Are Ruane’s guidelines for school admissions sectarian…?

EDUCATION Minister Caitriona Ruane has argued that schools which retain academic selection will inevitably discriminate against some children. But her own guidelines – which put eligibility for free school meals as top priority in allocating places – are also discriminatory. Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong or necessarily illegal about discrimination – only unfair discrimination is wrong, and the PSNI 50-50 recruitment criteria survived legal challenge – but the education committee is to seek legal advice on whether the guidelines unfairly discriminate against Protestants, who are half as likely as Catholics to take free school meals. It comes after an equality impact assessment on Ruane’s guidelines was sneaked out without public fanfare on Good Friday. So after inadvertantly leading us into a situation where there will be Catholic and Protestant admissions tests, are Ruane’s guidelines for school admissions also sectarian, as Basil McCrea believes?

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Jeez, damp sectarian allegation charge squib or what.

    “Children quality for free school meals if their parents/guardians are in receipt of benefits. It is known that Protestant families have a lower take-up rate than Catholics. ”

    Surely “Protestant families” families should be targeted to increase their take up rate not just for this reason but because it is a sensible thing to do.

  • fair_deal

    The exam results provide a much better indicator of educational need rather than FSM but if you use controlled schools do better than maintained more and while FSM does the reverse.

    The Dept of Education has consistently used the FSM’s for educational need and proposals to change it have been consistently rejected. This included a proposal that educational need resources be split 50% of FSM and 50% Stage 2 (or was it 3) results during McGuinness’s time. It also shows how shallow Ruane’s concern for the ‘children of the Shankill’ – talks about it but won’t take a decision to their benefit.

  • Belfast Gonzo


    I don’t believe that the legal challenge will succeed meself, and SF’s cheerfulness about it all suggests they are confident too. If Ruane doesn’t use FSM uptake, then what would unionists suggest as a fair alternative, and that breaks down more closely to the two tribal population sizes? Can’t think of anything right now.

    Good suggestion about targeting Protestant families to take up FSMs. In the meantime, should the admissions guidelines factor in the low Prod take-up rate?

  • slug

    If a school is oversubscribed it goes to pupils who get free school meals?

    Many people like to take a packed lunch or am I being dumb.

    Why not base it on the underlying criteria that would determine whether a person is eligible for free school meals?

    Perhaps I am being completely naive here.

    Also it will not apply to many cases.

    For a start grammar schools are using academic tests (not free school meals) and these are the most likely to be over subscribed.

    Also since we have a system in which 90% of Catholics go to Catholic schools (and hardly any protestants go to Catholic schools) will this be of any real importance? It would only apply in the very very few cases where a Catholic applies to an oversubscribed non-grammar state school. (It might therefore actually help with integration and a better religious mix in such schools).

  • Ray

    If Caitriona Ruane could take her Sinn Fein blinders of for just a little while, she might discover that the proven way to dramatically increase the chances for future success for the children of deprived communities is to open an Irish language school.
    Unfortunately, this is complete heresy to the dogma of the Sinn Fein leadership.
    It might/would require a little bit of work for the benefit of both communities. Tragically, work is an anathema to the Sinner philosophy.
    Perhaps, some day the truth will set Sinn Fein free.

  • eranu

    a case could be argued (and often is) that anything is sectarian in NI when an analysis of how many themmuns and how many usuns it affects. but i would have thought that judging which children are best suited for an academic education based on what they eat for lunch was just plain stupid!! surely their ability is the main focus?

  • PACE Parent

    Belfast Gonzo
    There was nothing about the sequencing of events by Ruane and the DENI that has resulted in her “inadvertantly leading us into a situation where there will be Catholic and Protestant admissions tests”
    The Catholic grammar principals, including the GBA and senior members of the Catholic hierarchy were well aware of the attempt to destroy grammar schools and were party to the development of unregulated tests by the AQE. However, in order to deliver the Catholic hierarchy agenda of “no socially unjust academic selection” they carried out a pretense of support for testing resulting in their flagship grammar, Lumen Christi, announcing an intention to use intelligence tests. That position has of course changed but it remains uncomfortable that no Catholic grammar is endorsing the AQE test. What differentiates the two numeracy and literacy tests you describe as Catholic and Protestant? Simply that the Catholic grammars will not join the “non-denominational grammars” in order to keep up a pseudo rationale so that parents will keep their Catholic pupils safe from contamination by the “other side” on spurious grounds.

    Sectarian or what Gonzo?

  • redhugh78

    Did Ruane not open an Irish language nursery school in Castlederg recently?

  • Ray

    I know Gaeloiliuint talked to people at Castlederg more than several years ago and planted the seed about opening a school. I have not heard anything recently, but I will check.
    As you know, the community organisation, Gaeloiliuint, helped found in conjunction with local communities six dosen Irish language nursery, primary, and secondary schools plus the beginnings of a cross-community university at Springvale. That was till Martin McGuinness came along and decided that cross-community organisations were a threat to Sinn Fein. McGuinness blocked all funding through his surrogates. McGuinness had previously established Comhairle, a sectarian civil service grouping, in an attempt to destroy the gaelscoil movement. It was the old divide and conquer.
    Please take a look at what is happening today in Cookstown with the Irish secondary, Colaiste Speirin. Take a look at what happened in Derry City with the Irish secondary where the Sinn Fein leadership spent a decade “persuading” parents not to send their sons and daughters to the secondary.
    Please ask how many Irish schools Comhairle have opened since McGuinness set them up, how many they have shut down, and how many times Comhairle have blocked new schools from opening.
    The record of Comhairle is criminal in the extreme. Comhairle takes their direction from Sinn Fein and the Catholic Church, not from the community, not from the builders on the ground.
    Northern Ireland deserves much better than this. It is time to decommission Comhairle and those behind the scenes in political and church organisations who believe that poor working class people — both Protestant and Catholic — should be deliberately denied world class education opportunities.
    Caitriona Ruane and one of the MEPs. Bairbre DeBrun, would best serve all communities by solving problems instead of creating problems and by not destroying the problem solving organisations, and then playing deaf and dumb.
    But I will check on Castlederg.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Consider these stats:
    In 2006/07, 51% of those sitting the 11+ in catholic schools with a 50% FSME or more achieved grades A-C (works out at 260 pupils.)

    In the same year, 19% (or 30 pupils) in similar non-catholic primaries achieved grades A-C.

    The stats for primaries with 40-50% FSME are the same: 63% (or 260 pupils) in catholics schools achieved grades A-C whilst 30% (or 40 pupils) achieved similar results in non-catholic schools.

    What those figures suggest is that the Ruane proposal regarding a minimum threshold of Free School Mean entitlement pupils would make the greatest impact on non-catholic grammars, not within the catholic sector.

    This was an interesting proposal from Catriona, and the reaction from some unionist politicians suggests some prefer waving the flag to ensure their own electorate in working-class areas don’t actually interpret this as a move which would actually improve the prospects of ‘their own’ attending a grammar school. Better to claim the oul’ free state sinner is targeting prods again…

    Of course, as ever, looking beyond the default sectarian response is more important- and interesting- in order to gain an understanding of the real source of resistance to any such proposal.

    The first I heard of this proposal was when a work colleague of mine, a 20- year veteran teacher, raised strong objections to the proposal. His gripe was that his kids should not be discriminated against in favour of somebody on FSM, which he also ridiculed, suggesting many “dole spongers” were doing the double anyway.

    Behind his words lay a fear that his daughter- soon to take a transfer test- may have to follow his youngest son into the non-grammar sector, after the latter did not get the results needed to gain entry to a grammar school (he opted to send the child to an Integrated school, not liking the look of any of the all boys’ catholic secondaries in his district.)

    His reaction neatly encapsulated the real problem for Catriona and Sinn Fein over the vexed selection issue- namely, that the opposition is not simply the ‘usual suspects’ of right-wing middle-class unionists; it is also ‘from within’, in the working and middle-classes of the nationalist community, because parents (if they’re doing their job right) will want what’s best for their child, regardless of the political/ ideological stance of their preferred political parties.

    Finding a way of satisfying the natural concerns of the parents (catholic and protestant) willing to go along with a post-academic selection scenario remains the key to resolving this matter- and there is a strong groundswell of support for some new system, as evidenced by the strong reaction against the new test from primary school and secondary principals.

    This proposal merely confirms that Ruane’s heart is in the right place- though that is a small consolation, I know.

  • Chris Donnelly

    On another issue, I’m afraid the Key Stage data is about as reliable as the opinion polls we often deride on this website.

    The key stage data is a bugbear of mine. It lacks credibility as it is not based on testing at all, but rather teacher opinion, and, in the worst cases I know of, that of more senior people within the school who ‘direct’ teachers to deliver key stage results that suit the school’s needs…and don’t even bother asking why the ELBs aren’t concerned with such political tomfoolery- if the results can make a good press release, then you’ll not hear many Chief Exec’s complaining…

    Take a look at the key stage data some time when you get a chance. Schools (including those from deprived protestant working class communities) regularly return key stage data for key stages 1 and (particularly) 2 which, were they in any way reliable, would suggest the number of children attaining A and B1/B2 (never minds C) grades from the school should be considerably better then what is actually secured by the pupils.

    I could point you to a couple of schools where, in a very, very short period of time, the key stage results rocketed up by more than 40% combined Maths/ English at KS2, a simply unbelievable figure which suggests that either the earlier scores were deflated or the latter scores were inflated, possibly to suit a narrative which could’ve assisted some in securing additional funding (in which case, the latter scores could be interpreted as suggesting the programmes worked, and therefore funding should be continued…)

    Playing with the stats is an age-old game. Unionist politicians may have liked the Key Stage results as the basis for additional funding as they confirm what is broadly accepted here, for differing reasons, of course: namely, that (some) catholic schools serving the more socially/ economically deprived seem to do a better job of it, at least when it comes to Transfer test results.

    Their concern was less about addressing underachievement than about feeding that base desire to redirect funding from the catholics to the prods, the pinnacle of which was, of course, the notion of exclusive PUL funding as opposed to funding based on objective criteria (but we’ll revisit that another day perhaps…)

    Key stage data is, unfortunately, subject to all sorts of political shenanigans at a school and above level.

    Were it to be made a factor in securing grammar provision, I have absolutely no doubt that schools across sectors would begin to play the game with considerably more rigour than is even the case today.

    In my ideal world, academic selection would go at eleven, but independently adjudicated testing would certainly not.

  • alan56

    The minister is an expert in divisifness. She has an ability to find issues which get people all worked up. She should follow the example of deputy First Minister. He appears so statesmanlike by comparison.

  • Gael gan Náire


    “The record of Comhairle is criminal in the extreme”

    Hmmm. Has this statement not crossed the line. I suggest it has.

  • Ray

    Gael gan Naire,
    Comhairle was set up as a sectarian civil service entity to stop a democratic, community-based organisation on the ground that had an international track record second-to-none. Comhairle was set up to destroy an ongoing cross-community initiative.
    You do not kill off a thoroughbred champion and replace it is with a mule unless there is a sinister criminal motive. History has proved that.
    How would you describe Comhairle?

  • Reader

    Belfast Gozno: Protestants, who are half as likely as Catholics to take free school meals…
    Chris Donnelly: Consider these stats:
    Given Belfast Gonzo’s statement, your stats aren’t comparing like with like. 50% FSM in a Catholic school represents far less actual deprivation than 50% in a controlled school.
    If you have access to the raw data, perhaps you could make the necessary adjustments and post statistics comparing like with like?