Another Catholic Grammar opts for independent tests…

And then there were three:

Given that the Minister for Education and the Northern Ireland Assembly Education Committee has not, as yet, agreed the arrangements for Transfer to Post-Primary Schools in September 2010, the Board of Governors of St Patrick’s Grammar School, Downpatrick, has decided that in the absence of any definitive and agreed plan and pending legislative clarity, the school will continue to admit boys to Year 8 on the basis of academic selection.

This decision has been taken in order that primary school principals and teachers, and the parents of present P6 pupils will be aware of the academic requirements for entry to this school in September 2010.

It looks like the Minister’s fillibustering tactic of talking out the opposition over the ending selective education may be slowly unravelling…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • slug


    The consequence of stalling the Executive. In a way it is CIVIL SOCIETY reasserting its authority relative to politicians, filling the gap left by politicians who can’t agree. Civil society taking more ownership of the future. For a long time civil society was timid but are things achanging?

  • Driftwood

    I’m reminded of the tagline for Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch when I think of our hapless bunch of self serving incompetent balloons at Stormont…
    • Unchanged men in a changing land. Out of step, out of place and desperately out of time.
    • The land had changed. They hadn’t. The earth had cooled. They couldn’t.

  • DC

    Yes I agree Slug, the minister has sulked and tried whispering softly and softly but has failed to answer questions about levelling down, not up – and answer concerns about the quality of academic teaching and a way to determine it in schools post 3 years time.

  • ggn

    I was never realistic that the Catholic Grammars were going to go down without a fight.

    They are the foundation stones of the Catholic middle classes and they will fight to preserve them.

    I believe that much of the confusion around the minister’s plans are feigned and somewhat self-inflicted, undoubtedably so in this case, in my view.

  • Mick Fealty


    Could I draw you out on that last comment? I know it’s a view shared by several of our regulars.

  • A concerned parent

    Given a previous blog on the subject of the previous Grammar school (coming out please forgive the pun) perhaps this time everyone will keep to the subject in hand and not go off into other topics. I have said before that this is only the start of the fight back by schools and there are many rumours that more Catholic grammar schools which will follow the lead considering the results from Catholic schools are much better than in Protestant Grammars, so much for Ruane and her threats. Everyone knows that the 11+ is going, but also everyone that is except Ms Ruane has realised that academic education is here to stay and has been legislated for.

    There needs to be a realisation from the Department of Education advising this Minister who also needs a reality check that the road she has set herself on is the road to nowhere and there needs to be honesty from both her and her department as to where both schools, parents and particularly our children are headed for.

    Seems to me it will end up a free for all and whoever has the biggest pockets and can pay for their children’s education it will be only those children that will be the winners.

    As the parent of a Catholic child who will be one of the first children not to sit the 11+ I just wish that a Catholic school in the greater Belfast area would break away so that I would have the choice afforded to parents in other places.

  • Mark McGregor

    As these schools are going against the direction and therefore the ethos of the catholic church as directed by the bishops, I’d suggest that referring to them as ‘Catholic Schools’is a misnomer. Maybe sectarian, selective schools would be a more correct name for them.

  • Shore Road Resident

    At least until the middle-class local Prods start applying to them…

  • the future’s bright the future’s orange

    An ignorant question here – can a prod attend a catholic school?

  • ggn


    The minister’s plan is quite simple, in my view. She intends to ‘end academic selection’.

    What do you put in its place, in simplistic terms – nothing.

    She (and SF, and SDLP, and the Catholic Church) simply does not believe that schools should select their pupils on the basis on supposed academic ability.

    You simply go to your local school. Obviously however everyone would simply try and get into the better school.

    However the minister (and SF, and SDLP, and the Catholic Church) do not believe that in principal one child is entitled to a superior education to another.

    For example, I recieved an excellent education in a Catholic Grammar, fine school, fines teachers, fine facilities.

    The school was separated from another Catholic school by a six foot high barbed wire fence. Crap building, 2nd rate teachers, crap school.

    Now call me a traitor to my upper-working class roots or a wooly liberal but I personally have always believed that discrimination, more on the basis of class that intelligence was deeply wrong. I am steadfast on that and no middle-class dinner evening predujice will make me change my mind!

    Therefore, under the proposed reforms children would simply go to their ‘local school’.

    Clearly some schools are better than others but this is perpetuated by the grammar school system.

    I believe that the Catríona Ruane believes that this differentation in quality would reduce as a result of the end of academic selection as it would lead to envitable improvements in secondary schools.

    I do not see what is complicated about it.

    Therefore I believe that many in the Catholic sector are being as stupid as the fox.

    They are feigning confusion in order to defend the status of their schools, undeniably elitist and discriminatory and based fundamentally on the notion of class.

  • Reader

    the future’s bright… can a prod attend a catholic school?
    Easy – I used to have 4 (P) children at the same Catholic PS, which is actually about 50% Prod right now (a good school in a bad neighbourhood attracts the more thoughtful local parents to cross the divide…)

  • ggn

    “An ignorant question here – can a prod attend a catholic school?”

    I dont know. There were Buddists and Moslems at are school.

    That said, I was told that I could go ‘to the school down the road’ if I was not happy with the religous ethos of the school.

    Sold out in the end and went to the RE classes.

  • Driftwood

    At least Lumen Christie are testing on the old 11 plus model of verbal and numerical reasoning, different to the AQE Maths and Science model. Though St Patrick GS Downpatrick are opting for the AQE model. Should be fun for p6 teachers. The other difference I gather that Lumen Christies test will be free of charge compared to £60 for the state grammars. However some pupils might have to sit all 3 types of test? It’s all perfectly clear.
    And more will be revealed very shortly.

  • mnob

    ggn – simple but unworkable and in the end resulting in greater discrimination against the less well off.

    what will happen is the same as in england – house prices around good schools will rise (or fall lest rapidly !) relative to other house prices resulting in the ‘rich’ buying a good education.

    whatever system is put in place – those who want to and are able to work the system will.

    Academic selection actually is the fairest system it has given many (like me) a leg up. If you genuinely believe that all schools can be equal (which they have to be under the ‘simple’ situation) then why not spend resources and money making the secondary schools ‘equal’ to the grammar schools rather than making the pupils ‘equal’.

    Put it this way – you have an underperforming secondary sector and a well performing grammar sector – why is the solution to abolish the one that works ?

    Social mobility in England has gone down with the ending (in many but not all areas) of academic selection.

  • truth and justice

    Sinn Fein are geting this badly wrong and their own community are starting to turn on them.

  • Yvette Doll

    “An ignorant question here – can a prod attend a catholic school?”

    Why not? No pupil is compelled to perform actions contrary to his or her religious conviction. There is of course a mission statement that goes with the circumstances.

    Yvette Doll

  • Yvette Doll

    “Sold out in the end and went to the RE classes.”

    You can bring in other spiritual advisers. The taught R.E. programme of study is avoidable, or should be.

    However, having dealt with, here, the locals, you might find that the supposed to be aspects, are not free-flowing.

    Yvette Doll

  • lamh dearg

    “As these schools are going against the direction and therefore the ethos of the catholic church as directed by the bishops..”

    but only the current lot of Northern Irish bishops, or perhaps a small number of them mainly, interestingly enough, from the South.

    There are lots of Catholic Grammar schools in England selecting by academic ability and no angry bishops denouncing them for their lack of social justice.

    In the South many Catholic schools are fee paying, another fine example of the Church’s longsatnding belief in social justice. Belvedere College (Jesuit run) charges fees but still selects by interview, essay and review of previous homeworks. No chance of socially disadvantaging anyone there then.

    So this new antipathy among the Northern bishops is not some deeply held Catholic belief or doctrine, it is this weeks current flavour, no more than that and no more binding on Catholic schools or parents than any other current opinion.

  • Driftwood

    Children of ‘prod’ parents can and do go to catholic grammars. Childred of ‘RC’ parents can and do go to state/’prod’ grammars. e.g. Methody, BRA, Dominican College-Portstewart etc.
    Long may it continue. It may be that this will mean slow integration.
    The problem is the non grammars outside the integrated sector. It may be that amalgamation with the FE sector is a possibility. But this would need an Education minister of some professionalism and skill. Any proposals?

  • the future’s bright the future’s orange

    cheers drifter

  • The Raven

    Just to add, future’s bright, I went to a grammar school that was predominantly Protestant in terms of pupils, but of 140 lads in my year, about 40 of them were Catholic. I know that the Catholic Grammar up the road also had a fair smattering of Prod kids attending. It was never really an issue. You just went where your parents sent you. But then I didn’t grow up in a place that would have experienced the Troubles to the same degree as others.

    In all of this, I am reminded by a small subplot in the West Wing, a show I really enjoyed when I could catch it. It was a small statement that I would love to hear plagiarised by any politician who actually means it. It would actually solve the whole uproar over this subject. I’ve googled it for accuracy. The schools/palaces comment was the one that stuck.

    “Mallory, education is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We don’t need little changes. We need gigantic, monumental changes. Schools should be palaces. The competition for the best teachers should be fierce. They should be making six figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge to its citizens, just like national defense. That’s my position. I just haven’t figured out how to do it yet.”

  • Ulsters my homeland

    “[i]Children of ‘prod’ parents can and do go to catholic grammars.”[/i]

    (considering the RC church demands children born of mixed marriages be brought up Catholic), how many Prod parents are you referring to?

    Can a Prod child (not baptised or Christened Catholic) go to a Catholic grammar?

    “[i]No pupil is compelled to perform actions contrary to his or her religious conviction. There is of course a mission statement that goes with the circumstances.”[/i]

    Yvette Doll, what is the circumstances a Prod child must abide by?

  • Ulsters my homeland

    ‘The Raven’, did your parents have to sign a mission statement relating to religion when you joined your predominately Protestant school?

  • The Raven

    UMH, given my mother’s propensity for never throwing anything away, and subsequently when she left this mortal coil, gifting all that SHITE to me, I am able to confirm that no – there was no such document signed. I am actually looking here through copies of school reports, receipts for a book topping-up levy of £10 per annum, and just about everything she had to sign before I joined said school.

    Why do you ask? If it’s any help to you, the school always talked about a Christian ethos…I am writing this next bit from the school’s “starter pack”….”which embraces all faiths and religions and respects everyone, regardless of what they choose to believe”. This was from 1985, by the way. We had boarders from Malaysia, Hong Kong, several of the Arab states, from ROI and from across the water.

    Does that help?

    Anyway….we’re getting a bit O/T here.

  • Driftwood

    You might be surprised about how liberal and relaxed some Catholic grammars are about faith, or even lack of it. My partner taught in St Michaels, Enniskillen, and her atheism wasn’t an issue. Not ALL schools might be so liberal, but just look at how many RC parents will tell “The Bishop” to frig off when it comes to education, and indeed some other matters. Times are changing.
    Hell, some of the pupils at these schools might not even give a damn about Unionism or Nationalism! Imagine that!!

  • The Raven

    Driftwood, I was in the lucky (or unlucky depending on your point of view) of going out with two teachers from different Catholic schools – they both very definitely said that a Protestant would have a very, very hard time getting a teaching post in a Catholic school.

    I have no evidence to back up or say to the contrary, so I leave that open to debate, perhaps in another thread.

    Sorry for being O/T again.

  • Ulsters my homeland

    “[i]‘The Raven’, did your parents have to sign a mission statement relating to religion when you joined your predominately Protestant school? [/i]

    The raven “no – there was no such document signed.
    Why do you ask?”

    I ask because Yvette Doll mentioned there was a mission statement which goes with joining a Catholic school as a Protestant child.

  • Driftwood

    Raven, should have said that she was a ‘Catholic’ by background, in the same way I would be a ‘Prod’ by background. Yes the issue of teaching employment in schools merits a separate thread. I can’t see that they should be exempt from fair employment legislation. Wasn’t there a case in Scotland recently where an agnostic teacher won a case against his RC school employers? I’d like to know the law in regard to RC School employment on the mainland.

  • Driftwood
  • The Raven

    Driftwood said: “Yes the issue of teaching employment in schools merits a separate thread.”

    Yeah…we’ll leave that one to Turgon of the Noldor, methinks. The intro will be as unwieldy as a Tolkien novel… hehehehe

    *clears throat*, now moving swiftly on to selection tests and suchlike….

  • seniorhas

    Way back in the 1970s a well known catholic school took me on as a teacher even though I was of protestant/atheist background, basically because they were having considerably difficulty obtaining a teacher for my subject. I left after two yeas because, amongst other things, promotion prospects were poor given the method of making decisions. The main reason why non-catholics usually don’t apply is that the selection criteria includes a requirement to be able to teach RE. However,on thread, could a protestant be accepted in such a school without having to sign anything? In the High Court, in about 1990, I can remember the senior judge responding to the question by saying that if the parents were prepared to accept the ethos there was no impediment to their being accepted.

  • Driftwood

    On thread. I do not think grammar schools are elitist. They are academic. Hence academic selection. The problem lies in the mistaken belief that non academic means 2nd best or fail. That is not the case in Germany. The ‘secondary’ schools should merge with FE colleges to produce technically gifted pupils.
    The problem for Ruane and possibly SF,and possibly the whole assembly, they can’t think big picture, and they can’t see beyond their core vote. See my point 2 page 1.

  • Ulsters my homeland

    “could a protestant be accepted in such a school without having to sign anything? In the High Court, in about 1990, I can remember the senior judge responding to the question by saying that if the parents were prepared to accept the ethos there was no impediment to their being accepted.”

    All down to the parents!!! The judge certainly knew his RC Canon ABC’s

    and with the vaticans rules that a child of mixed religion is to be brought up Catholic, it’s down to the parents.

    All judges should remember, they are under Canon law.

  • Yvette Doll

    “Yvette Doll, what is the circumstances a Prod child must abide by?”

    You trying to put me on the spot?

    In my experience, with Northern Bishops, Trustees, and the local Parish, typically blind subservience is enough.

    After the Father Reid, thing about the Orange Junta, being a little comme les Allemands

    I was at a meeting with the UUP, and I assured them that the word ‘Protestant’ wasn’t even mentioned on the CCMS web-site.

    These issues are relative.

    Yvette Doll

  • Yvette Doll

    From the BBC, if I recall the job posting (advert) didn’t mention Catholic accreditation.

    “We note with interest, however, the tribunal’s finding that all appointments to all posts in Catholic schools require the approval of the Catholic Church.

    “This finding is in accord with the view of the church and has been advised to all local authorities in Scotland.

    “The church endorses the finding of the tribunal that a system of “reserved posts” is not justified in law.”


    Scotland’s largest teaching union, the Educational Institute of Scotland, has decided not to contest the controversial legal ruling that that will permit Catholic schools to choose staff on the basis of their religion. The Union has told its members that all teachers who apply for a job or promotion in denominational schools (in Scotland that means RC schools) have to get approval from the Catholic Church on the grounds of their “religious belief and character”.

  • Driftwood

    Nice to know Scotland is ahead of us in the bigotry league. You cannot be a teacher in an RC school (state funded) unless you are a Roman Catholic. But in a state school such discrimination is illegal. Actually, there is a case here for withdrawing all state funding for any ‘faith’ school. That will certainly upturn the religious applecart. Maybe Catriona could make a start?

  • Jen Erik

    I’m a protestant, and taught for a maternity leave at a local Convent (at the time) school. There was another teacher from my church employed there. When the job was advertised full-time, they contacted me to see if I wanted to apply. My religion was never an issue.
    (In fact, I’m under the impression that both the local Grant Maintained – as we used to call them – schools have now Protestant heads, though obviously they maintain their Catholic ethos. Can’t say I’ve ever checked.) Two of my (protestant) nieces go to one of the local Catholic schools, and there have never been any issues.
    When I was training as a teacher, I remember being told that Catholic schools looked askance at Catholic teachers who hadn’t trained at St Mary’s and St Joe’s, but that was twenty years ago, and may have been an urban myth.

  • Driftwood

    St Patricks Grammar (Red High). Down High (Green High), Assumption Grammar. Socialise without qualms. teachers and pupils. Much more so than the ‘secondary schools’. Who only tend to mix at the FE College (Tech). Class supercedes religion or perceived political outlook, everytime. Money talks. So it goes…
    I don’t know the Irish for “So it goes”. be grateful if a gaeilge Kurt Vonnegut fan can let me know so I can be pc in cynicism.
    Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes.

  • joeCanuck

    “The galvanising factor that uniquely united Derry’s citizens was a decision to locate the North’s second university in Coleraine.”

    Totally true. It was one of , if not “the”, final straws.
    It demonstrated the total contempt that the then Unionist regime in Stormont had for Catholics (for want of a better word). My parents kept urging me to emigrate but I stuck it out until 81 and then left in despair of both sides ever seeing their common problems and trying to solve them. Still there, unfortunately. So sad.

  • Pete Baker

    Admittedly it was some 30-odd years ago, but I think it does relate [somewhat] to the general conversation so far.

    When I was attending Dundonald Primary School [primarily Protestant at the time] the Catholic clergy threatened to deny confirmation to me and my siblings. Indeed a nun who offered to attend the school to provide Catholic religious education was threatened with excommunication should she do so.

    Needless to say I attended anyway, until aged 8 [or so], and the episode did not affect my religious beliefs in any way.. obviously..

  • Essentialist

    It is endearing to read all the wonderful anecdotes concerning Prods and RC’s attending the others schools. The facts are clear through a quick reading of the DENI stats on enrolment by religion. Over 99% of pupils attending Catholic schools are RC.

    A review of the Teachers exemption to the Fair Employment legislation was carried out for the Equality Commission by none other than Prof Tony Gallagher, one of the prime movers in the shift towards imposing comprehensive schooling.

    Perhaps more attention should be paid to the substance of these “tests” to be offered by various school groups. None can claim to be equivalent or better than the 11-plus so are less valid and reliable than the current system. Isn’t it interesting that all the grammar group reps are quite content with this? Can you spell “social selection”?
    None of them will be objective or independent in their information use. No controlled grammar school has independently announced the avaliability of a test.

    Most of the noise made in this debate is generated by teachers and educationalists seeking to enhance their already disproportionate influence. Teachers can be fairly described as cowardly in their attitude towards the reform agenda preferring others to do their dirty work for them. Ruane is correct in stating that there will be legal challenges if these various testing procedures are administered in an unregulated fashion. She perhaps has forgotten about her duty of care responsibilities. Ms Ruane may be joining various school representatives in the courtroom.

    This entire sham and game of bluff and double-bluff is likely headed to the courts. So much for narrowing the social mobility gap.