“11-plus examination in Northern Ireland was, in effect, privatised..”

With the failure of the polit-bureau to agree having left the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly politically impotent, the NI Education Minister, Sinn Féin’s Caitríona Ruane, ignored the political reality and defaulted to a right-wing/libertarian unregulated post-primary transfer system – or, as Henry McDonald put it, “the 11-plus examination in Northern Ireland was, in effect, privatised”. Garibaldy adds a left-wing analysis of Sinn Féin’s position. Meanwhile, on Hearts and Minds, after their opening gambits, the DUP’s Mervyn Storey and Sinn Féin’s John O’Dowd tried to look ahead [best not to look back – Ed] with John O’Dowd returning to the potential legal threats to grammar schools using their own tests. [Is that to be the new campaign? – Ed] I think it’s called consensus building..

On the other hand, Newton Emerson was remarkably laid-back about the whole thing..

But it’s worth repeating the reported comments from NI First Minister, Peter Robinson, in June last year

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.

And since they couldn’t agree..

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  • cynic

    Given the way SF are not developing education policy the entire mess will undoubtedly give a bonanza for lawyers seeking judicial reviews of individual decisions (legally aided of course).

    Isn’t it great to see how the socialist republican party is doing to much to line the pockets of the NI upper legal classes at the expense of children’s education.

    I wonder can any of our schools now sue the Depratment(sic) of Education for failing to perform its statutory duties effectively?

  • PUP

    I am repeatedly disappointed by this debate.

    The 11+ was failing way too many children. The statistics for those from disadvantaged areas was shameful. This was an opportunity to put a new system in place which is more equitable.

    But a mixture of mis-placed loyalty to the status quo by Unionists (shock!), mismanagement by a Minister and unnecessary sectarian politics by everyone – has resulted in extremely muddy waters.

  • ??

    The 11+ was failing way too many children. The statistics for those from disadvantaged areas was shameful.

    Th 11 plus didnt fail it was the childs schooling up to the age of 11 that failed. why is it that other children and other schools had much btter pass results than others..maybe we should look to very poor teachers and not use the 11plus as a scapegoat

  • willis

    Rolf Harris would have been proud of the way Newt handled a broad brush, still it was a very necessary antidote the notion that schools are in crisis – yes BeleTele, I mean you.

    Unlike England, where there is a teacher shortage, schools here report up to 80 applicants for every post. The result is that, by and large, only exceptional people are hired and that applies across the board.

    Oxford professor John Howson, the UK’s leading researcher on the schools labour market, attributes Northern Ireland’s higher standards almost entirely to this one simple fact and as this fact is not set to change, standards are not set to change either.

    I did have a wee google on John Howson.

    http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=2427852

    Some commentators have attributed the province’s success to the fact that it is the only area of the UK to have retained a system of grammar schools. But is this a fair assessment? Certainly, it is not a universal view. Teachers and academics who spoke to The TES said other aspects of schooling in Northern Ireland gave it an advantage. Principal among these would appear to be the virtual absence of teacher shortages.

    Risteard MacDaibheid, an award-winning teacher and vice-principal of Gaelscoil Eadain Mhoir in Derry and an opponent of the 11-plus, said: “There’s much more hunger for jobs over here. Often there are 60 or 70 people applying for one post, which means you are going to get the best teachers, so it’s not surprising that results are better.”

    So that is all right then, we have nothing to worry about.

    Oh really.

    “Independent research organisation Centre for Cities said that with rising unemployment and a high number of people with no qualifications, Belfast could be badly exposed to the downturn.”

    C’mon Newt, explain that.

  • Driftwood

    Love Newtons last line..

    “Northern Irelands’schools survived the troubles, they can survive Catriona Ruane”

    Yes they can…

    Simple fact is that NI has a surplus of graduates. The problem is that graduating in Cultural Studies is of no bloody use to anyone. Theodore Dalrymple was fulminating on this last week, they are non productive degrees.

    Willis, Belfast is not alone, but as to the explanation:
    http://www.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/3328486/the-tragedy-ofwelfare-ghettoes.thtml

    Dont blame the education system for a handout system that encourages ‘helplessness’.

  • Newton Emerson

    Errr… I don’t really see how what I’ve said conflicts in any way with what you’ve posted. In fact, you’ve just cited a supporting reference.
    Also, I didn’t say we had “nothing to worry about”, just that there won’t be a breakdown of the education system.

  • Newton Emerson

    Last post for Wilis.

  • Driftwood

    Just to add.
    The grammar schools in England that use selective testing do not seem to be bombarded with legal writs. that’s a red herring for SF failure on this issue.
    I don’t think there will be any problem with the schools, who will carry on regardless. The ‘problem’ lies with P6 parents wondering what to do next, and the fact that there are now separate tests for different schools. My intuition tells me the schools will sort this out, not the politicians or their functionaries.

  • Comrade Stalin

    PUP:

    The 11+ was failing way too many children.

    How many ? What’s your definition of “failing” ?

    I still remember doing the 11+. None of the people that were in my primary school class have ever said that they felt that they were denied opportunities because of it.

    The statistics for those from disadvantaged areas was shameful. This was an opportunity to put a new system in place which is more equitable.

    What system would you have put in place that would have failed less children ?

  • willis

    Newt

    “still it was a very necessary antidote the notion that schools are in crisis – yes BeleTele, I mean you.”

    I agreed with you largely, and but hey if we all said that where would be the fun?

    “Last post for Wilis.”

    eh?

  • motherfotwelve

    Having lived in England for a time and put children through the state edukashun system there I agree fully with Newt.

    Among the gems we met were the primary 3 teacher who was dyslexic and was teaching children all the wrong spellings. She believed it didn’t matter because all she had to do was show my daughter word pictures and the spellings would ‘form organically in her brain when she needed to spell a word’.

    Oh yes and the trainee teacher who had no qualifications at all other than the fact that her mother was on the Education Board and she had swung a teacher training place through an access course.

    I asked her how she was now coping with university exams. “Oh I don’t believe in exams” she said. “They stifle creativity. Anyway, it’s all continuous assessment so don’t have any of those.”

  • Glencoppagagh

    ‘The grammar schools in England that use selective testing do not seem to be bombarded with legal writs’

    I think you’ll find that the grammars in England use a standard test set by the LEA. That’s the position in Bucks at least.
    The was a piece in yesterday’s Times (Friday) about preference being given to state primary school children in Dorest. It mentioned one boys’ grammar that had 339 applications for 168 places.
    How many of our own ‘selective’ schools could boast that level of competition for places? Most of them don’t justify description as grammar schools.

  • Glencoppagagh

    Isn’t it a bit sad that so many people in NI want to be teachers (only in NI of course? Desperation to get on the state payroll and stay close to mammy?

  • willis

    Driftwood

    “Dont blame the education system for a handout system that encourages ‘helplessness’.”

    Indeed

    And as I said, I largely agree with Newt. The question I would ask is:

    Given that we do have surplus teachers why do we not use them to improve literacy in disadvantaged/scummy areas?
    (Not my words, I read your article)

  • Good new blog on this topic worth checking out: http://www.educationforallni.blogspot.com

  • This was a bridge too far for Sinn Fein at this time. The desperate and totally ruthless manner in which the middle classes, particularly those that work within the BBC, would defend their privilege, was obvious for all to see. Now we all know that grammar school children are genetically more intelligent than their secondary school compatriots, nothing to do with pound per head spending nor expensive, at home tutelage, prior to GCSE examinations!!!
    This is fuelled by parental snobbery, off perceived social standing, dressed as ‘concern’!!
    Shameful!!

  • Reader

    Paul Kielty: This is fuelled by parental snobbery, off perceived social standing, dressed as ‘concern’!!
    So, in your view, parental snobbery is good for children’s educational attainment?
    Then surely it should be encouraged, not disparaged?
    Paul Kielty: nothing to do with pound per head spending
    Correct. Unless you can point to figures that suggest that Grammar schools are better funded than Secondary schools. You would be the first to achieve that.

  • willis

    Conall

    Well done on the site. I am particularly impressed that you want it to be about solutions. One query though:
    Some comments seem to appear on multiple threads. Is that a fault or a feature?

    I liked this comment:

    “Everyone knows that some of the less popular grammars have been accepting D grades for the last few years, and to be fair some have really added value, which would seem to dispell the myth that selection at 11 is a reliable indicator of future performance.”

    It was known as the “Grammar School effect” and there is nothing strange about it.

    We should commit to removing every obstacle from a child that wants to learn – unfortunately that means removing those children who want to stop others learning.

    What to do with them?

  • Essentialist

    Conall and Willis

    Any blog featuring Tony Gallagher as someone without a conflict of interest on the post-primary debacle is clearly a joke. As has been pointed out ad nauseum on this site Gallagher is one of the chief architects of the government’s policy madness. Perhaps he is now feeling the beginnings of an accountability purge. Posing as a parent’s site is pathetic. Tony Gallagher will not benefit from increasing attention to his shortcomings. Parents will not be fooled by the site.

    The BBC keep referring to Tony as an expert on education. Perhaps he will come on Slugger to explain the construct validity of the NFER test to be used by the Catholic schools.

    Conall you can run from Slugger but you can’t hide.
    A parents site – there is only one:

    http://www.paceni.wordpress.com

  • Thanks Willis. The multiple comments came compliments of the ladies and gentlemen and PaceNI who seem to have a problem with our new blog.

    We do need to move into solutions mode. Both SF and the DUP have lost the argument. Fact is the 11 plus is gone and many will say not a day too soon but also true that the current situation is not a solution.

    I am personally intersted in exploring in greater depth the Chruch Leader’s Proposals. Others on http://www.educationforallni.blogspot.com will have their own views. What we need to get away from it this attitute that one side is going to win this debate and that somehow a political victory equals a positive solution for children.

  • Essentialist

    Newton,
    An excellent contribution on the teacher surplus issue. PACE have sat quietly by waiting for the teachers and their media omnipresent union leaders to admit the variable. Instead, if you check the archives, they go on about pensions, inability of young teachers to gain employment and pupil teacher ratios.

    However your optimistic assessment neglects to confront the impact of the revised curriculum – the Trojan horse of CCEA’s reform agenda.

    Perhaps you will spend some time examining the inherent shortcomings of the curriculum set up along with assessment for learning and report the findings.

    A good place to start would be the contention that the revised curriculum is incapable of being measured or tested. Perhaps that would explain the withdrawal of the minister’s test last week.

    PACE had sought the specification of her test from CCEA but were refused the information on the basis that “it was not in the public interest”

    You are good at connecting the dots Newton.

    Start with the teachers’ (including the grammar sector) silence on the revised curriculum.

    Assessment (including measurement by testing) and curriculum matters go hand in hand.

  • cynic

    Despite all the furore I am not so sure that this is such a big problem The control freaks in the Depratment (sic) of Education (and any of our politicians) want a centralised system. But children go to school locally. So long as there is a system that gets them into an appropriate school the sky will not fall in.

    With common sense on sharing test results all this means is that parents will have to do some more digging and work out the best strategy for their child. At the end of the day the vast majority will get the schools they want, much as they do under the current system.

    This of course will be deeply unpopular on The Hill and at Balloo as it will demonstrate that we really can do without their guidance and intervention. So that’s a plus as well.

  • willis

    At the end of the day the vast majority will get the schools they want, much as they do under the current system.

    Yep that sounds about right to me. I could add that the vast majority would do well in NI under almost any system, for the reasons Newt outlined.

    The easy bit is already done. It is the stubborn rump of underachievement that is still not dealt with.

  • cynic

    “The 11+ was failing way too many children. The statistics for those from disadvantaged areas was shameful. This was an opportunity to put a new system in place which is more equitable.”

    PUP

    You seem to equate ‘equity’ with doing down the brightest and upgrading those at the other end. I fully support the latter but it shouldn’t be a simple balance, this is not a zero sum game.

    We desperately need to address the problem of those who leave with no qualifications but that’s nothing to do with what school they get into. The whole 11+ argument is used by the Minister and department as a smokescreen for their lack of ideas and policy on this.

    All the discussion has been on entry to grammars and what happens at 11 with no discussion at all about why so many kids in disadvantaged areas leave primary unable to read ad write! By the age of 11 they are lost. Their educational future is pre-determined by our failure over the first 7 years.

    Sorting also doesn’t necessarily need more money – just more thought and effort in terms of what we spend now and how we use it. And that problem is share by the Department and by Boards which waste millions by failing to close under subscribed schools for local political reasons and don’t even want to acknowledge this problem.

    Of course, that’s the political problem. A competent Minister would have by now shaken up the Department, cleared out dead wood, started to work on the Boards and refocused effort on sorting this.

    Instead, the current Minister mouths dogma and has been steered by the nose down an ideological blind alley, which is just where some of the vested interests wanted her. And sadly she still doesn’t realise this.

  • Essentialist

    The comedy continues. Just finished listening to BBC Radio Ulster Sunday Sequence.
    Bishop McKeown (without the other church leaders) spoke at length of the Catholic education plan which he admitted had been developed back in December but was only announced this past week.
    The most telling revelation during the programme was Bishop McKeown’s acceptance of short term immorality in exchange for medium and long term morality surrounding the Catholic position on academic selection.
    Paul Hewitt of Dungannon Royal School, an AQE member, failed to communicate that the entire Catholic grammar system was afforded the opportunity to adopt the test measuring numeracy and literacy. Rejecting this offer from their non-denominational neighbours the Catholic system went their own way and have chosen an intelligence test which cannot be taught for in the revised curriculum classroom.
    In much the same way that the GBA were offered the opportunity of computer adaptive testing and rejected it in a similar dismissive fashion.
    For McKeown to claim that he has had this chaos imposed upon him and his followers is disingenuous.

    This unease with the facts mirrors the concern over the appearance of Conall McDevitt’s blog claiming to be interested in parents and children. His portrayal of Tony Gallagher as a neutral is a deception. Gallaher is anti-academic selection and has a never taught in a post-primary classroom in his life.

    Note Donal’s call to consider the churches position. Dragging us back to the rejected selection at 14 conundrum is simply a diversion.

  • willis

    Stephen

    “This unease with the facts mirrors the concern over the appearance of Conall McDevitt’s blog claiming to be interested in parents and children. His portrayal of Tony Gallagher as a neutral is a deception. Gallaher is anti-academic selection and has a never taught in a post-primary classroom in his life.”

    You are very keen to portray others as deceptive. However I do not see where on Conal’s blog he portrays Prof Gallagher as neutral. Maybe you can provide a quote.

    If QUB is not post-primary, I do not know what is.

    BTW Please keep hammering at the Bishop, AQE and GBA.

  • Willis,
    Can’t read?
    Read the pitch from Conal for his blog.

    “A blog that takes the politics out of the debate about education in Northern Ireland. A forum for parents who are concerned about their children’s education following the Minister for Education’s decision to deregulate the transfer process”

    Now since Conall controls the contributers on to the blog ask him why a parents organisation not involved in the conflict of interest on this subject is excluded when Tony Gallagher is welcomed.

    Couldn’t be anything to do with inequality could it Willis?

    PACE are still waiting for a response.

    I note your endorsement of the site. What is it about actual parental movements you don’t like so much that you endorse a sham?

    Your union activities wouldn’t have blinkered your views would they?

    So in which classrooms, in which secondary schools did Tony Gallagher teach at post-primary level? What was his subject? Conflict resolution? You wouldn’t want to subject Sluggerites to a rehash of his checkered past would you? Clear it with him first before you proceed down this road.

    You stick to your business PACE will handle theirs. You mention the Bishop, AQE and GBA as if they are somehow distinguishable. How exactly? Would you like a naming of names or a Venn diagram?

    Willis while you’re on with Tony ask him about the NFER test for the Catholic schools. Start with the easy question – reliability. Tony may know something he not sharing.

    We’ll hold on for yet another revealing reply.

  • So I see it’s all a Catholic plot then Essentialist.

  • Catholic polt?
    Never.

  • Is Willis still struggling to get an answer out of professor Gallagher?

    Maybe you can take up the cause Garibaldi. While you’re on with the conflict resolutionist ask about the Catholic plot and the 27,000 plus attending Catholic grammars while their political reps are all against academic selection.

  • Are the teachers’ unions all in the hands of the Catholic Church as well? How about the PUP?

  • Essentialist

    You tell us Garibaldi.

    Interestingly the teachers unions claim a different position on academic selection than those views of the entire census of teachers conducted in 2002.

    The PUP? See earlier reference to the enriched curriculum project on the Shankill. Looking out for the interests of the protestant working class as ever is our Dawn.

    Seems that the middle class principals and teachers were the only winners there. Betty Orr, Hain’s poodle, did pretty well out of the project.

  • Driftwood
  • Essentialist

    Well ahead of the curve Driftwood. England wants no part of the nonsense promulgated here. Synthetic phonics for English primary school children. No excuses. Janet Daley long recognised the dangers of the revised curriculum. Name one from the Northern Ireland education establishment to sound an alarm about progressivist bullshit here?

    “As for the Cameron-Gove dream of a proper curriculum (individual subjects taught to exacting standards): where will they find enough properly educated teachers to offer it?”

    Queen’s University/Stranmillis/St Mary’s? Why they all subscribe to the themes based revised curriculum approach advocated by CCEA and now enshrined in law.

    Get the picture?

  • willis

    Again (sigh)

    You accuse Conal of allowing Tony Gallagher to post on his blog but exclude you, yet anyone reading it can see your post on multiple threads.

    You have some valid points to make in this debate, but sadly I feel, detract from the validity of some of your arguments by the excessive personal animus you seem to have towards virtually everyone in Education in Northern Ireland.

    Anyhow, let’s talk about something different.

    You have mounted a critique of the Revised Curriculum.

    Since neither you nor I can start a thread on Slugger perhaps some kind soul can actually start a thread on the RC.

    Here are a couple of links for starters.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2009/feb/10/teaching-sats

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/feb/08/james-dyson-engineering-britain-railways

  • Essentialist

    Watching and waiting for Slugger to take up offer.

    BTW Willis your early support for Conall’s blog without fact-checking was either a careless mistake or a deliberate attempt to manipulate.

    More to follow.

  • willis

    Stephen

    “BTW Willis your early support for Conall’s blog without fact-checking was either a careless mistake or a deliberate attempt to manipulate.”

    Fact-checking?

    Simple Question:

    Please show me where you have allowed contrary opinions to be published on your blog.