Everybody’s out of step except our wee Caitriona

The Belfast Telegraph’s “sort it out” on line petition over the academic selection deadlock seems to be having some impact, much as the local politicians might want to deny it. Only Sinn Fein are mulishly holding out against this unexceptionable demand. Last week, amazingly, the representatives couldn’t find time to get together. But now they’re deigning to do so at last and interparty talks seem set to take place this forthcoming week among all the other parties, leaving SF playing the traditional DUP role by holding aloof. I’m sure MLAs who are so jealous of their prerogatives, loathe being seen to be acting under media pressure but that’s what seems to be happening. Last Monday in their fifth debate on the subject, the Assembly voted down a private member’s motion from the Ulster Unionist Basil McCrea. This would in effect, have ended deregulated selection after extending the de facto situation for another year. It was Ms Ruane’s decision, after a wobble, to turn down a two year cooling off period that hardened positions and revealed the full extent of her impotence. MLAs should recognise the political reality that whatever the minister and the whole lot of them may say, the Assembly will simply be ignored, for as long as de facto selection has significant support on both sides of the divide and 42% of secondary education is carried out in grammar schools. Any legal action to try to impose the Transfer 2010 solution is likely to get bogged down and might indeed lose for lack of cross community support. Sooner or later, Sinn Fein will have to abandon their authoritarian stance and start talking on the basis of a wider agenda or face isolation in the Assembly. I get the impression – but don’t get excited – that the SDLP might be prepared to break with nationalist solidarity on this.

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

  • Pace Parent

    So what exactly is the Belfast Telegraph stance on this Brian – pro academic selection or anti-academic selection? The arrogant suggestion that the newspaper has had some impact on the politicians is nonsense. This is just an orchestrated game attempting to get one of the unionist parties to blink first and accept the demise of academic selection and grammar schools. It would seem that the UUP/Conservatives are the most likely candidates at the moment. Once that concession happens electoral victory goes to the DUP or vice versa. It is a Unionist form of mutual veto which will work in the electorate’s favour.

  • DC

    Think back to when the Irishmen were in Colombia for the sight-seeing and spotting of birds. Just about says it all for her judgement and perhaps vision.

    Also, the persistent deployment of, what it would seem to be, the oppresive ethics of niceness by Ruane still doesn’t make her appear right, of course.

    For example, paying a person to be always upbeat even when customers, patients, or clients are rude, nasty, or abusive means paying a person to act nice even when she does not feel nice… causes them to disconnect from their own base of feelings and sentiments..

    Basically it’s gone to shit, but she’s still trying to flog a dead horse and swallow the shit and smile at the same time.

    The word of choice being: phoney.

  • Pace Parent

    Now Brian as to your reporting skills, I fear you have become a victim of ideological preparation.
    The facts are:
    Monday 5 October 2009 Oral Answers
    Grammar School Entrance Tests
    Debate resumed on motion:
    That this Assembly requests that the Minister of Education establishes a statutory framework for the grammar school entrance tests, effective from the beginning of the academic year 2010-11;
    and recommends that this statutory framework should remain in place until the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment devises, pilots and introduces literacy and numeracy
    tests compatible with the curriculum, alongside a robust pupil profile, allowing academic criteria to have a role in the post-primary transfer process. — [Mr B McCrea.]
    Mr Deputy Speaker: The House will return to the
    business before Question Time. I ask Members to take their ease for a few moments.
    Main Question put.
    The Assembly divided: Ayes 43; Noes 41.

  • Block B


    Based on your extensive professional experience, maybe you could give us an insight into the following.

    Many pro-equality observers highlight the strata of elite middle-class/upper-class unionism as the key element in favour of continuing academic segregation (though it has to be admitted that some middle-class Catholics soon followed their lead).

    Even detached and seasoned observers like Eamonn Mallie have said as much – see his blog last week.

    One of the key characteristics of this social strata in the six counties is the ‘old-boy network’ and ‘old-school tie’, personified by the role of the Masonics – the “chiefs of the enlightened men”, as they describe themselves. Several of the schools and key personalities fronting the pro-segregation campaign in education are steeped in the Masons.

    Likewise some of those concerned also have close associations with one or other of the two Masonic lodges within QUB. Others have a very clear ‘insight into the thinking’ of the Press Masonic Lodge No. 432, which has boasted numerous senior management and editorial staff from the Belfast Telegraph for several generations.

    So why not tell us a bit more about the pro-segregationists and their private interests, thereby allowing the great unwashed full opportunity to consider all the relevant factors in relation to the Telegraph’s ‘segregation-in-education’ campaign?

  • exile

    [i]Many pro-equality observers highlight the strata of elite middle-class/upper-class unionism as the key element in favour of continuing academic segregation (though it has to be admitted that some middle-class Catholics soon followed their lead).[/i]

    How utterly patronising and detached. As a working class Catholic I’m a staunch defender of the Catholic grammar school system as are the majority of my friends of a similar socioeconomic background.

  • DC

    I like the Grammars because they can give a sense of pride and achievement and impetus to get on in life. It can be a struggle at times that much is true, but it’s like fighting in football or other competitive sports for that promotion or working double hard so as to stay up when things get bad.

    The other leagues aren’t bad of course, but it’s good to be in the one with the most challenges.

    But some do have their Roman Abramoviches yet we compete on regardless! Beats that postcode lottery.

  • JimmyCricket

    The Belfast Telegraph campaign is clearly political and shame on the SDLP for backing it and the retention of the 11+. The sitting on the fence of the SDLP and the Catholic Church has boosted the pro-Grammar sector. Whats wrong is wrong is wrong and the SDLP should wise up.

    Caitriona will succeed, and remember the SDLP didnt want to touch education when they had a chance to pick it as a ministry.

  • DC

    Pride, achievement, a sense of success and doing well JimmyCricket.

    The alternative – postcode lottery and a lose of all of that. Universalism belongs in the yester-years.

    Truth hurts.

  • exile

    [i]Caitriona will succeed[/i]

    No she won’t.

  • Pace Parent

    Block B raises some interesting questions about the role of “old men” in the academic selection debate but neglects to address the real elephant in the classroom – the “old men” of the Catholic Church and their lay advisers. While the Masons and the Bishops may think that they control and influence the actions of ordinary people, the current, decade long, shambles is the product of their ineffective leadership.
    Rather than swallow the self-serving diatribe printed in the local media parents in general have examined the evidence and made decisions on the ideological positions. Just read the comments section of the BT education coverage. They have rejected the decision of the DENI to remove academic selection and reluctantly signed up to the unregulated but different entrance tests. Perhaps Brian Walker can decipher the letter sent to parents last weekend regarding the AQE CEA tests by Sir Kenneth Bloomfield.

    The statement;
    “May I draw your attention to the paragraph on the Scoring System Document which explains that a score lower than 100 should not necessarily be interpreted as indicating that a candidate is unsuitable for a grammar school place”
    is evidence that some old men have no intention of allowing equality of opportunity to operate against the interests of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution.

    Politicians have failed to represent their constituents’ views and given that support for academic selection is widespread must account for their dependency on teachers and principals for advice. All the teachers and principals unions are anti-academic selection so the contradiction contained in their advice sets up the impasse.
    The Belfast Telegraph campaign is a nonsense but it is remarkable that the education correspondent gives no column inches to the Consideration Stage of the ESA Act to be debated in the Assembly tomorrow.
    Walker fails to mention it too. Perhaps he is relying on his old boys club too much.

  • The Raven

    “The Belfast Telegraph campaign is clearly political”

    Actually, I think it’s clearly to sell newspapers, probably to these middle class types so sweepingly referred to above. Frankly the BT shouldn’t be ashamed of itself. Nature abhors a vacuum. In the absence of anything else, the BT is merely filling the gap, probably for purely commercial reasons, and nothing with Masons, Area 51, Mulder and Scully or the Loch Ness Monster.

    I wanted to mention a conversation I had today with a parent of a child facing this mess next year.

    He asked me if I remembered doing the 11+ in the primary school assembly hall, and how scary that was. And then if I remembered how scary it was doing GCSEs in the “big” school hall.

    Apparently, 11 year old kids will go to the schools they wish to attend, and in completely unfamiliar surroundings, with 200 other kids they don’t know, and with teachers invigilating that they don’t know, sit whatever exam that school has decided on.

    Is this correct? And if so, who now thinks that the 11+ was cruel and unusual treatment, when that is facing an 11 year old?

    I read a lot here about “establishments” and “old boy networks” and even the Masons are getting a touch in here.

    I can’t help but think that the focus of this has strayed far from where it was supposed to be…

  • PACE Parent

    So have you too joined the throng of those who realise that following the PACE advice supporting the return of the regulated 11-plus is the best solution to the imposed chaos?
    It is interesting to note how quickly your defence of the Belfast Telegraph’s commercial campaign descended into reliance upon science fiction and myth. What newspaper does not have a political viewpoint? What can readers make of a paper that is neither for nor against academic selection?

  • PACE Parent

    It seems that Jim Allister and the TUV are concerned about Big Brother activities in the Department of Education. What is interesting is that while the Consideration Stage of the ESA Bill is debated in the Assembly not a word of concern from the MLAs responsible for sorting out education on this issue which has implications for devolved policing and justice.
    Opposition politics may have avoided this situation.

    The full Press Release from Allister:

  • Neil

    Even being in agreement that the 11 plus was not the way forward is not enough to justify the way the transition has been handled. The problem being that when transitioning from one system to another you need a second system to transition to.

    The idea that the best way forward was simply to pull the plug on the existing system without having a new system in place is fascinatingly dense. I am a Republican and a parent, and I do think the 11 plus was not the best system. But a bit of systems management would have been in order, introducing a thouroughly tested alternative while having the baselined and shelved 11+ ready for reintroduction in case the new system is not fit for purpose. In short people place a high value on their kids education, not to mention the heartbreak of an inconsolable child to think of, these factors should have ensured that a lighter touch (instead of the trademark lighter voice) was used. As is she went at the old system with a chainsaw, and having it butchered to death has apparantly left the field.

  • DC

    To be frank, I’m conflicted over each argument put for and against.

    Take for instance the unfairness about testing a pupil’s academic ability – the pressure on the kids and potential labels of pass – fail. It is like this for some kids and isn’t good to feel like that, other kids don’t accept such labels of course.

    But then again I have doubts, as what is it that kids go to school for – shouldn’t there be some form of ability measurement or development checks as to english and maths etc?

    The problem with Sinn Fein’s argument is that the way it is delivered only serves to visit negative bullying towards the kids that are on the apparent ‘luxury’ side of this so-called education debate.

    I commute to work on bus and trains and the only bullying I see is towards the pupils / students of the various religious-styled Grammars, not the other way round. It is usually the quiet ones who are annoyed the most.

    Key words: options and choices.

    The best outcome favouring a reduced number of grammars and new secular-styled schools (not integrated per se) that can draw in mores resources from a potential running down of bi-religious approach with the hope being to both increase the number of skilled educators and also reduce class sizes in the process for more attention to each pupil.

    Also, it may take a manifesto pledge solely dedicated to delivering on this one issue alone, a key issue. Because if the NI political system is delivering progress on nothing why offer manifestos with everything under the sun in them, better to focus on one thing and deliver it in the best possible way. It might make whichever party more accessible to the electorate who may not prefer other items on the manifesto but may vote for them if the more contentious or sectarian/communitarian elements are jettisoned for one assembly term to see this compromise on education through.

  • Gerry Mander

    Ruane supported those who helped slaughter latin Americans. Now her party has to pretend to be progressive so they slam parents keeping their kids away form Jimmy Stink and Paddy Muck.

    Why do wanna be outfits like SF and trade unions support this Maoist crap. Why not let parents send their kids to private RC schools and let the religious and their lackeys put their best efforts in to make these kids snobby litle brats that do not have to worry about knifings, rapes, bad bodily odours or accents in the school yard?

  • Pace Parent

    Now Reg Empey has joined those who claim this education issue will define the Executive. Ruane withdrew the Consideration Stage of the ESA Bill last Tuesday later citing P&J concerns. Jim Allister points out her DENI are drawing up a Big Brother database. Not a word on these issues from Brian Walker on this thread. Who does Brian work for?

  • kensei

    Not a word on these issues from Brian Walker on this thread. Who does Brian work for?

    Who the fuck are you?

  • PACE Parent

    I’m sure Brian can speak for himself. It is so interesting to see a former Belfast Telegraph media boy claiming that the BT have somehow forced the MLAs together to cobble up a solution to the transfer chaos. The core issue here is the principle of selection. Walker somehow seems to suggest a compromise is posible. Do you compromise on your core principles or just swallow the latest cobbled together guff so that you can pretend that the Assembly structure actually works? Is Slugger now just the latest extension of the BT campaign along with Facebook?