Under the circumstances of political deadlock, the report that the AQE and the Catholic grammar schools are seeking agreement on a single transfer test is surely to be welcomed. However much some might like it, integration and the abolition of selection are not going to happen any time soon, by the will of the people I guess, as well as the parties. The way ahead now is to make progress on the basis of facts and analysis rather than any kind of dogma. But unless some sense of future direction is supplied from now on, nothing more will get done. Most agree that selection for selections sake is not a good in itself. Many would recognise that the curriculum needs to be strengthened at the vocational end to improve performance at the long tail of the system. As a basis for discussion, detailed area plans should be drawn up by the department to implement the demographic conclusions of Bain and the curriculum range of Costello. Parents, and politicians as well as educationalists could then see for themselves what the prospects are for schools amalgamation, integration and transfers at 14, area by area, and school by school. The debate would be complex but it would throw up many creative challenges that would cut across the apparently fixed positions. Unless everyone involved argues on the basis of analysis and evidence, the deadlock will remain entrenched forever and a large minority of our children will continue to be poorly served.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London