SDLP and UUP make joint education call

SDLP and UUP minsiters, Reg Empey and Margaret Ritchie, have a joint article in today’s Belfast Telegraph calling for action on the education crisis. (Full text below the fold)

We are now proposing a range of actions to end the chaos in our schools.

Both the UUP and the SDLP are committing themselves to working with the other parties involved in the ongoing cross-party talks. The failure of Sinn Fein to engage in these talks is a disappointing abdication of responsibility. However, with the Alliance and DUP, we will work to urgently find a way forward.

We are also calling for a single-item agenda Executive meeting to be held before the end of November to allow the Executive to at last discuss post-primary transfer. As P7 children, parents and teachers begin to go through the difficulties of the unregulated tests, it is time for the Executive to show leadership.

That meeting of the Executive must deliver a pledge to ensure that an interim statutory transfer process will be in place for next year’s P7 pupils, pending a longer term solution.

The Executive should also set up a sub-Committee – with representation from each of the four parties – to address other educational issues: the scandal of educational underachievement, the stalled Education and Skills Authority Bill, and the public spending challenges facing education over the next decade.

Finally, we are pledging that both our parties will work with the other parties to ensure that our proposal of an interim statutory transfer process moves quickly through the Assembly.

Joint article by Reg Empey and Margaret Ritchie

We are now more than two years into this Assembly – two years in which, despite all the promises and rhetoric, people on the ground have become increasingly disillusioned with devolution’s ability to deliver.

A large number of significant issues have not been addressed by this Executive. Others remained sidelined or stalled. The DUP and Sinn Fein stagger between running the Executive as a two-party carve-up rather than a four-party coalition and using megaphone diplomacy to verbally abuse each other.

We have said before that this Executive is being run like a ‘huckster’s shop’. This is an understatement. Meetings between Minister’s special advisors – necessary to the smooth working of government – have not taken place for over a year. Important Executive papers are not tabled until minutes before meetings begin and agendas are often produced after the meetings have started. This is not the way to do business in government.

And, while Executive Ministers have managed to discuss animal health on 11 occasions, no discussion has taken place on education and the future of post-primary education since January 2008.

The chaos now being experienced in our schools is a disgrace. This Executive came into being in May 2007. It had two years to arrange a sensible system for the transfer of children from primary to post-primary schools. It has failed.

Now current P7 children, parents and teachers have been abandoned to a chaotic unregulated transfer system. Teachers have been placed in a ridiculous situation of having to manage the consequences of this. To add to the disgrace, unregulated testing systems are now in place along broadly denominational grounds.

This cannot be allowed to continue.

We are now proposing a range of actions to end the chaos in our schools.

Both the UUP and the SDLP are committing themselves to working with the other parties involved in the ongoing cross-party talks. The failure of Sinn Fein to engage in these talks is a disappointing abdication of responsibility. However, with the Alliance and DUP, we will work to urgently find a way forward.

We are also calling for a single-item agenda Executive meeting to be held before the end of November to allow the Executive to at last discuss post-primary transfer. As P7 children, parents and teachers begin to go through the difficulties of the unregulated tests, it is time for the Executive to show leadership.

That meeting of the Executive must deliver a pledge to ensure that an interim statutory transfer process will be in place for next year’s P7 pupils, pending a longer term solution.

The Executive should also set up a sub-Committee – with representation from each of the four parties – to address other educational issues: the scandal of educational underachievement, the stalled Education and Skills Authority Bill, and the public spending challenges facing education over the next decade.

Finally, we are pledging that both our parties will work with the other parties to ensure that our proposal of an interim statutory transfer process moves quickly through the Assembly.

Our education spokespersons have been working hard on this issue and we urge the other Executive parties to join with us in bringing the educational chaos to an end.

If we achieve this, we can begin to restore public confidence in the devolved institutions. If the Executive shows that it can function as a proper four-party coalition then other issues can also be confronted.

Both of our parties have been warning for some time of a dangerous shortfall in the Northern Ireland budget. After attempting to deny it, others have at last joined us in recognising reality. Alongside this shortfall, we must also recognise that the public spending situation will inevitably worsen this year and in the years to come.

Burying our heads in the sand is a betrayal of everyone in Northern Ireland. People are right to expect more of their politicians. Because of the gravity of the situation, both our parties have urged the establishment of an Assembly Committee to re-examine the budget and look at the options for public spending.

This would be no mere talking-shop. It would be an exercise in honesty and leadership, and at a time when the public are questioning the work of politicians this would be a prime example of Assembly Members doing what they are paid to do. Hard choices lie before us. The time for cheap politicking is past.

There is also the issue of a shared future and community relations. The murders of Kevin McDaid, Constable Caroll, Sappers Azimkar and Quinsey, and attacks on ethnic minorities have highlighted the pressing need for the Executive to address sectarianism and intolerance. We have been promised a shared future and community relations strategy for nearly two years. We need it now. If we are to achieve proper reconciliation we must continue to apply ourselves to achieving a truly shared future.

Our parties are determined to push an agenda for progress on the issues that matter – education, the economy and our shared future. We are willing to do all in our power to ensure the Executive functions as a proper government, working as a proper four-party coalition for the common good of all of us.

  • fin

    cheap stunt to promote her leadership campaign and bash SF at a time when (for nationalists) P&J need to be centre stage.

    I infer from this letter that the SDLP are happy with the UUPs response to McDaids murder and that the SDLP and UUP believe they had a good relationship when they held power.

    She may win the leadership election but at this rate it will be at the expense off the important elections.

    Shocking, but then again a leopard doesn’t change its spots.

  • What’s she doing cooperating with themmuns? What about a bit of nationalist unity!

  • Lori

    Nationalist unity?! And who got us into this mess in the first place?!

  • alan56

    The new ‘Official Opposition’ at Stormont shows its hand for the first time. This could be interesting!

  • Fin

    First prize for fictional writing today.

    Conall

  • Peter

    What’s fictional about Fin’s comments I don’t understand?

    What strikes me is that aside from the bluster, there doesn’t actually seem to be a proposal?

  • JD

    Absolutely agree Fin, this is a worthless publicity stunt hosted by the pro academic selection paper the Belfast Telegraph. The SDLP have serious questions to answer on their continued ill-thoughtout political opportunism which sustaining the death throws of the unioinist/grammar school looby.

    They have called this issue wrong again.

  • Peter

    There is a specific process proposal.

    It is fictional for fin to say P&J is the only issue that matters – important as it is – and also to try and link this to the situation in Coleraine.

  • JD

    Where do you get one line of evidence to suggest the SDLP is pro-selection? This is an honest attempt to mover the debate on. What I cannot undertand is why you guys have a problem with that?

  • Lori

    Hear, hear Conall. It’s about time we had parties working together and trying to move forward here.

  • Ron Savage

    Good to see cooperation like this between the moderate parties.

    Its time progressives in NI started cooperating more to give Sinn Fein and the DUP the boot.

  • A bit Stoopid

    Conall, the only person introducing works of fiction to Slugger is you. 700 job losses at BBC NI, anyone?

  • jim

    8-10 years on the back foot and the best thing the Tories & SDLP can come up with is a cheap stunt like this… Dont believe your own hype Conall.

  • J Kelly

    A bit off topic but it related all the same, Margaret Ritchies run for leadership of the SDLP reminds me of Brid Rodgers failed venture into West Tyrone in 2001. Not really her idea but forced by “key sdlp strategists” who thought she could defeat Pat Doherty and stall Sinn Fein. The strategist believe that the next leader of the SDLP has to be anybody but Big AL. This time they may win the battle but with this type of leadership siding with the tories ultimately they will lose the war.

    Margaret Rithie is a knee jerk politician who jumps from issue to issue with little or ability or thought. Sinn Fein are rubbing their hands at the prospect of her leading the SDLP.

    Social Housing lists growing bigger not all her fault but the demands she made for more money were nonsense because all the money in the world wouldn’t solve it and she was told that repeatedly, money to the uda political stunt aimed at Gordon Browns election that never was and the UDA are still spending the money.

  • LabourNIman

    fin – P&J needs to be centre stage? Clearly you don’t have any children who will be effected by the education mess.

    Shame on you.

  • JD

    As someone who has a son who will be directly affected within weeks by the grammar schools breakaway tests. I fully support Catriona Ruane in her stand against the establishment (media/middleclass/unionist) and the grammar school lobby who have successfully resisted change for 50 years. Their reign is at an end.

  • Cara

    JD – Don’t you think that perhaps Catriona should have had an actual plan in place before she made a shambles of it all?

  • JD

    ‘Transfer 2010’ is the plan, it progressive and design to improve our education system and bring it into line with European and indeed global standards. It is currently being implemented by all bar a minority of schools who are resisting change and who hark back to system were the school is more important than the child.

  • SD

    “it progressive and design to improve our education system”

    I hope it includes some level of literacy!

    😉

    PS That plan was never agreed.

  • fin

    LabourNIman, its October! the next school is almost a year away.

    I’ve noticed both you and Conall appear to have not read my post.

    “cheap stunt to promote her leadership campaign and bash SF at a time when (for nationalists) P&J need to be centre stage.”

    “at a time”

    the transfer of P&J are at a crucial stage NOW, the next education year starts well pretty much in a years time so why is a candidate for the leadership of the SDLP raising issues with the portfolio of a SF minister at this moment.

    And typical of the SDLP, they could have extracted a decent deal from the UUP, whose only Minister is bumbling along racking up big bills and not managing Swine Flu too well, they’re not happy with P&J, and are so lacking in candidates for the general election they’ve selected Trimbles missus and a recent Alliance MEP candidate, so this is a lovely distraction.

    I’m guessing the SDLP however agreed to their usual terms and a box of chocolates is in the post.

    Is my prize one of the many box of chocolates the SDLP managed to negoatiate over the years in return for undermining nationalism.

    Heyho Conall, at least its not as bad as their ‘Post Nationalist’ moment (where you involved in that)but it will cost them votes.

    PS
    I prefer plain chocolate.

  • Lori

    Fin,

    The kids are due to start their new schools in just over ten months – that is not a long period of time. Moreover, they are PRESENTLY preparing for unregulated tests. It is a ridiculous and stressful situation; Ruane should be thoroughly ashamed.

  • DR

    fin your last post is so full of crap and mistakes it makes me wonder do you even live here.

  • fin

    Actually Lori thats almost a year, so it is a long time.
    As P&J is at end-game and will hopefully be sorted within the next 6-10 weeks, unless you can sketch out a timetable of what needs to be done in eduction for me showing that this had to be raised now and will take 10 months than I’ll continue to believe its a stunt.

    But don’t get me wrong, education is important, and needs to be dealt with, and I find political parties using it to score points of each other a bit wrong.

    You will be aware that just under 14000 children have applied to take either of the 2 tests and allowing for children sitting both tests, this affects probably less than 10,000 children.

    P&J affects approx 1,700,000 people.

  • fin

    DR, it would help if you actually posted something, anything, so I could reply to you, but I’m not going to trade insults just for the sake of.

    Battle of wits with an unarmed man and all that.

  • Expenses111

    This is only a pure PR stunt. Isnt that right Conall? Ritchie is doing it ahead of the election battle so it could be another achievement and Empey is doing it ahead of tomorrows party gathering. Surely someone like you could work it out or are you still spending the £1000 Ritchie give you to media train her. Seems like it was money well spent… ha ha ha

  • Expenses.
    As usual you are playing the man and not the ball.
    You are wrong to say I enjoy a commercial relationship with Margaret Ritchie or any other part of the SDLP for that matter.
    Fin that sort of number game does nothing to convince me that republicans are really serious about equality. But then I guess it’s to be expected when SF is conspiring with the DUP to keep a nationalist from ever holding the post of justice minister. Is that what an ‘Ireland of equals’ will look like?

  • Expenses111

    Conall,

    Seeing you fancy replying today tell me this. You have a habit of giving wrong information. You said last week that Margaret Ritchie had more than half of the assembly team onside in her election bid.

    Low and behold this appeared by the man who knows Mark Devenport –

    A Tale Of Two Tommies

    Mark Devenport | 11:54 UK time, Friday, 16 October 2009

    When a candidate declares their interest in leading a party, and appears with a phalanx of colleagues behind them, you might reasonably assume that this represents a sense of the backing they expect to get when it comes to decision time.

    So it was with Margaret Ritchie, who appeared in the Great Hall this week together with Alex Attwood, Mary Bradley, Dolores Kelly, Carmel Hanna, Tommy Burns and Tommy Gallagher. The MLAs duly nodded in the background as the Social Development Minister declared her intention to succeed Mark Durkan.

    The minister claimed to have the backing of “at least 50%” of the SDLP’s Assembly party. A supporter later explained that if you counted out Ms Ritchie, Mr Durkan and the other likely candidate deputy leader Alasdair McDonnell that left 13 MLAs, and given there were 6 politicians at Ms Ritchie’s launch that was almost half of the team.

    However a rumour has been going around Stormont that the two Tommies didn’t know they were going to be bit part players in a Ritchie leadership bid and, in fact, might be leaning towards Dr. McDonnell.

    In an attempt to get to the truth of the matter, I’ve been speaking to sources close to the Tommies, who told me that as the phalanx set off down the stairs they did know what the minister planned to announce.

    But whilst I understand that Tommy Gallagher is a firm Ritchie backer, I am led to believe that Tommy Burns remains open to persuasion, friendly with both the Minister and Deputy Leader and not yet decided between them.

    Let’s hope he makes his mind up when it comes to the vote at the party conference in February, although given that it’s a secret ballot, will we ever know exactly what he decides?

    —Well Conall???

  • Expenses.

    Not wanting to state the obvious. I reported what I was told. Mark reported on a he had heard rumour. Both are commentary based on the info available to each writer. Dont know what else to say.

  • Sorry Expenses. That should have read:

    Not wanting to state the obvious. I reported what I was told. Mark reported on a rumour he had heard. Both are commentary based on the info available to each writer. Don’t know what else to say.

  • Expenses111

    Who told you that? Do you accept that Ritchie maybe doesnt have over half the assembly team onside? For the record who do you support and why?

  • fin

    Conall, good and bad points to the relationship between SF and the SDLP, good insofar as they have credibility by individuals not constantly jumping from party to party unlike unionism, bad as in when Hume and Adams worked together things happened.

    Don’t think any one side can take the blame for the situation but heyho.

    I love a conspiracy and I wonder if one is hatching

    “But then I guess it’s to be expected when SF is conspiring with the DUP to keep a nationalist from ever holding the post of justice minister. Is that what an ‘Ireland of equals’ will look like?”

    Conspiracy to get UUP backing for the Justice post? personally I think it belongs to the SDLP, and any nationalist should/would rather to see a nationalist in the role.

  • Reader

    JD: As someone who has a son who will be directly affected within weeks by the grammar schools breakaway tests.
    It’s your decision to subject him to those tests though, isn’t it? Wouldn’t you prefer to send him to a school that is implementing ‘Transfer 2010’ instead?

  • JD

    Reader
    My nearest school is a grammar and other personal circumstances mean we have little option but to put our son through the mental trauma of an unofficial entrance test, insisted upon by a school that thinks more of itself and the image that it portrays than of the pupils that it will teach. Shame on them but their days are soon coming to an end.

  • Reader

    JD: insisted upon by a school that thinks more of itself and the image that it portrays than of the pupils that it will teach.
    The usual complaint about selection and grammars is concern over the children that they *won’t* teach.
    Anyway – best of luck to your son. And in spite of your reservations over methods, I think that an academic atmosphere is a benefit and a delight to those who can take full advantage of it.

  • Pace Parent

    Isn’t it the case that both the SDLP and UU/Conservatives are anti-academic selection?
    If either are not they had better make it known to the electorate soon.

  • Yer Whole

    Reader
    My nearest school is a grammar and other personal circumstances mean we have little option but to put our son through the mental trauma of an unofficial entrance test,

    A likely story I’m sure…..

  • Pace Parent

    Conal,
    I see your friend Tony Gallagher is now in bed with the Belfast Telegraph trying to sell his anti-section views to parents via a commercial media outlet. Can we get our money back on all the failed projects funded by the DENI in their attempts to flog this dead horse. Why don’t you blog on the CCEA CEM Incas assessment project that fell over the first time out? Like Ken Bloomfield you seem to wear too many hats.

  • Pace Parent

    Conall
    Have you lost your tongue on the education issue entirely? Nothing to say on the waste of taxpayers money on Incas assessments? We notice that your friend Tony Gallagher has yet to answer questions on his preferred method of academic selection given that the Belfast Telegraph have confirmed his acceptance of the principle.

  • URQUHART

    Am I the only SDLP voter who finds the image of the SDLP trying to cosy up with, effectively, the British Conservative party, nauseous?

    If this is the quality of the advice that Margaret is getting in her leadership campaign, I fear for her. I genuinely fear for her – she’s a lot better than this nonsense.

    Because actually all publicity ISN’T good publicity.

  • Pace Parent

    Where’s Conall?
    If an update on Incas is required see http://www.paceni.wordpress.com