“it’s an abuse of their human rights..”

In response to confirmation that all but a handful of grammar schools will be using academic selection tests next year the Northern Ireland Education Minister, Sinn Féin’s Caitríona Ruane, has claimed that the tests are a breach of human rights..

“No child should be tested at 10 or 11, it’s wrong,” she said. “It shouldn’t be happening and it’s an abuse of their human rights,” [Caitríona Ruane] told BBC Radio Ulster.

Well, if defamation of religion can be a breach of human rights.. Time to consult those advisers again?

  • I’d love to know which ‘human right’ it breaches.

  • ngg

    this woman is an ideolog. nothing can change her mind that testing children is wrong.

    she doesnt want that because she wants te same low standard of education that is enjoyed in other liberal countries.

    then when weve got the next generation as stupid as they need to be to vote sien fien ruane will be happy.

    we need a voucher system and private school. [keep it civil – edited moderator]

  • My sentiments entirely, Chekov. I would lay odds that she is referring to Article 3 (freedom from torture or degrading treatment)because of the pressure it puts the children under.

    Another one she may have been thinking of is Article 14 (discrimination). Article 14 is designed to include discriminations not specifically listed. That could include discrimination on social status.

    Whatever her thinking is, it would be hard to believe that there would be a real prospect of any court finding there was a violation.

  • Scooby

    Sack her. Please.

  • padraic

    This is getting ridiculous. She’s an absolute embarassment. I don’t know the ins and outs of parliamentary procedure up at Stormont but, if it’s possible, the Executive should pass a vote of no confidence in her. The children continue to get the raw deal, as per usual.

  • willowfield

    If Ms Ruane thinks the grammar schools are “breaching human rights” then let the Department of Education bring them to court.

    On the other hand, if she is merely talking sensationalist nonsense, let her do nothing more than preach to them as she always has done.

    If Ms Ruane was genuinely opposed to the social division of children, she’d be seeking the withdrawal of state support for the Roman Catholic schools sector and encouraging integration. But that would be to challenge the sectarian attitudes of her own tribe which, let’s face it, she shares.

  • Glencoppagagh

    Just testing.
    But Ruane is clearly in a little world of her own.

  • TonyB

    I dunno lads ye’re all kinda hard on her. It’s a bit of a refrain, and any time anyone (particularly the oppressive state apparatus, or some other such language of the allegedly oppressed) gets anything done to them that is in any way uncomfortable, they claim it’s a breach of human rights.
    Problem is, genocide is a breach of human rights. So is compromising one’s ‘right to development,’ (which is arguably compromised by testing at 10-11 and assigning tuition on that basis). There’s no equivalence there (between ‘genocide’ and ‘development’, but they’re all in the same bucket of fuzz.
    So – technically, she’s right. She may well still be a crazy lady, but she’s not wrong on this one.

  • willowfield

    If she’s right (technically or otherwise) we’ll see a court case.

    We won’t, however, see a court case.

  • padraic

    All rights are entirely subjective in their interpretation and application. That’s the probably with institutionalised rights: everyone grabs and right and holds on tight thinking that it offers them the protection they need in order to substantiate their own particular claim. Have a look at the case law of the ECJ and European Court of Human Rights – their human rights jurisprudence isn’t as liberal as you’d think.

    A vote of no confidence in our esteemed Minister for Education would be a much better way of proceding on this issue.

  • Fair Deal

    When someone starts claiming imaginary ‘Human rights’ it is clear they have plain lost it.

    I can’t imagine that she isn’t causing SF some harm, even John O’Dowd seems to have given up trying to run interference for her. What I can’t understand is why the Shinners have left her in post? They have happily shunted many a person out over the years.

  • Brian Walker

    A possible way out of the deadlock is to develop “parent power” along the Swedish model. (Easy to take the comfortable route and stick to scoffing at the wretched Ms Ruane: read the following piece from Prospect magazine first).

    Basically, the English Education Act 2006 allows for the development by parental groups of new public as well as private schools.

    Vouchers worth 4k pa could be issued to parents with an additional premium paid to the poor, to avoid elitism. Academic selection would still be barred and would arguably be defused as an issue if real choice could be established.

    How could this be achieved? Overcapacity of schools is essential to allow for real choice.

    These Swedish ideas are being further developed by the Tories, with money from the national fund to rebuild or refurbish all secondary schools, but not involving profit making organisations, unlike Labour’s academies programme .

    High school standards must be placed at an even greater premium.

    In NI, the closest to this parent power model is probably the integrated schools sector, but it this is constrained within an existing system. To create real choice, parent power would have to apply throughout the system. Effort to create it could be eased by devising local area plans for discussion, such as I’ve described elsewhere.

    And your constructive idea is..?

  • padraic

    [i]And your constructive idea is..?[/i]

    To keep the current system as it is.

  • padraic

    The only amendments I’d seriously entertain are moving the age at which the test is taken to 13 or 14 and placing more of an emphasis on ‘real’ skills (construction, engingeering etc.) than GCSE Media Studies, Religious Education and English Literature – subjects that are either completely irrelevant or which many students find completely irrelevant and serve no purpose in helping someone to survive in the real world.

  • dunreavynomore

    “even John O’Dowd sems to have given up trying to run interference for her.” Indeed and he seems ti have disappeared from the media since the arrest of Collie Duffy and Brendan McConville or have I just missed him?

    Re Catriona, I think she is a wee bit mad, to be honest so maybe it’s sympathy we should have for her…..NO?

  • TonyB

    FD – define what you mean by ‘imaginary human rights’? Like I mentioned, it’s thrown about too much, and rings a little like the “don’t you oppress me!” mantra from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. That being said, the Irish constitution in its bill of rights recognised ‘other unenumerated rights’ that should be identified by the judiciary – specifically the Supreme Court. Similarly in international law there are rights developing all the time – the right to development being one of the most active and arguably nebulous currently under consideration. The right to education, and other rights under the Convention of the Rights of the Child could arguably come under the honourable education tsar’s allegation. They’re not imaginary, even if Ms. Ruane’s demons might be 🙂

  • Reader

    Chekov: I’d love to know which ‘human right’ it breaches.
    The right never to be assessed on your capability or aptitude, of course.
    A right very dear to Ruane’s heart.

  • eranu

    ““No child should be tested at 10 or 11, it’s wrong,” she said. “It shouldn’t be happening and it’s an abuse of their human rights,” [Caitríona Ruane] told BBC Radio Ulster.”

    its actually quite interesting to see someone who is totally lost in the modern day vague PC sentiment of “oooohhhh, nothing bad should be done to anyone and if something could be thought of from a certain angle as being bad to someone else in some sort of way, then its bad and shouldn’t be allowed..” some people seem to be totally tied in knots with this type of thinking. it completely disables any actions being taken to solve any sort of issue. theres always some way to dream up a “human right” that means someone will be portrayed as being denied something. its total madness. endless loops of insanity…

    the interesting thing is that people like this usually aren’t in charge of anything because of their inability to actually get anything done without thinking about breaching a human right or something. but in NI we can see how this sort of thinking works in real life because we have actually put someone like this in charge of a real world government department. its really scary stuff, and very sad that children suffer as a result of it.

  • Vision Razor

    is it not a greater abuse of the kids human rights to leave them in limbo with no fecking clue what is or isn’t going to happen.

    I applaud the scrapping of the 11+ system however even an 11+ test is better than the vacuum that Ruiner has left them with

  • barnshee

    Lok lads this is quite simple –its all about pupil behavior– mummy and daddy don`t want Brendan and Fiona, Jeremy and Elizabeth exposed to those people from westbelfest the fels end sendy row—heve yew no idea how the behave. The odd one that hes passed the 11+ is probably OK but dragging down Brendan and Jeremy by letting them all in– noooo.

  • willis


    “GCSE Media Studies, Religious Education and English Literature – subjects that are either completely irrelevant or which many students find completely irrelevant and serve no purpose in helping someone to survive in the real world.”

    But surely these are the very subjects essential to the blogger? Are you suggesting this is not the real world?

  • Brian MacAodh

    Seriously, how did this woman get to where she is? Good choice, Gerry.

    Human rights? Taking a fricking test?

    You know what, maybe she’s right. No tests until univeristy. Everyone will get the same grade. It’s the only fair way

  • Fair Deal


    “define what you mean by ‘imaginary human rights’? ”

    A right claimed that has never before been enumerated in a rights document, been mentioned before as a unenumerated /natural/ fundamental right, or established by case law.

  • Brian Walker

    I’m surprised that so many are quite so scathing on the rights point. Once again, an important NI debate is stuck in a time warp. In GB and elsewhere it has long been conceded that selection at 11 discriminates against a majority of children on class and educational grounds. Yes, its a difficult issue but that’s no reason to duck it. It’s true that both main UK parties would love to keep the character and ethos of the best grammar schools and it’s proving mighty difficult to do it without restoring selection. But they will never go back; the voters won’t stand for it. Retaining selection forever in NI would leave us with a large underserviced underachieving sector where the curriculum needs to be expanded, even in some schools which are called grammar. While Ms Ruane stretches the rights points too far and has no credentials for talking, it could well be that under proposals for a new UK Bill of Rights and Responsibilties containing an equal right to education, the present NI deadlock could be judged in breach.
    But talk of rights is mainly a distraction and is being exploited as fodder for the tiresome old sectarian knock-about. Serious people know that the status quo is not a permanent option.

  • willowfield


    There will always be selection, as some schools will always be over-subscribed.

    Replacing academic selection with criteria that amount to selection by parental wealth doesn’t seem to me to be very progressive.

    In England and Scotland they may have comprehensive systems, but they also have very large private sectors, which are far more unfair and results in far greater inequality than does the NI system.

  • Neil

    Academic selection is essential in some form, at some time or another. If it doesn’t happen at 10/11 then it needs to be at 13/14 or some other time. There would be little point in enrolling all children in, say for example, additional maths GCSEs when the majority of students wouldn’t be able to hack it. So what we are in essence talking about is replacing selection with another more equitable form of selection, at some point further down the line. Excellent I say, let’s do it.

    So in order to replace this system, what will we do? We can either start to consider a new system, open the thing up to discussion, put the necessary measures in place and then wind down the old system.

    Or, we can just kill the old system, and Catriona will decide in her own time what to do. She’ll inform us of her plans in her own time too, and she won’t be complained at regarding the sterling work that she refuses to tell us about.

    I understand systems management, it’s part of the work that I’m involved in. Ok, they may be computer systems, involving rollouts of new software, but the principles are the same. The old system is maintained until the new system is in place, and has been proven to be effective and stable. Only then do you consider deactivating the old system.

  • TonyB

    FD – tongue firmly in cheek, I’m not entirely sure that there are any perceived injustices – real or not – that could not justifiably be interpreted as compromising some rights or other. And I guess that’s part of the problem. So if you’re human, and you’re aggrieved, then you’re going to feel as if something that was yours – a right – has been denied or compromised in some way. With such a broad scope for interpretation, imagination, in a Wonka-esque kind of way, becomes real. Ergo, there’s no such thing as an imaginary right.
    Also, the right doesn’t have to be as perscriptive as Ms. Ruane suggests – such as the Right to Not Be Tested At 11, or some such. Rather, it could be argued that the right to education is compromised. Or the right to development. It has even been argued in international legal journals that the right to life extends to a qualitative definition (under the delightful sobriquet of prescriptive legal positivism), and that therefore one’s Right To Life under international law is compromised should it be lessened in quality in any way.
    This is generally the point at which all non-lawyers, and most lawyers, throw up their hands and cry out ‘well, what chance does that give me?’, much as Brian was trapped by the philosopher’s contention ‘only the true Messiah would deny his divinity!’. His response? ‘All right then, I am the Messiah – now f%^k off!

  • willowfield

    Balls, TonyB

    If there were any breach of human rights, we’d see a court case.

    We haven’t seen one, and we won’t see one.

  • Congal Claen

    If we went comprehensive, intelligent working class kids would suffer as they’d wouldn’t attain the grades that they currently do. So, whatabout their human rights Katrina?

  • Fair Deal

    The desire that something be a right and even a lawyer thinks they have found a way to spin it does not make it a right. It remains an imagined right.

    Also Ruane’s statement is very much in the present that it was an existing breach not a breach only when and if a previously unaccepted argument becomes adopted in a rights document or accepted in a courtroom.

    Plus Ruane’s concern for human rights is odd because whenever her department gets asked about how they are implemented the rights of the child convention it all goes very quiet.

  • TonyB

    willowfield, I’m sure Ms. Ruane was not actually drawing from her reserves of legal interpretation, and was merely invoking the same, tired old rhetoric of the (allegedly oppressed).

    And for my third link in this sequence to Monty Python’s classic, “Loretta’s” ‘Don’t You Oppress Me!, when being told that he did not have the right to be a woman (because he was a man) is the same kind of gibberish that attaches to rights.

    FD – your view on what constitutes a right is entirely valid, and to hold that view remains your prerogative (a word which, in a curious twist, is defined by Priceton’s wordnet as ‘a right reserved exclusively by a particular person or group (especially a hereditary or official right)’). The legal stuff may be a little different though. And as for Ms Ruane’s audience, it could similarly be argued that we collectively have the right not to be subjected to the inane. Balls, perhaps, but an interesting subjectivity surrounds the rights debate.

  • eranu

    look, forget about the idea of rights and denial of rights. that sort of thinking is for thick people who think that they may be on the verge of some sort of enlightenment type working it all out in their minds type experience.

    back in the real world, kids with a reasonable amount of academic ability do better when they are with other kids with reasonable academic ability. they are from families that bring up their children properly and do all they can to help their children get a good education.

    in a comprehensive system these children and their families are dragged down by wayne and waynety scum and their disruptive scum children that destroy any atmosphere of learning in classes. they disrupt the class and thus hold back the entire class.
    thats why our grammar schools have the best results in the UK. its because decent families and decent kids, from working and middle class areas, have the chance to better themselves without the scum dragging them down.
    yes, go off and have a PC rant if you want. but everyone reading this knows this is the truth.

    i know of one working class family in dublin that have brought their child up properly and their child wants to learn in class. but because of being stuck in a comprehensive system the child is stuck with a large amount of scum that ruin the class and this results in zero learning.
    in NI this child could have gone to a grammar school and been freed of the ball and chain of having scum drag them down.
    yes have another PC rant if you want. everyone knows this is why decent families want their child to go to a grammar school…

  • barnshee


    oh dear waaay toooo much truth in there

  • willis


    “in NI this child could have gone to a grammar school and been freed of the ball and chain of having scum drag them down.”

    Oh really?

    Do you think our High schools are just full of “scum”? Do you think there are no decent kids there struggling to get an education?