Education proposals: private education at public expense…

When the Education Minister is getting flack from the Andersonstown News you know she’s in trouble. As John O’Dowd has pointed out, the proposal she is laying in front of the Executive Committee on Thursday is substantially the same as she brought forward nearly a year ago – an indication, perhaps, that the widely toured ‘consultation’ has had little effect on the development of the policy. Malachi O’Doherty, a fan of non selection, is blunt: “The case against academic selection in our schools is lost…”He goes on:

Catholic schools, which were opposed to the 11 plus have changed their minds. Not all of them have declared openly yet the decisions that they have taken. But dozens have, and many more in the coming weeks will. This is a development which has astonished and disheartened many who are close to it. The nice bright middle-class children are to have the benefit of something like a private educational sector, without having to pay for it. [emphasis added]

It’s a scenario that was rather inexactly predicted by Newton Emerson some four years ago, long before the incumbent Minister took up her office. He predicted a disaster for an initiative that has been marked by ideological certainty rather than for grappling directly with educational reality:

Politicians who shamelessly compare themselves to Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela promote segregation and hiring practices straight from Wallace’s Alabama and de Klerk’s South Africa. Asking parents to accept all this and a failed comprehensive model as well is an ideological step too far – and how ironic that the maintained sector should be the first to feel the squeeze, having single-handedly created the Catholic middle class whose aspirations it now scorns.

Emerson’s prediction is only falsified in one particular aspect. Rather than face a long slow extinction, the Catholic Grammars have voted with their feet and one by one have walked away from both the Minister and the Church hierarchy’s express wishes.

Which indicates that this initiative was something of a car crash primed to happen the moment Sinn Fein decided on a comprehensive policy it simply did not (despite John O’Dowd’s threat to governors at the end of his spake on Stormont Live) have sufficient power to enforce; nor a compelling solution to the education problems that particularly beset urban working classes communities…

It suggests the policy, rather than the minister, was at fault. She may end up carrying the can, but whomsoever had been briefed to take this party policy forward would have, inevitably, suffered the same fate.

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