Education and the new Catholic middle class guilt complex…

Unusually for the silly season there is some good journalism around, and decent news stories. There’s a fair amount of trouble brewing in the Catholic school system after suggestions by the Bishops that entrance exams should be phased out. According to the Irish News Fr Ignatius McQuillan said the moral authority of the bishops would not stop parents switching to non-Catholic grammars. Then Fionnuala O’Connor gets to the nub of a problem that has thus far refused to speak its name within Catholic society:

Despite internal republican disagreement and the age-old split between republicanism and SDLP-type nationalism and although sniffy about the lack of debate in unionism, many Catholics do not rush to explore developments in their own structures.

Yet most know well that class divisions in Catholic society are wider – though also swiftly enough overcome – than they were pre-Troubles. The contrasts in the lives of struggling low-earners and the benefit-dependent, the fairly affluent and the rich are rarely examined in depth in ordinary conversations among many Catholics because many are touchy on the subject.

It is far more tempting to dwell on the estrangement between loyalists and unionism and how a Protestant underclass has been neglected by their politicians. All true but matters nearer home are not so easily addressed.

Agonising over entrance tests and selection bring the question of class bang into the centre of the picture. It remains veiled.

It is also worth taking in Matthew Taylor’s considered thoughts on social mobility in England (where it has nose-dived under a comprehensive system). He reckons that the root cause of inequality has less to do with the system or the past performance of any school, but its rising reputation and the determination of the middle classes to colonise and monopolise whatever opportunities they think it will unleash for their offspring:

The dynamic of a school becoming sought after is more to do with property than performance. A school may start off with an advantage such as being in a largely middle class area or having a good head. As soon as the school gets a good name, middle class people start moving into the area (the ESRC research shows there is a much stronger correlation between past school performance and property prices than with future school performance). As a consequence the intake to the school becomes more privileged, driving up further its raw league table results (which is what parents tend to look at) and so it goes on.

And he concludes:

…the barrier to social mobility in the UK is less about the lack of desire of the poor to move up and more about the utter tenacity of the upper middle classes in making sure their offspring never move down. And as the hostility people show to any tax on inheritance underlines, the vast majority of the well off are determined to make sure they pass on privilege down the generations.

Amongst middle class parents (Catholic or Protestant) with even pre-school age kids, the single-minded focus on how their kids do and what school they will go to can be almost frightening in its intensity… This is not new exactly. But Northern Irish Catholics, for whom education had largely been a cross class experience in previous generations, now find themselves conflicted between new class preoccupations and older, now less certain, cultural and religious identities…

Those looking for reforms which genuinely create opportunities for those dwelling beyond the new middle class redoubts may need to think much more broadly about the problem than flicking a switch towards the comprehensive systems of Scotland, Wales or England…


  • Drumlins Rock

    maybe in NI the silly season is the rest of the year and we get down to real news when the politicians go on holidays?

    Why are the powers that be unwilling to even discuss what seems to the most popular system with the public, selection at 14 or 15, or the Dickson plan as they call it in Craigavon, it mite not be a perfect system but better than the dog’s breakfast that’s in place atm.

    What’s happening in both middle class parts of the community here is hard to comprehend, and while they provide the politician and workers for most parties most of the voters are working class probably.
    As for the schools issue maybe the grammar schools can take the lead and merge in each town, just have to sort out which sounds better here in Tyrone, “St Patricks Royal School” or “Royal St Patricks”?

  • slug

    Drumlin’s Rock

    There is a lot to be said for greater cooperation between the middle class grammars.

    One of the drawbacks of the present (new) testing system is that it is segregated – the catholic schools and Voluntary Grammars have different tests. That is bad news for integration.

    In Ballymena, by contrast, the schools didn’t want that sectional division, and they got togeether. There is an interesting admissions relationship between St Louis and Ballymena Academy, who are jointly running a common test for both schools, separate from the others.

    Thus if a candidate passes the test but fails to get into their most preferred school, and it is oversubscribed, then one presumes then they might go to the other of the two. The result is a more cooperative and integrated system.

  • Ulsters my homeland

    I had a friend called Ignatius, he ended up on craggy island selling ice-creams to Fr McDougal.

  • Brian Walker

    Mick, This goes nicely with my post below on how we might approach a slow end to selection.
    Fionnuala is on the money as usual. All the same, I would find to hard to attack Fr McQuillan el al for setting up a fourth good grammar school in Derry. Matthew Taylor’s point is hardly new, that schools are seen as a passport to class promotion. You could put it another way, that families pretending to be religious or doughnutting around “good “ schools is powerful evidence of unsatisfied demand. In England as you know, grammars have all but disappeared but in Northern Ireland are 40% of all secondary schools. In NI you’d think it would all be simpler. Just level up the rest and there you have it. And maybe you would you know. I have a hunch that we a bit if energy and lateral thinking we could get it right .

    One, the popularity of grammar schools is all the more unassailable for crossing the divide.

    Two, but not all grammars are performing equally well partly due to falling rolls, partly due to mixed intake ( you know what we mean by “mixed”.) The evidence of this is clear from Kathryn Torney’s report below, that not all grammars are oversubscribed; some are in decline. This shows many grammars would flourish without tests while others need reshaping. The accent should be placed on the children not the schools, most of which are well able to look after themselves.

    Three, Northern Ireland is small enough for information about school standards to be fairly reliable. Reputations fluctuate and have done so a lot in my lifetime. For instance Campbell and even Belfast Inst are not what they were. Catholic grammars now regularly top the results tables. All this is generally well known although only whispered by Prods. For some it stiffens their resistance to making a deliberate choice to widen their curriculum and intake. They would rather go down fighting with the grammar school flag on top or sweat it out until the days of expanding rolls return. This risks selling the present generation and should not be allowed to happen..

    Four, we should exploit the margin of up to 80,000 empty places to enhance staff/pupil ratios and widen the curriculum range in underperforming schools and probably close a few. This is going ahead in what looks like a cellular top-down area planning system , whereas it should be open to all and transparent to build confidence in school reform and give parents a real say in what happens in their area. In time and with growing success, that would reduce parental panic. In the old post-war 11 plus tripartite system of grammar, technical and intermediate, the techs lost out almost immediately to the grammars. We should not make the same mistake, updated, again.

  • Drumlins Rock

    umm can i ask what system do we operate? in this area within 30 miles we have –
    Cookstown – Basically Comprehensive
    Fivemiletown – Comprehensive
    Portadown – Dickson Plan
    Dungannon – Grammer A-C grades
    Omagh – Grammer A and possibly B grades
    Armagh – Grammer not sure grades
    Monaghan – ok havnt a clue!
    oh dont forget the Integrated system, which dare is say is occasionally used as a grammer school substitute
    ok i mite be off on some of those, and its only the state sector im familar with, but it gives you an idea of the mixed up systems we have, now were are gonig to add different entrance tests or no test, what a mess.
    I wonder if we were to start from scratch what sort of system would we come up with?
    I’m not sure about the Catholic system but think the church should seriously its role in education, maybe its role should become more like those that the protestant churches have, integrated education will come eventually, and not through an un-necessary third sector, if the Catholic church were to negotiate that now then they could secure a strong influence for many years to come, if that influence continues to get chipped away at the current rate they will be as weak if not a weaker voice that the TRC is now.

  • Glencoppagagh

    If Catholics begin to apply to non-Catholic grammars in numbers it will lead to friction with some middle-class Protestants denied a grammar school place because they’re not A or B material but who would currently expect to get a place in some parts of the province.
    It could also lead to problems about which sports should be played.

  • Paddy Matthews

    Monaghan – ok havnt a clue!

    The Republic is essentially a comprehensive system – all students follow the same subjects and sit the same exams through to Leaving Cert (age 18).

    Different schools may have different emphases placed on vocational rather than purely academic subjects but there doesn’t seem to be the vast gulf that exists in Northern Ireland and the choice of school is up to the parents.

    Something around 80-90% of the age cohort stay on until Leaving Cert and approximately 55% go on to higher education.

  • Mick Fealty


    And the Republic has some of the social mobility problems that Taylor identifies in England. Although I’ve not seen any fresh data on this since the mid 90s my guess is that people game themselves into the good school catchment areas as they do in England. Would be happily corrected on that with more up-to-date data/insight though…

  • tierney73

    It is misleading to equate social mobility with the education system. If only things were so simple. The burst in mobility in the 50s and 60s was strongly associated across western Europe with the expansion of white collar jobs, that inevitably meant those with blue collar backgrounds found it much easier to move into more remunerative occupations – likely to be a one-off moment in economic development. Much economic development since has been highly capital intensive so there is less scope for large numbers of people to move into better-paid positions in the labour market; there is not much scope for improving productivity in the service secxtor where most jobs are now being created. While those already in relatively favoured positions – as accurately highlighted in this week’s report in the UK chaired by Alan Milburn – are in a strong position to pass on their position to their offspring. Thus grammars probably contributed relatively little to high levels of mobility after WWII. But they may have a stronger role in maintaining exclusivity today.

  • Harry Flashman

    “but there doesn’t seem to be the vast gulf that exists in Northern Ireland and the choice of school is up to the parents.”

    Psssshhhhhttttt!!!!! Sorry, I’m trying to clean up the coffee I just sprayed over my computer monitor after reading that line.

    Not as much social divisiveness in the Republic’s education system compared to Northern Ireland? You’re havin’ a larf mate aincha?

    When I was at university in Dublin virtually the only working class students there came from the North, courtesy of the superb Catholic grammar school system that allowed bright boys from Creggan and the Bogside in Derry to get the same education as boys from Culmore Road or Talbot Park.

    Belvedere College is located in the North Inner City of Dublin, I suppose you believe that’s where all their pupils come from too do you?

  • George

    a 2001 survey found that 25% of those from the families of unskilled and semi-skilled manual workers in the Irish Republic went to university compared to 75% from the professional classes.

    Divisiveness yes, but I would say that figure compares very favourably to Northern Ireland.

    From my own experience, the working class are far more likely to attend one of the institutes of technology (which have university status) rather than Trinity, which is where I assume you went to.

  • fair_deal

    I may be feeling very hard and cynical this morning but it isn’t a question of guilt looks more to me self -interest, the well-developed Catholic middle class smashing the ladder up which it climbed so they can ‘buy’ advantage for their children.

  • Paddy Matthews

    Mick re catchment areas:

    Dublin (and especially upper-middle class Dublin) is not the Republic. Most people outside Dublin go to their local school.


    I’ve no doubt things were different back in your day but we’ve moved on since then. When I did my Leaving Cert in the mid-80s about 25% of the class in my school went on to third-level (5% to university, the rest to RTCs); last year for the same school it was 85%.

    UCD and Trinity may well still skew heavily towards the urban upper-middle classes but they’re not equivalent to third-level as a whole.

  • Mick Fealty


    That’s way above the national average, which Unesco has at 64%. Are you trying to tell us you’re a posh kid?

    Here’s what I have from Richard Breen [1996] on a long term story of the 1958-70 cohorts north and south:

    “Overall the two parts of Ireland differ in quite marked ways, which might be summarised by saying that the Northern education system is characterised by low class inequalities and low average levels of educational attainment, while the Southern system demonstrates higher levels of inequalities and higher average levels of attainment.”

    Now that does not account for the educational reforms of the mid sixites, so I’d be grateful for any up-to-date stats. But the northern stuff is still borne out be contemporary research.

  • michael

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Lumen Christi always have additional entrance requirements beyond the 11+ ?

    Something along the lines of demonstrating gradable musical ability with a flugelhorn or piano or whatever. With the end result that working class lads like myself from the Bog, Creggan, Carnhill etc who “would benefit from a St Columb’s education”. Found themselves not quite good enough for Lumen Christi as their parent(s) didn’t tend to pay for piano lessons at weekends.

    As for Fr Iggy (as we all called him), I would have more respect for the man if he dealt with ‘Roomy’ back in the day, instead of ignoring the blindingly obvious.

  • Brian Walker

    Entertaining as it sounds, it is futile to stigmatise parents in terms like smashing the ladder for others they climbed up themselves. What are they supposed to do for their own children? The Northern Ireland polity is in so position to wage a class war over academic selection. A 40% grammar sector cannot be disposed of, but it is not a monolith. Accept that grammar schools are popular and here to stay, then take it from there. Academic selection by test is a different thing. Grammars need to be disabused of the belief that without selection, they’re all fatally compromised. A few may be frankly but this isn’t the end of the world. Right now there is enough spare capacity to switch money from empty places to a programme of creative rationalisation, but this window won’t stay open for long. It’s deplorable that politicians haven’t the faintest idea what to do and are allowing the ship to run on auto. Faced with the SF/DUP led deadlock, education experts and other vested interests like the teaching unions are cowed from starting a new debate for fear of being drawn into a sectarian quarrel. Government can exercise some control through investment. Even more investment needs to be channelled into the 60% secondary majority, although the comparative investment levels per sector per pupil run at about equal. As levelling up of secondary schools happens, so the fear that grammars are fated to decline will lessen. Levelling up has been a continuous process for a long time anyway, as we’ll see again shortly from the GCSE and A level results. Local networks between successful and less successful schools can be created to pull up performance and widen access to the expanded curriculum. We can rebrand schools into different sets of specialised schools, if that helps pulbic confidence. The public need to be involved in what area planning is coming up with. I know people prefer the easy option of chuntering on about class theory – ok fascinating, but how does this translate into practical policies? This is about education and not ideological knife fighting which is peripheral to the main issues.

  • Paddy Matthews

    That’s way above the national average, which Unesco has at 64%. Are you trying to tell us you’re a posh kid?

    Sorry to disappoint you, Mick. 🙂

    Small-farm background in small-farm area. Those sort of areas have always put a fairly high premium on education (moreso for girls in the past but more evenly now).

    The 85% figure in the school was higher than in previous years when it was ~70-75% – perhaps it was a good year.

    But the combination of free fees and expansion in places at third-level means that continuing on to third-level is considered as being normal now whereas back in the mid-80s it wasn’t.

    To me, the problem with the Northern education system is that while the top 20-30% do very well, the remainder do worse than anywhere else either on the island or in the UK.

    Which is why I find the desire to keep the exclusivity of grammar schools coming from some politicians and posters completely off the wall. The aim should be to try to get as many students as possible benefiting from a strong education.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “Cookstown – Basically Comprehensive”

    Kids inn Cookstown wishing to go to Grammar School either travel to Dungannon or Magherafelt”

  • PACE Parent

    @ Brian Walker #16

    Given that you are not one of Northern Ireland’s tight cabal of educationalists you contribute a regular supply of commentary that reads remarkably
    like justification of their failed policies and barely hidden agenda of rationalisation aimed particularly at the controlled sector prior to the establishment of the ESA.

    Take for instance your opening gambit on the thread Education and the new Catholic middle class guilt complex.

    When you state “it is futile to stigmatise parents in terms like smashing the ladder for others they climbed up themselves. What are they supposed to do for their own children?” the first person as exemplar who springs to mind is Professor Tony Gallagher. Gallagher is the architect who planned a rationalisation solution which involved the destruction of grammar schools upon which the DENI, the Catholic church and the unions argued his position. However Mr Gallagher choose the grammar school and Ox bridge university system for his family’s education. It hardly comes as a surprise that the most prominent anti-selectionist in the debate is guilty of hypocrisy. His role in helping to secure the establishment of the most recent Catholic grammar Rathmore stands in stark juxtaposition to his role for the mandarins in the DENI. Perhaps it is time for critical journalists to do a lot more work on this entire scandal a la Daily Telegraph and MP expenses.

    On a point of information Brian exactly what money is provided for empty desks? I think you have been listening to too many long tail stories.

  • Glencoppagagh

    Speaking of hypocrisy, I’d bet that a high proportion of the parents at ultra-selective Lumen Christi are teachers themselves at lesser academic establishments in the city and members of a union that is strongly against selection.

  • PACE Parent

    A point well made and well understood by those parents without a competition of interests. The Belly Tele has carried correspondence from such “influencers”; i.e. Uel McCrea
    and David Canning
    both union leaders professing concern for parents and pupils. McCrea is so arrogant and green he fails to appreciate his comedic position of opposing academic selection by grammar schools yet rigorously applying academic selection by streaming in his own secondary school How these people can keep a straight face may only be explained by the incompetence of our political parties and politicians who have relied almost exclusively on them for education policy advice and are afraid to hold them to account. Sniff out who the DUP currently rely upon as an example.

  • Rethinking Unionism

    Grammar schools have proved the most effective model for social mobility but that does not deal with the problem of a large underachieving tail. The original idea that introducing all ability schools would leaven the whole has failed because unless you are prepared to introduce bussing parents will vote with their feet and congregate around “good schools”. A better view would be to introduce a number of steps which could make a relasitic difference:
    (i) Reform, the curriculum to move away from the “one size fits all” varitety;
    (ii) Stop grammar schools from filling their places with children unsuited to an academic aducation theieby allowing a greater influx to the secondatry schools
    (iii) reform funding to ensure the secondary sector is not losing out
    (iv) reemphasise the technical college model to ensure clear pathways for vocational training.
    (v)Allow for opportunities to easily transfer between sectors at 14

  • PACE Parent

    Let me take Rethinking Unionism’s “better view” and show how dangerous to sensible solutions regurgitating the failed agenda of the DENI bureaucrats can be.
    (i) The curriculum has already been “reformed” by replacing a common (“one size fits all”) curriculum aimed at an assessment of learning with another expanded common (“one size fits all”) curriculum that moves to assessment for learning. The participants evaluate themselves while parents are excluded from the feedback loop necessary for success.
    (ii) The DENI have always had the power to limit admissions but open enrolment permits parents to choose schools rather than schools choose pupils. This exposes the lie that under the 11-plus arrangements schools were in control of which pupils gained entrance. That position has now changed since the 11-plus was deregulated by the DENI. Academic selection replaced by social selection by a government ideologically opposed to the idea!
    (iii) More money for teachers salaries and perks won’t make one bit of difference except for an increase in sick days taken.
    (iv) This would require a shift in use of some of the secondary schools. Volunteers on a postcard please. Perhaps Uel McCrea at Ballyclare will be first?
    (v) These already exist but are underutilized and under communicated.

    Perhaps instead of rethinking unionism a flushing out of the tired, ineffective educationalist community would produce a renewed approach to education services. Too many cooks.

  • Rethinking Unionism

    PACE parent …I have no wish to regurgitate the failed agenda of DENI bureaucrats, not least because their proposals for ther establsihment of the ESA cause me to conclude that they are wedded to centralising everything. What I would be interested in however is how you propose to turn the present oil tanker around. What is your blueprint for change?

  • PACE Parent

    As previously stated there needs to be an accountability exercise conducted by the politicians of the changes made to the education system over the past decade. The oil slick oozing from the DENI/unions/churches/ELBs/NICIE/academics has the foam of common sense sprayed over it and is contained in a boom.
    Unfortunately Rethinking Unionism your desire to avoid regurgitation is undone by the listing of “better steps” all of which are the proverbial DENI old wine in new bottles.
    It is not for parents to provide the model for change but they must certainly be included in the evaluation process. Aside from the views of the conflicted groups cited above the verdict seems to be a unanimous rejection.

  • Rethinking Unionism

    Accept that there may need to be a big tent discussion, but we will be waiting for decades before MLA’s conduct an accountability exercise. As a parent I cannot afford to wait. I am in favour of academic schools and sceptical that comprehensive education provides any sort of panacea. It may be that there can be local solutions to fit local demographics and needs but for Greater Belfast/Derry and the larger town populations there is a need for a range of possibilities.
    The problem with our local politicians is that few of them are educationalists and few of them have much of a clue as to what an improved educational system would look like. Consequently we exist in a vacuum where the grammars defend their territory and there is little constructive discussion. I think there could have been some kind of deal around transfer at 14 but the attitude of the Minister juxtaposed with a rather adamantine approach by some of the grammars scuppered discussions. What I am trying to understand is what this shining city on a hill you imply is meant to look like. If all of these bodies are tired and a fresh raft of proposals is required what is the big idea for change that you are proposing…(there are only so many models). At the moment you seem to be criticising everything without any effective alternative.

  • Glencoppagagh

    PACE Parent
    “The DENI have always had the power to limit admissions but open enrolment permits parents to choose schools rather than schools choose pupils”

    I can’t say I’ve noticed grammar heads calling for reduced intakes. Can they or will they do it now, especially those that face the ignominious prospect of a shortfall in applicants willing to sit their admission tests.

  • Mick Fealty

    Paddy, glad to hear it…

    “I find the desire to keep the exclusivity of grammar schools coming from some politicians and posters completely off the wall.”

    The problem sitting in front of NI’s politicians and educationalists is how do you retain the current strengths and deal with the weaknesses. So far we’ve had a debate in which neither side is listening to the other, but no one (including the Minister) is prepared to look outside the current envelope.

    Defending excellence is an acceptable position. Blocking a solution to the very poor educational outcomes of the larger part of the school population is not. The debate, as current constituted, does not allow for any movement from the pre-set question of selection (which imho is largely a distraction).

    Add to that the fact that the Belfast/St Andrews Agreement allows for nothing but the merest political change, and you have a ‘messer’s charter’. And I’m not just looking in the obvious direction; in the end no one has any substantial responsibility for conducting change since all must agree first.

  • It hardly comes as a surprise that the most prominent anti-selectionist in the debate is guilty of hypocrisy. His role in helping to secure the establishment of the most recent Catholic grammar Rathmore stands in stark juxtaposition to his role for the mandarins in the DENI.

    I fail to see how the third level destination of Tony Gallagher’s children is of any relevance to this debate. Most 18-year-olds are more than capable of deciding for themselves what institution they may wish to attend, and unless PACE Parent has evidence to the contrary in this case, I suggest (s)he withdraw the remark.

    Furthermore, Tony Gallagher is not a public representative, and there is therefore no justification in pointing at an apparent contradiction between the role he fulfils for a particular institution and the private choices he makes.

  • Rethinking Unionism

    “Defending excellence is an acceptable position. Blocking a solution to the very poor educational outcomes of the larger part of the school population is not. The debate, as current constituted, does not allow for any movement from the pre-set question of selection (which imho is largely a distraction”

    Mick..On the money. Struggling to find a way out of the impasse. Never thought I would say…”Bring back McGuinness to Education”

  • PACE Parent

    @ Hugh Green

    I’m afraid your rush to defend Tony Gallagher, Head of the School of Education at QUB, and therefore responsible for all teacher training in Northern Ireland is naive at best and perhaps disingenuous. As you point out he is not an elected public representative but that fact does not constrain his self promotion at the taxpayers’ expense. He is a practiced superannuated socialist without secondary school classroom experience

    Take a look at this

    I’m sure you have read the title of the thread. Now read Gallagher’s point three and ask yourself where his guilt lies.

    BTW you skipped over the Gallaghers’ choice for second level education – not very sensible but perhaps safer ground for you. The hypocrisy, common among educationalists and starting with Ms Ruane, is evidence of the one choice for the likes of them and removal of the choice for the rest of us.

    Just to be clear; your “apparent contradiction” can be contracted to hypocrisy without breaking a sweat by most parents. Tony Gallagher is quite capable of defending himself but why should he when he has others do his work for him.

  • PACE Parent

    @ Rethinking Unionism

    Who do you think set the agenda? None other than Professor Tony Gallagher in his DENI research and Martin McGuinness.

    Withdrawal of the attack on the choice for academically selective schools would be a good start. That is a right of parents and pupils – the majority of whom have expressed their view at every opportunity until the education authorities stopped asking.

  • PACE Parent

    Social mobility in Britain has not recovered from the closure of the grammar schools. The current composition of the Tory front bench is testament to how the gap created by this act of educational vandalism has been filled by those who went to private schools. This is scarcely surprising. What is surprising — scandalous, in fact — is that no major party has the guts to promise to open more grammar schools, although the public is overwhelmingly in favour of such a strategy. How craven is it possible for our political class to be?

    See Onwards and Upwards in the Spectator

  • He is a practiced superannuated socialist without secondary school classroom experience

    Oh come on. I have no idea what this means, but you are off your rocker if you think that you have to have had secondary school classroom experience in order to develop education policy. Do you think one has to be a chicken to recognise an egg?

    BTW you skipped over the Gallaghers’ choice for second level education – not very sensible but perhaps safer ground for you. The hypocrisy, common among educationalists and starting with Ms Ruane, is evidence of the one choice for the likes of them and removal of the choice for the rest of us.

    As parents, people have to make the best choices for their children given the options available to them. They might think that a system has to be changed, and may be even working to change the system, but that doesn’t mean they have to use their child as an instrument in order to do so, which is what you appear to be implying.

  • PACE Parent

    @ Hugh Green.
    For a smart man you do seem ignorant of the history of the N.I. education struggle. Gallagher was political in the education choice for his children. He does not believe his own ideology – why should we?
    Gallagher is powerful, influential and entirely unaccountable politically. He is unelected and uses his power without accountability to the public. Gallagher is not responsible for developing education policy – that is a matter for the DENI, minister and politicians. That Gallagher is their chosen man raises questions. Why are you defending this man? What is your your motivation?

    Perhaps this paragraph from the Irish Independent will aid your understanding of the struggle over grammar schools and selective education. It even mentions superannuated socialists. McGuinness is indirectly referred to – no mention of the unelected Gallagher

    Read Eoghan Harris’s warning.

    Brown envelopes are better than Brownshirts.

    “AT the end it’s a question. Do we believe the dominant impulse of the members of the IRA Army Council – men who have the blood of innocents like Jean McConville and Jerry McCabe on their hands – is to do good to Irish democracy?

    Deep down we all know the answer. Does Fianna Fail think de Valera would have had any truck with the Provisional IRA? Or speak to Sinn Fein unless they had completely cut their links with the Provisional IRA? Isn’t it time for decent Fianna Failer’s to demand the same?

    Meanwhile, let me explain something to the superannuated socialists in the media who get so worked up about white-collar crime because they’re trapped in a Sixties time warp with Pete Seeger singing about how “some men kill with a gun and some with a fountain pen”.

    Maybe these media hippies conflate fountain pens with guns. Let me give them a reality check. If you are shot with a fountain pen you feel fine, if you are shot with a gun you die.

  • Rethinking Unionism

    PACE parent

    We are in agreement about the need to retain grammar schools..I also believe however that the grammar sector need to provide evidence that they are concerned about the whole of education in NI and contribute to the debate about an underachieving secondary sector. There is little point in making ad hominem attacks on Tony Gallagher. The broader debate with all sectors contributing still has to take place and the grammars must face up to some of the idiosyncracies in their sector..noy least filling up their places with children who are not academic.

  • pace parent

    I take it you are familiar with the meaning of ad hominem tu quoque. I suggest you take a look at to familiarise yourself with the ad hominem fallacy which I believe applies to your posting.

    Take a little time to look into Gallagher’s background before rounding on parents.

  • Rethinking Unionism

    I wonder whether we can focus on the central issue rather than etymology…what can grammar schools do about an underachieving secondary sector? Do they have any responsibilities in the matter? Is a “Let them eat cake” response just fine as long as 40-50% of children can go to “good schools”. Is it equitable that grammar schools fill up their excess places with children who do not meet the requirements of an academic school? Tony Gallagher has a view. I have a different perspective.I am happy however to discuss the matter and believe that grammars may have to face some pain if they are to continue to flourish

  • Mick Fealty


    I suspect RU know right well what an ad hominem fallacy is, as, I also suspect, do you. That link leads to a bunch of syllogistic fallacies randomly stuffed in front of a genuine ad hominem one.

    Here’s a longer list: It correctly puts ad hominem under the appropriate heading of ‘Red Herring’ fallacies. On Slugger we long ago abandoned the Latin and now routinely call for commenters to simply ‘play the ball and not the man’.

    It makes for an appealingly simple rule, and implies a need for a degree of civility mixed combined with a useful directness (or bluntness even) in argument. Straightforward enough, no?

  • frustrated democrat

    Why does everyone choose to ignore the basic facts.

    1. Segregated education is divisive and expensive.
    2. Not all children are of equal academic ability.
    3. We therefore need some means of deciding on academic ability at 11 or even 14.

    The solution is to stop state funded segregated education and then in each area decide on the educational requirement for the various academic abilities and close those schools that are surplus to requirements.

    The resulting saving in costs can then be applied to increasing the standards of all schools by having an equal spend at all school age levels and using the surplus teachers to reduce class sizes.

    The result we spend no more money have modern properly equiped schools with a provision for all academic requirements properly funded and have all our children educated together.

    The only problem we then have left is the ambition and desire of parents for their children to have a good education at whatever level they are suited to, the question is should the state replace the parents in trying to equalise the outcome for children at their academic level?

    Will it happen, no! There are too many vested interests in churches and the existing educational system.

  • Rethinking Unionism

    I fear FD thst your solution is not viable. If we are to give any credence to parental choice then there should be the right to educate children in accordance with ones own religious and philisophical convictions provided certain basic criteria are met. I dislike a utiliatrian model in education becauise pretty soon the State is happy to enforce its own moral code well beyond the ambit of the three R’s. Outstanding educational institutions flourish because they have a clear vision of who they are and what they are trying to achieve. Frankly, I am not sure that efficiency savings and rationalisation of resources makes for a clear and compelling vision.

  • Frustrated democrat

    I think if the correct headmasters are appointed then the academic ethos and direction will not be a problem.

    I have no problem with parental choice if,

    a) the child is suited to the academic standard selcted.

    b) it is based on a non academic standard they should be free to pay for whatever type of education they want with a subsidy equal to the allocated funds for their age level excluding the wages cost of the teachers.

    i.e. the state should not have to pay for an educational decision based on a non academic parameter.

  • Rethinking Unionism

    We all pay taxes. Our kids need educated, A high percentage of parents in NI send their kids to faith schools. Why should they be discriminated against if they are objectively delivering excellence and producing students fit to take their place in civic society? I don’t see why there should be any penalty for sending your kid to such a school. In England they are going to extraordinary lengths to get into faith schools which suggests that the State’s education system is falling short.

  • Frustrated democrat


    That is my point, they are not flocking to them because they are faith schools but because they have a high academic standards. The question is why – because parents who send their kids their do so to get a high academic standard and offer them the parental support required. Cause and effect, nothing to do with religion.

    Everyone pays taxes but why should those who would prefer secular education have pay more to subsidise those who don’t. It is like someone who wants private healthcare expecting those who don’t to pay for it.

    Secular education seems to work in France and the US for example, why not here?

  • otto

    I suggest a mish-mash. I went to a University that had a number of “schools” – a well renowned business school, a school of medicine, a school of mechanical, aerospace and civil engineering. Entry into each did not require the same UCAS (UCCA at the time) points but the wider university “brand” gave each a shared prestige.

    Why not town academies with a number of “schools” – either on the one Campus or multi-site. Some could be managed by a church, or churches might take a number of seats on an academy wide board of governors in exchange contributing a school to the mix. Ideally you’d have one or more junior schools, a grammar school and a technical school but with shared facilities for sports, drama and so on – effectively the Dickson plan within a single institution.

    By having specialist schools within a academy you encourage focus and streaming. Introducing a junior stage could also save some country provision. It would be important to give schools distinctive courses – perhaps a general intermediate exam at 15 followed by a year for remedial work, life skills and then focus on something like the international baccalaureate or vocational diplomas. In our existing academic split children study the same subjects in Grammar Schools and High Schools – all we’ve done is put different stream in different buildings. Pointless.

  • Pace Parent

    @ Mick Fealty #14

    Your intervention on the ad hominem issue may indeed be a red herring.

    Re-read this Belfast Telegraph article from last November.

    In a very public way the author identifies the culprits in the education reform agenda. Noone has sought to defend themselves from the accountability charge via the legal route suggesting that the analysis was spot on.

    One must question your intervention on behalf of Tony Gallagher at this juncture.

  • Rethinking Unionism


    I think the reasons for the success of faith schools is not just about academics. They also provide a clarity about ethics and values which has been and is being lost in secular schools. I am no expert on France but have lived in the USA for 3 years and was amazed at the numbers opting out of the public schools system and either home schooling or seeking private education.

    The ideas put forward for academies may be possible in certain areas, but schools are reluctant to give up on their identity for a rather inchoate concept which would require turning the system upside down. I think you would require very substantial consensus which I suspect would be lacking. I still favour the retention of various models including grammar schools with the focus of the debate shifting to what can be done to improve secondary education

  • Pace Parent

    Rethinking Unionism’s contribution introduces the term academies into a Northern Ireland school context. Since the Cameron Tories – unlike the core conservative voter – are uber fans of the academy (read re branded comps) model the most likely source of this rehashed idea is none other than Jeff Peel the former spokesperson for the N.I. Conservatives or a like-minded stalking horse. As for the claims of superior performance of Catholic schools Rethinking Unionism must bear in mind that the Catholic hierarchy are anti-grammar and anti-academic selection. Their value code demands that this view is not just claimed as their own but must be imposed on everyone lest middle class Catholics talk with heir feet and abandon the ethics and values of the education inquisition.

    So Conservative academies or Catholic diktat the effect is the same – imposed comprehensive schooling – a verified model of failure.
    As to improving secondary education that is a matter for the secondary sector many of whom have spend far too much of the last decade attacking the grammar sector. Perhaps a renewed concentration on the job they are paid to do, teaching numeracy and literacy and the wider curriculum, would be an ethical and valuable contribution?

  • Rethinking Unionism

    PACE Parent..The debate within the hierarchy and among Catholic educationalists is a lot more nuanced than your characterisation, although the point you make about the Catholic middle classes voting with their feet is valid. I do not believe that the Bishops opposition to selection could be characterised as a matter of faith or morals. I am fairly sure that there is no opposition to academic schools as such, but the problem is with selcetion. I am not sure, however, that you can have one without the other. I dislike intensely the Liberal Tories under Cameron and recoil from their brand of social conservatism. We are ad idem on the overall failure of the comprehensive system but I think there remains inconsistencies within the grammar system in Northern Ireland which need to be faced.

  • Pace Parent

    @ Rethinking Unionism.
    If the the debate within the hierarchy and among Catholic educationalists is so nuanced why didn’t the sector simply change itself? Instead the entire meritocratic system, impervious to social engineering or wealth, is dragged down to impose suffering and hardship for the most disadvantaged. The changes were imposed by McGuinness, supported by direct rule socialists and liberal conservatives and the churches.
    What is your definition of an academic school? Point to one grammar school even those you accuse of “inconsistencies” which fails to deliver the results at GCSE compared to the secondary schools. Do you support academies or not? It cannot be both since grammar schools must select. If you support selection you are ideologically opposed to the Catholic church, the unions and both main political parties. The Northern Ireland parties don’t matter since none of them have a clear policy on academic selection including the DUP. The SDLP and Sinn Fein represent nationalists – both have opposed academic selection for many years yet 29,000 pupils still attend Catholic grammars. Surely you must appreciate the irony in this and the title of the thread? This is not a matter for the rest of us except to the extent that the Catholic nuanced arguments are being imposed on those who were quite happy with the old system. Old doesn’t necessarily mean obsolete, cost inefficient or ineffective

  • otto

    “imposed comprehensive schooling – a verified model of failure.”

    Hardly. Europe’s finest secondary results are found in those states which have general education to 15 followed by separation into vocational and academic concentrations.

    The inclusion of an intermediate year in the republic may be frustrating to some academically minded parents but it serves a purpose – including the re-motivation and counselling of young people who might otherwise leave education altogether.

    Nordic productivity and the republic’s higher tertiary level education participation are clear evidence that a properly thought through and effective education system looks nothing like the sorting of ten year old into goats and sheep that takes place in our wasteful system.

  • otto

    “Rethinking Unionism”

    I have no brief to defend the US public education system but you might take comfort from some of the control experiments which US geography provides.

    For example the great majority of the island community of Martha’s Vineyard are compelled by their numbers and their island location to share a single public school – The Regional High School. MVRHS is one of just 5,600 of the US’s 133,000 schools to have won blue ribbon status.

    Martha’s Vineyard has the lowest per capita income in its state but the school has a excellent record of access to good universities as well as an effective vocational program.

    When a town gets behind a properly structured shared facility it works and it works well.