 plus?

    No, every child should get the same crack of the whip, then at say 14, the comprehensive school should be able to channel them in to the direction they will need to go to have a fulfilling career. whether it is working with their hands, brain or a combination of both. Mind you, it would not do any harm if society in general and especially the media began to respect people no matter what job they hold.

    By the way whilst not advocating a stalinist State, education was one of the few things the Stalinist states did well.

  • Catriona Ruane has an impossible task. She has to close grammar schools ( to appease the Labour Party in England) maximise the number of Irish schools ( to pay off the IRA) and save money ( because the Govermnent is bankrupt). In the mean time all the wealth-creating business has gone to China or India or in to Mr Quinn’s back pocket.
    My own view on grammar schools is that they should all be comprehensives but that those serving middle class pupils should miraculously resemble grammar schools just like the system in England.Oh and rich parents living in bad school areas should be able to send their children to good schools elsewhere if enough cash changes hands.

  • Raymac

    I read with interest the comments before this.As a teacher with a lot of experience in teaching what used to be called “ESN” children (educationally sub-normal–I know it sounds like something out of a Nazi propaganda leaflet, but it wasn’t that long ago) I have watched the system here go downhill. What I was able to teach my so-called challenged pupils 10/15 years ago in Maths and English is now normal in the curriculum. It has been dumbed down, no matter what the so-called experts tell you. These people are in thrall to far-fetched unworkable theories.
    That is why Catriona Ruane thinks she can get away with it. Most of the theorists agree with her. What she proposes is essentially Marxist. The one size fits all does not work.
    To use an anology, does every child who plays football end up at Rangers,Celtic, or Man.Utd.?
    No they don’t, but these clubs scout kids from age 7/8 and hope to find a gem sometimes. Selection is part of life whether we like it or not. It can sometimes lift a child to reject him/her later, but it does give a chance at a better or more enhanced life. If that is at 11, 12, 13, or 14 is up to those in charge to decide. What I personally discovered from running schoolboy football teams is that the kid who looks a worldbeater at 9/10 yrs will have levelled up considerably by the time they are 15/16. Education also has this way of levelling out. Forget about the basic Primary schools and the quality of teaching in them and the whole argument is redundant.
    The elephant in the room, that no-one wishes to mention, is that home background is equally as important as the school.
    The amount of one parent families, the failure of those in charge to back the teachers in disputes, the breakfast clubs, the after schools services, the childminding, the social skills needed (and teachers are increasingly expected to teach these as well)should be the concern of society as a whole, not just the education system.

  • Driftwood

    I think I’m pretty much in agreement with you raymac, especially in regard to home background, which is not just parental, but peer influenced, and partly which is socio-geographic.
    As for the dumbed down curriculum, well this all started when children and some adult learners were seen as consumers, with a choice at which subjects to study after 16. So now we have thousands studying media studies, psychology etc, and Chemistry, Physics and “harder” subjects slowly falling away. Same at Universities, where Geology etc has disappeared, and Economics replaced with the more asinine “Business Studies”.
    World beating economy my arse, you can bet no-one in India or China is studying media studies. UK plc, and RoI are going to pay the price for this nonsense.

  • Essentialist

    Driftwood et al.
    Time for Teachers to Stand and Deliver.
    Instead of the tired rhetoric used by the professionals hiding behind their unions and political representatives, the northern ireland teaching profession must stand and deliver on their responsibilities. The excuses trotted out in a tired, repetitive and unconvincing fashion only perpetuate their failure, particularly in primary school, to lift disadvantaged children out of their trap.

    For evidence rather than anecdote see the work of Jaime Escalante in Garfield High School in East Los Angeles. The movie, Stand and Deliver, highlights the prime location for the poverty of aspiration in classrooms.
    Escalante says: “The movie Stand and Deliver brought home several important points: First, no one expected severely disadvantage barrio students to achieve academic excellence. The movie also revealed that some educators hold the false and racist idea that Hispanic students are not as smart as some others, and that they shy away from courses that require hard work. It also showed how an even more insidious prejudice leads to a prevailing opinion that requiring academic excellence from poverty-level students presents a grave risk to their “fragile” self-esteem. Such a demand, according to the nay-sayers, would be one stressor too many for young lives already bowed under crushing poverty, inequities and hopelessness. How could they be expected to cope?

    I am happy to say that our program has proved that logic to be faulty. When students of any race, ethnicity or economic status are expected to work hard, they will usually rise to the occasion, devote themselves to the task and do the work. If we expect kids to be losers they will be losers; if we expect them to be winners they will be winners. They rise, or fall, to the level of the expectations of those around them, especially their parents and their teachers.”

    Parents want to find teachers like Escalente in their schools but this will be impossible when the Graduate School of Education at Queen’s University, responsible for the teaching of teachers, is populated by those who have never taught in a school classroom and are described mainly as conflict resolutionists. Perhaps many of these supperannuated socialists are responsible for the conflicts in the education system today?
    Watch Escalente on being a teacher here..
    http://www.thefutureschannel.com/dockets/jaime_escalante/jaime_on_being_a_teacher/index.php

  • Essentialist

    Is it mere concidence that things have gone so quiet or are the DUP shaping up for a compromise announcement? It seems strange that the Church of Ireland announce their desire to become more actively involved in local matters but neglect to mention schooling and education. Then Peter Robinson announces the DUP scheme to protect Britishness. Do either of these “leaders” not see the attack on education choice for what it is – an attack on Protestantism and Britishness?

  • barnshee

    “Loss of Equality of Opportunity is not caused by the 11-plus but by (a) failure to enter the pupil for the competition and (b) ineffective teaching of numeracy and literacy in primary schools to a cohort of disadvantaged pupils. This abuse of children is symptomatic of class divisions enhanced by teachers. In what other context would you handicap the weakest candidates by having them start the race a couple of laps after the strongest?

    (a) Who failed -the parents ?
    (b) If ineffective why are SOME pupils successful – could they be
    1 More attentive ?
    2 Have more cognitive ability ?
    3 Have more home help -the parents again ?

    Who gave the two lap start?

  • Essentialist

    Who are the “some” you refer to? One Shankill primary school entered no pupils for the 11-plus two years running.

    In that area parents have been failed by teachers, the churches, politicans and the education authorities and their own poverty of aspiration.

    The most disadvantaged and ill-educated parents need the help and support of the state to provide a lift out of the poverty trap. Poverty of aspiration is the endemic feature which is spread like a virus. (See reference to Jaime Escalante in prior post)

    The two lap start refers to the “early years enriched curriculum” (EYEC) which was introduced into controlled primary schools in 2000. The School of Psychology at QUB, the BELB and CCEA were the architects. The promise made in the funding plea was that the new curriculum would improve on the traditional- the results proved otherwise. How can delay in the introduction of teaching of reading and maths be ever considered an improvement? Not a word of apology from the experimenters. Wilfred Mulryne, former headmaster of Methodist College Belfast helped approve the CCEA funding, Rev Houston McKelvey was a member of the BELB and has remained silent on the negative results. Perhaps you would like a list of the great and good who lend their status to education projects but disappear when things go wrong. Most have been promoted instead.

    Your questions should be addressed to the organisations mentioned above. It was they who initiated this unethical experiment. If it was a medical study it would have ended shortly after starting and the investigators likely struck off or jailed.

    A question in return: Who will pay for the damages done to the children experimented upon?