“she has to face up to the political reality..”

There’s a lengthy interview with Northern Ireland Education Minister, Sinn Féin’s Caitriona Ruane, in the Irish News today [subs req]. But, as she said in a carefully presented pre-recorded interview on Tuesday’s Stormont Today, “I don’t believe most of what I believe in the papers” [sic]. Despite the Catholic Bishops’ concerns the minister is adamant that she has “brought forward very clear proposals” and that her critics “now have clarity”. The point emphasised in the Irish News was the apparent threat to by-pass the Legislative Assembly [subs req] – in the clip below, “I want to legislate for my proposals. If that doesn’t happen, well then I have to look at other ways.”

The Chairman of the Assembly’s Education Committee, the DUP’s Mervyn Storey was in the studio for Stormont Today and gave his reaction to the interview – “The minister knows, and she has to face up to the political reality. Caitriona Ruane was forced into facing up to a legal reality that she could not abolish academic selection. At some stage, probably over the summer, whenever she has time to reflect, time to consider the mess that she has created within the education system, that the political reality is that there will be no consensus on her proposals as they currently stand.”

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  • Essentialist

    Mervyn Storey said in his response to Caitriona Ruane’s diktat that the DUP is looking for “some stay in terms of the elements of the particular proposals”.
    Was this an inadvertent slip? Is the DUP backing down? Having established the legal and political right to retain academic selection the solution for parents and pupils is straightforward. Simply rename and retain the 11-plus. CCEA are masters at name changes and re-branding – no issue there. The Minister has admitted that the revised curriculum CAN BE TESTED although CCEA’s product is yet to produced, trialled and tested. The yelling and screaming will come from primary school principals, teachers and their unions who have already shifted to the practice of abandoning the teaching of numeracy and literacy in favour of play based activities. The Pupil Profiles which they have been giving parents as a report on their child’s progress are useless. It’s going to get tougher for primary schools. Academic selection is here to stay. Is that clear enough?

  • truth and justice

    Legaly she cant bypass the executive and do her own thing, the silly woman is only digging a deeper hole which she will have to come out of at some stage why does she not do the sencible thing and offer those schools who want accademic selection and those who want her route and let there be a two teer choice. With the Catholic Church now coming out against her she would be foolish to keep this going?

  • Essentialist

    I have read Ruane’s proposals and would like her to be tested on them but understand she has issued a diktat banning examinations, objective assessments but not self assessments. Maybe she should see her G.P. and get a prescription for Ritilan. I see in this article it may help with exams. Would never suggest she has ADHD.

  • willis

    Well if these 3 posts are an up sum of the opposition to the Ministers plans? she has nothing to worry about.

    What both her Irish News piece and the muted response seem to indicate is that she has considerable support and the DUP are unable to mount a focussed response.

    Tragically perhaps Sir Ken and his supporters have painted themselves into a corner. By coming up with a test on only Maths and English and running tests you have to pay for in the Grammar schools they have proved their elitist credentials. By moving without the support of any Catholic grammar schools they have proved their sectarian credentials.

    She has been lucky in her enemies just like Thatcher, and look at the damage she did.

  • Essentialist

    Just the opposite my ideolically limited friend.
    Ruane and her DENI advisors have conceded on testing. After all the huffing and puffing about the new, enriched, revised curriculum eschewing testing the dictator of education ruin has commissioned her curricular and exams body CCEA to develop a test. Either she is misleading the public again (plenty of prior form there) or she lied. Bit of a connundrum for her anyway.

    As to the sectarian accusation let’s be clear the only sectarian approach on this academic selection subject belows to the Catholic community. Here’s a quote from Ruane’s interview with the Irish News:
    I’m meeting Catholic parents, priests, monsignors, religious orders,nuns who are involved in education and children, as I am in all the different sectors, and I welcome the fact that the Catholic Church are opposed to academic selection and have said it is immoral and a social justice issue.”

    Get the message Willis?
    If this masterplan is good for Catholics let them have it.

    I know of many Catholic parents who think differently but the minister entirely dismisses their views in favour of the Bishops plan.

    You may be correct in pointing out that Bloomfield represents schools rather than pupils and parents but rememmber that Bloomfield is the former head of the civil service, a spokesperson for the GBA, chairman of Inst and also the front man for AQE. He is a confused man. Don’t be mistaken into thinking that Bloomfield represents grassroots opinion within the unionist community. He appears to be what Lenin described as a useful fool and perhaps a ready conduit to the DENI. Check the AQE website http://www.aqe.org.uk. They advocate pupil profiling (a GBA idea) and at the same time Computer Adaptive Testing. The GBA are a front for Catholic grammars and the AQE a front for the GBA. It would give you a bad case of C.Diff trying to cleanse the cross contamination.
    Make no mistake Willis parents will decide this matter in the end regardless of the propaganda campaign of the minister and her band of educationalists and academics.
    I’m all for change but it must be an evidence-based improvement.
    If the 50,000 empty desks bother Caitriona so much this time of year would be good for a bonfire.
    Any ideas for an effigy?

  • barnshee

    The annoying thing about this is that there are elements of phony war and class discrimination afoot.

    1 Most grammer schools add to the 11+ and set a test on day one for all new pupils -they are then “setted”. Falling roles ensure that, to keep bums on seats, these “previously elite” establishments take further down the 11+ spectrum.
    They still end up in D or E or F

    2 The middle classes (prod and taig) want to ensure that their children associate with at least a better class of juvenile delinquent so they pay for a tutor, move near the school-do anything if fact to make sure that Siobhan (and William)does not go to the local secondary.(and who can blame them)

    Cat wants to stop this and has embraced an English Comp style system (which has failed tens of thousands over the years.) Doomed to failure she wants to step back and let the Grammer lobby make a mess of it.

    Don`t underestimate the middle class (prod and mick)when it comes to protecting their interests

  • Essentialist

    If you need an further evidence of the DENI obsession with getting rid of grammar schools just look at the consultation response document on numeracy and literacy. First question:

    Do you agree that, in order to improve the literacy and numeracy levels of our young people, we can and should create a post-primary system without any element of academic selection?

    These people are insane.
    Watch for all the secondary schools, Catholic schools, primary schools to respond YES and then CR will interpret that as support. Very Mugabi-like.

    Most parents wouldn’t visit the DENI site since they learned what happened to their opinion after the Household Survey on academic selection and the 11-plus.

    The hole is getting deeper for Ruane. Barnshee makes the case for retention of the 11-plus. After all what better tool is there? Its a classy test.

  • willis

    “Just the opposite my ideolically limited friend.”

    Just a tip my intellectual soul mate.

    Firefox does a lovely embedded spell checker. It prevents the embarrassment of making a spelling error when you are arguing for Academic Selection.

    Obviously I, as a representative of the sans-culottes, do not need to worry about proper spelling and grammar.

  • Essentialist

    Damn I almost spilled my port. More a case of corpulent fingers on my part. Gout playing up today. You have really damaged my self-esteem with your pithy observations. Did you spot the minister’s faux pas at the top of the thread and send her a strongly worded reposte?

    “I don’t believe most of what I believe in the papers”

    Or was it a mistake? After all there is very cozy relationship between the DENI and the education correspondents locally. “Don’t sound bite the hand that feeds you” (advertising revenue)

    Melanie Phillips has once again hit the nail on the head. Perhaps if those trying to impose constructivist changes to the Northern Ireland education system on the back of a themes based curriculum, while claiming also to speak on behalf of parents, would read this they might just understand why their proposals are doomed to failure.


    As Melanie Philips points out the nonsense will only end when the politicans throw out the rotten lot. These people are laughing at parents for their crass stupidity, laziness and willingness to accept pseudo-science as fact. Roll on September for the latest round of chaos.

  • willis

    I read that Mad Mel article during the week. It contains this priceless quote:

    “In fact, the obsession with ’skills’ has effectively de-skilled the country. For as we all know, to find a plumber who knows enough geometry to do his job properly you now have to employ a Pole.”

    Good to see a Daily Mail columnist in favour of immigration, but I fear she has taken leave of her judgement. The best plumber I ever saw was scottish and his geometry was superb.

    I was also entertained by your description of Sir Ken as a useful fool. Again we do not disagree on everything.

    I am still waiting for a few words on the Bishops “election” plans. It is clearly something they take seriously and as they influence 50% of the education in NI I thought someone would have something worthwhile to say on the subject.

    It seems to hark back to a more paternalistic time when the kindly primary school head would have a chat with the parents and recommend that the P7 pupil would really be better off at a less challenging school, and the parents took their word on it.

  • Essentialist

    Exactly right. The teachers become the power brokers while avoiding accountability for their decisions. Not bad work if you can get it.

  • willis

    Well we will soon know if it works because it will be the future for at least half of kids here.

  • Essentialist

    The determination of Sinn Fein, Catholic Church and the education establishment to end academic selection and therefore grammar schools is relentless but misguided.

    The following extract was taken from a debate in the Assembly over a year ago.

    Basil McCrea of the UUP contributed the following:
    “The Minister of Education, Ms Caitríona Ruane, tells me that academic selection is responsible for poor numeracy and literacy in schools. That cannot be the case. The former Scottish First Minister, Jack McConnell, said in September 2006:

    “we can no longer tolerate the tail of underachievement. The bottom 20% for whom standards have failed to rise significantly since 1999 — their achievements, opportunities and aspirations are a national priority”.

    That is the result of Scotland’s comprehensive system. The Scottish tail of underachievement is very similar to our own. Research conducted by the OECD in 1997 showed that around 20% of Scots are at the lowest literacy level, while official figures show that the proportion of Scottish pupils from manual backgrounds obtain either low qualifications or none. That is exactly the same situation as in Northern Ireland, except that it occurs within a comprehensive system.

    In England, a similar situation prevails. A study conducted in 2006 by the Department for Education and Skills into the literacy and numeracy skills of new employees showed that one third of employers had to give remedial English and maths lessons. In response to that study, Richard Lambert, the director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, said that:

    “The fact that one in three employers ran remedial courses for their staff in the last year is a sad indictment of how the education system has let young people down”.

    The need to tackle literacy and numeracy rates is a profound challenge that confronts us all. To tinker with academic selection for pupils at the age of 11 is not to acknowledge the extent of that challenge. Were we to accept the abolition of academic selection tomorrow, it would make no difference to the literacy and numeracy issue that we face.”

    So what is the first question on the DENI consultation questionnaire on their revised numeracy and literacy strategy? You guessed it.

  • willis

    “The determination of Sinn Fein, Catholic Church and the education establishment to end academic selection and therefore grammar schools is relentless but misguided.”

    Better add APNI, SDLP, and the teaching unions. Oh and the Labour Party, SNP, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru. And to be honest the English Tories are not too bothered as long as there are still expensive independent schools to keep out the riff-raff (even the clever ones).

    You are right though, CR is talking bo**ocks if she things the new arrangements will improve literacy and numeracy. You might be interested in this Scottish initiative.


    If literacy and numeracy are to be resolved it will be in the primary schools, and CR’s record on support for primary schools is abysmal.

    I want an end to academic selection at 11 because it is too soon, it selects too few pupils and it is massively influenced by coaching i.e. money. It also pays no regard to practical skills.

  • Reader

    willis: I am still waiting for a few words on the Bishops “election” plans. It is clearly something they take seriously and as they influence 50% of the education in NI I thought someone would have something worthwhile to say on the subject.
    Like when they explain how they will get Catholic parent to try to send their children to controlled Grammar schools? I’m looking forward to that…

  • feismother

    I’ve just been watching a BBC programme about Nye Bevan’s bringing the NHS into existence. He had a vision, he was right, faced obstacles and was able to use his negotiating skills to overcome them. I think CR might learn something from how he won friends and influenced people.

  • willis

    Yes I’ve just watched it too and thought exactly the same thing. I really had never known how bad the opposition was and how similar to now in terms of entrenched views. With the best will in the world, I don’t think CR is in the same league as Nye

  • Essentialist

    The difference in the comparison is more fundamental. The NHS introduced free at the point of care health services. It was wanted by the people. Ruane and her band of civil servants wish to impose a proven inferior system of education. Her proposals are not wanted except by the professionals who will personally benefit. The private medical system was not destroyed and indeed today has permiated throughout the NHS as never before. Take the Royal Hospials car park contract as a simple obtuse example. That contract was negotiated by the experts on the NHS side. Is the introduction of private education a side effect consequence that the superannuated socialists find justifiable?

  • willis

    Is the introduction of private education a side effect consequence that the superannuated socialists find justifiable?

    It rather depends what you mean by private education. One of the criticisms I would have of our current system is that businesses have little influence on the curriculum and the advice given to pupils. If business and industry had more input we would have a chance to have a better educated workforce.

    Sadly there is very little pragmatism abroad. That was one thing that Nye brought to the table which CR seems incapable of. Last night’s programme was a joy, giving real insight into a situation which could have gone either way. He was able to listen to his critics, forge real collaborative relationships, appeal to the ‘silent majority’ and finally split and outflank the seemingly monolithic opposition. All this at the same time as making massive PR errors like the ‘vermin’ speech.

    You speak of “superannuated socialists”. What is your opinion of Bevan?

  • Essentialist

    One of the results of the 194 Education Act was to educate and mobilise women and the working class. It opened secondary schools including grammars to girls, and the working class, and as a result, a far higher percentage attended higher education after secondary school. This new approach to education increased working class awareness of their disadvantaged social position and created a bitter class division between the working and middle class.
    Bevin needed the BMA docs on board for his NHS to bring success. He broght mutual benefit but the medics did not become full time employees. They retained a choice. The changes to education proposed by Ruane and her advisors brings destruction of grammar schools and loss of opportunity. Bevin would turn in his grave over the relentless privatisation of the NHS.

  • willis

    “This new approach to education increased working class awareness of their disadvantaged social position and created a bitter class division between the working and middle class.”

    You cannot be serious!

    Class division began in 1948 (or even 194)?

    All reform which works is an iterative process. It goes too far one way, then gets pushed back, or it does not go far enough and needs to go further.

    Bevan’s triumph is that one of the reasons the Tories have been out of power for the longest period since 1922 is that they were not trusted with the NHS.

  • willis

    The other huge difference between Nye and CR is that the Labour Party had been elected on a landslide to do what the country wanted.

    We may end up with a compromise solution: Prods get selection, Catholics get election. As a famous Taoiseach once said “An Irish solution to an Irish problem”

  • Essentialist

    so you propose equality of opportunity in education but only for non-catholics? In your bilateral system Catholics will still have the opportunity to choose the Catholic education system or the state system. Given last week’s statement from the Bishops supporting comprehensives for Catholics it now makes sense why Gallagher and Smith insisted on referring to state schools as “protestant” schools. It is likely they worked in concert to achieve this debacle.So where are all the Catholic pupils currently attending controlled/voluntary schools to go? Just as with “integrated education” it seems the Catholic community gets two bites (a) stick with the Catholic schools or (b) choose a 40:40:20 “integrated” school. However the state schools have an increasingly secular mix which must frighten the Bishops. Look at the figures yourself and admit that many Catholics have no problem being educatede alongside their neighbours. Then ask yourself , if the education offered is so “superior”,why the opposite trend does not occur in Catholic schools?

  • willis

    I think you have answered your own question. Sir Ken and Sammy have blundered into a situation where middle-class Catholic parents have the best of all possible worlds and working class Prods the worst. I’m sure St Malachys will welcome Prods from North Belfast but still only let them play GAA.

  • Essentialist

    Sammy Wilson has left the education stage. Mervyn “the creationist” Storey has been handed the Bishops’ poisoned chalice pro tem. Maybe Iris Robinson or Willie McCrea are being lined up to lead the DUP counter attack. The UUP have copy-cat McCrea, a clone of Wee Jeffrey who has also absented himself from the education mess. The UUP are likewise missing a clear policy.

    The DUP have no Plan B: indeed it seems no clear transfer or selection policy. They have no appetite whatsoever for tackling the underperformance in disadvantaged unionist communities. Perhaps they will buy in a policy with the spoils from the 42 day detention vote.

    The public have been left AQE as their reward for voting for the DUP. St Andrews and all the hype over preservation of academic selection has been donated to the former head of the civil service to decide. The fact that he is chair of governors at Inst ( a school hardly overwhelmed with A’s in the transfer test and exempt from having to admit those within three miles of the school) adds a conflict of interest dimension.

    How long before Sir Ken Bloomfield leaves the nebulous AQE to go sit in the House of Lords (fingers crossed Lady B)and the public are left with CCEA’s test for an “impossible to test” curriculum? Start practicing to be the teacher’s pet boys and girls.

    With schools closed and the politicos chomping at the bit for a holiday from the holiday camp watch this debacle come to a sudden halt of convenience over the school holidays.

    Isn’t it strange that media hungry Gavin Boyd of ESA has been allowed to remain moth-balled and silent in the wings while the failed schemes of CCEA (he was their chief executive)are foisted on ill-informed parents and pupils in their name.

    Now would be a good time for Mr Boyd to be dragged out into the light to provide accountability for and a detailed explanation of this failed strategy. After all it was CCEA who provided the advice to the DENI on the revised curriculum, pupil profile and claimed they couldn’t come up with another transfer test. Wrong on all counts so far.

    Or is that too much to ask of our overworked politicans? Wilson was asked to do it and he scarpered offside faster than a melting polar icecap. Too close to CCEA perhaps?

  • willis

    “The fact that he is chair of governors at Inst ( a school hardly overwhelmed with A’s in the transfer test and exempt from having to admit those within three miles of the school) adds a conflict of interest dimension.”

    Sorry! Whaaaaat!

    Are you telling me that we have had to listen to lectures about ‘Postcode lottery’ from a school that has specific rules to keep out the riff-raff?

  • Essentialist

    Inst and Campbell College are described as “category B schools” which give them exemption from the suitable school rules. Normally if you live within three miles of the school in a particular category (Catholic or non-denominational grammar[Protestant},controlled, maintained, integrated, IM) the school is considered by DENI as “suitable”.

    The DENI Circular 1994/41 explains
    “Notwithstanding the above provisions, there is no obligation to seek a place in any
    Category B voluntary grammar schools within statutory walking distance of a pupil’s home.
    The Category B schools are Campbell College and Royal Academical Institution. Pupils
    outside statutory walking distance who wish to attend these schools must, however,
    demonstrate that they were unable to gain a place in a non-denominational grammar school
    within statutory walking distance if they are to qualify for transport assistance.”

    Inst and Campbell are able to charge significant fees. They act as quasi- private schools with the taxpayer picking up most of the tab. Parents of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds must come up with the money for a bus pass. There is no assistance available from the State.
    Surely the anti-selection crowd knew this?
    Sir Ken will explain all if you contact him at AQE