Ruane’s proposals are Smith’s without the ‘required work’…

Interesting aside from Brendan Harron of the INTO teachers’ union towards the end of his Stormont Live interview, in which he notes there is nothing new in Catriona Ruane’s ‘heavily consulted’ proposals. In fact they are precisely the same ‘heavily consulted’ proposals brought forward by the Direct Rule Minister Angela Smith in 2006:

Future transfer arrangements will be on the basis of informed parental choice. Parents will have a broader assessment of their child’s needs using the Pupil Profile and advice from schools. The new arrangements are about parents choosing schools not schools choosing pupils. They will give parents the right and responsibility to choose the school most appropriate to their child’s needs.

So what on earth were the all private consultations of the last year all about, other than the Minister biding her time (much of it at arms length from her own offices) waiting to fulfil a timetable first set by Jane Kennedy on 26th January 2004..?

And if you peel the onion even further back you realise that much of the intellectual spadework was completed in the Costello report from which Kennedy drew her timetable, you can see that although the current Minister has kept to the timetable for abolition, few if any of the parallel developments suggested by Costello have been completed:

“The Group’s recommendations provide an agenda for the development and enhancement of provision over the next few years, which will be reinforced by the parallel developments on the implementation of the revised curriculum and the introduction of the Pupil Profile. The Group has considered carefully the timetable for these various developments and has concluded that Autumn 2008 should be the final date for the use of the Transfer Test.”

What none of these consultations took account of was that when the democratic deficit was filled, none of the various iterations would stand the least chance of being backed by law in the power sharing Executive…

Adds: realist below pulls me up for not mentioning the free school meals package that is attached to Ms Ruane’s proposals…


    This fiasco is now a total disgrace and demands urgent Westminster intervention. I have a nephew in P6 and his family and school are in a panic about what is going on OR rather what is NOT going on. That is shocking and there should be a public enquiry from an outside person/s on the entire episode. How do you prepare a child for individual school tests that might be illegal? The 11+ for all it’s faults should have remained until there were concrete proposals in place.

  • joeCanuck

    Agree, Lurig. It’s a total mess as well as a total
    I don’t think there has really been a real discussion. At least, the Minister does not appear to have been listening but instead has been playing politics.


    The worst part of this is the stress that the kids, families and schools are under. People who aren’t directly involved don’t realise the pressure at play here. 10 year old children are not fools, they watch the news, read papers, have inquisitive minds and are asking questions all the time. The parents are getting it from the kids, the teachers are getting it from the parents and the schools have NO answers to give; it’s one big balls up. I think the Alliance Party & SDLP proposals for an iterim CCEA exam should now be adopted urgently, at least so the P6 pupils and their families know where they stand.

  • realist

    Sure adopt the SDLP/Alliance proposals and put this on the back-burner for another half-century. It needs to change sooner or later and SF have the backbone to do it and thats why the unions are supporting them. Big climbdown from the SDLP, will the Catholic Church now take crumbs from the table as well?

    Its time to finish the 11+ once and for all. There is more certainty in the new system, even with certain grammars standing against change than there is with academic selection. Time for change, time for Transfer 2010.

    BTW the proposals are not “precisely the same” as they include the free school meals criteria. Caitrionas got it spot on, it was never going to be easy, it was always going to be difficult and fraught with conflict but selection must end and the education system must emerge from the Dark Ages.

  • Mick Fealty

    Sorry, you are right realist. I really should have mentioned that explicitly. I don’t mean to play that down, but in terms of educational substance, it is entirely besides the point.

    Almost none of the work recommended has been done despite the fact the Minister had a year and a half to bring her own proposals forward.

    Now, whichever way you look at this, Sinn Fein has managed to lose what little political support it had (the Unions are important players, but they are not politicians) at the beginning of this process.

    Fair enough, it’s been there before. But in the mid 1980’s when they hit the limitation of the Armalite and ballot box strategy and their polling started to fall, they had the good sense to withdraw and re-strategise.

    Turing strategy mid term is very difficult. Bush managed to do it in Iraq with ‘the surge’, but it is extremely rare… In the meantime, the mess that’s ensuing is very much theirs.

    Too much ideology, nowhere near enough politics…

  • Mick
    Just because some people shout the loudest, have sharp elbows or have been better educated, does not mean they represent the majority of public opinion, now does it.

    Everyone and I mean everyone knows in their hearts selection fails the majority of kids, all the statistics prove it. Those who support it vigorously do so for one reason and one reason alone, they believe it benefits them and theirs.

    Whether it be Roman Catholic empire builders or middle class unionists who believe their children deserve a privileged education because they are brighter than the majority of working class children.

    Luric is being disingenuous and divisive by calling for a public enquiry, if he feels the UK government is so great, the logical way to proceed would be for him to demand it implements in the North the same system that exists in the rest of the UK.

    If SF are unable to get this through, what good do they serve by being in the Stormont administration. If this issue highlights one thing it is that middle class unionist’s who once were the bedrock of the Orange State, have no intention of giving up their privileged position within the current setup.

    If you support the Stormont setup you would be better off laying the blame for this kefuffle at the feet of those who have created the deadlock, not at SF, whose intention on this is honorable, if a little feeble.

  • Mick Fealty


    The truth is that argument has not even begun to be addressed. Virtually no lines of argument have been prepared by the Minister to that effect. I have said in the past that an opportunity was lost here to prosecute a powerful case against the woeful performance at the bottom of the educational food chain. It simply wasn’t taken.

  • DC

    In effect then the genesis of the problem of educational underachievement rests across those early years, at the point of *unselected* entry to the primary school sector.

    The minister needs to face up to that and the fact that in order to make improvements there will need to be an investment in people, an investment of money, talent and the additional ad hoc specialised in-class teaching support that should be sought to successfully reach down and improve the intellect of those kids from disadvantaged social groups.

    Real, and serious consideration, would need to be given to changing not just the academic but religious and political apartheid in the school system. And instead we have a situation where transfer test has been turned into a massive problem because of the inability to compromise and retain, at a smaller level, those schools that wish to run tests. The minister has turned up the heat on those who have in her view responded negatively to her proposals despite having the tacit political backing of unionists whereas she could have used political cooperation, compromised, let the unionists focus on a downsized selection sector and such outworkings, while she herself focussed on improving the learning environment of the disadvantaged.

    If the non-selection sector is the best form of education then over time it will compete for pupils as well as the smaller select schools, so as the saying goes: nothing succeeds like success. The consequence being that the parents will run to it.

    But equality terminology falls short of a suitable explanation of why her changes will improve the lot of those who without such changes to the system will continue to underachieve. In real terms, be it money, extra teachers, changes to teaching environment, new styles, all of these things have not been touched on. Parents therefore don’t trust the strength of change and seem to want to fall back on tests as at least it is some measure of what their children have achieved or seem to be capable of.

  • Mick
    True, the problem with SF is they do not seem to wish to provoke a debate about any of the issues that were in their manifesto etc, but Unionism has placed a road block on. Its as if they feel were they to do so, it would display the limitations of their position.

    Perhaps, but it would also show the DUP up for stagnating the political process and give the shinners electorate some hope that the party leadership understand their frustrations and disappointment.

    As things stand people are beginning to think what’s the point of it all.

  • Mick Fealty


    Okay, let’s put the fact that SF is involved in this to one side for a minute. There is a kind of majority rule situation inside the top level of government. But it can only act as a negative; a brake, if you like, on positive propositions.

    If you have a difficult proposition you want to get through then you need to give some forethought as to how to frame the challenge and ultimately win the public debate; thereby inflicting sufficient political pain on your opponent to make him think about offering you a decent compromise.

    What Harran’s comment makes obvious is that virtually no independent intellectual capital was spent on getting this proposal ready for legislation. Rather too much was invested in the negative past of the DUP. This was a legacy piece of New Labour legislation from a government that never had to negotiate the complexities of the local political market. Unlike the Civil Partnership legislation it was, politically, too important to be able to sneak through before St Andrews.

    Instead of consolidating the argument and building on a pre-existing coalition for change, the Minister has driven straight into a vacuum and the opposite has been achieved, with both the Catholic Church and the SDLP jumping a ship that’s about to hit the proverbial iceberg.

    Accordingly in its current terms the initiative is already dead.

  • lamh dearg

    Yes it has gone beyond SF bashing or Catriona bashing.

    It simply is disgraceful that this situation has been allowed to fester, unresolved, to the point where it is now inflicting damage to children, parents, teachers and schools.

    It was the Executives responsibility to sort, there was ample time to debate, consult, consider, horse-trade and then decide and implement. But (not for the first time and probably not for the last) they blew it.

    FWIW I believe that there was enough agreement among parents that selection at 11 was a bad thing that a planned, understandable move away from it, utilising the parallel developments referred to in Costello could have been sold and accepted. But the grandstanding, the ignorance towards genuine people and the failure to sincerely engage with the issue or the people concerned has actually been a godsend to the grammar lobby who can now quite believably portray themselves as the only practical way out of the current mess.

  • joeCanuck

    He ain’t heavy…..

  • Mick
    I take the point you and ‘lamh dearg’ are making, I agree the shinners should have made an attempt to build a campaign to end selection amongst the general public, but I doubt a political coalition for the ending of selection could have been built at Stormont.

    Not least because no one from the Unionist political elite is prepared to break ranks and do the decent thing and argue for the ending of selection. Unlike their Tory counterparts when it was ended in the rest of the UK.

    From here it looks like the SDLP were quiet happy to see this matter fester, because it makes the SF minister look bad; plus some influential SDLP supporters still support selection.

    As to the DUP, their core electorate seems totally opposed to the ending of selection; and neither of the unionist parties give a toss about working class unionists these days. (By the way has any leading unionist come out for the ending of selection)?

    Lamh seems to be implying that SF should have modified and gone down the road of the 13 plus. I believe this would have been a dreadful mistake, as it would have made a bad process worse, as it would have meant SF endorsing selective education. How could the shinners then have re-visited this again in a year or two, for the DUP/SDLP would have howled them down with cries of hypocrisy , etc.

    The reason some supporters of selection are so keen on the 13 plus road is because they understand it will set selection in stone for the next decade if not more.

    Even in a normal democratic chamber there are often major problems in passing legislation which is opposed by powerful and influential opinion, reforming the house of lords is an example of this.

    What this issue shows is that the Stormont set up was designed to maintain the status quo, no matter how dam awful parts of it might be and how many young lives it ruins.

  • Mick Fealty

    Well, I cannot speak for any of the political parties, but I suspect SF’s opponents were happy to see them mess up. But I cannot imagine that even the DUP are particularly happy with the mess itself. Lose-Lose I’d call it!

    Night all…