Melchett the frustrated pioneer

The release of the 1979 papers reveals the acknowledgement of defeat over the last major attempt to get rid of academic selection. The champion was a long haired youth in his twenties, Lord Melchett, a Labour peer and NI minister at the time. Now heading up the Soil association and a militant opponent of GM foods, the old Etonian boy wonder of the day pressed ahead with a comprehensive Green Paper which described the proposed new fate of every secondary school. The openness was commendable and should be emulated today. But at the time – 1976 when it started – opinion dominated by the troubles was unprepared and the reforms were picked off one by one. However, Peter Melchett’s revised transfer procedure essentially survived until last year. From the quotations in historian Jonathan Bardon’s piece in the Irish Times, you can almost see the pursed lips of the leading civil servant’s damning with faint praise (really very courageous, minister). But in his mandarin fashion – (his successor would hardly have expressed it in quite the same way today) – he was imaginative enough to wonder about something that still puzzles me about the DUP’s education outlook, even if like me, you don’t see bog standard comprehensivisation as the solution.

“Another oddity is that, if there is solid ‘working-class’ support for reorganisation, it has failed to emerge. I do not believe this could have happened in England – there would be some expression of the view of the ordinary working man. We need to think about this.”

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As well as chasing the UU vote, you would think the DUP would be keener to advance the interests of their “working class” core. But of course, small “c” conservative instincts die hard.

  • Fair Deal

    “you would think the DUP would be keener to advance the interests of their “working class” core.”

    For the nth time the abolition of the 11 plus will not deal with educational underachievement in working class communities. The Transfer test for all its flaws is still better than selection by postcode were advantage can be bought by the middle classes.

    Those our education system fails show problems long before the school system turns its eyes towards an exam that those who perform the worst never even take.

    Is this driven by a concern for the working classes or is it the middle classes trying to kick away the ladder?

  • “you would think the DUP would be keener to advance the interests of their “working class” core.”

    Unfortunately Northern Ireland politics often seem to share the charactersitics of sibling rivalry – if the Nationalist parties are already in favour of selection this prevents the Unionists parties with working class support (the DUP) from considering moving into that area. The PUP, with no electorate to lose have been trying to exploit this opportunity but are likley to remain to weak to make any headway.

  • correction.

    if the Nationalist parties are already AGAINST selection this prevents the Unionists parties with working class support (the DUP) from considering moving into that area.

  • Reader

    Brian Walker: As well as chasing the UU vote, you would think the DUP would be keener to advance the interests of their “working class” core. But of course, small “c” conservative instincts die hard.
    You can be as cynical as you like about the DUP, and as optimistic as you like about about comprehensivisation – but still the DUP stand to lose hardly a single vote over sticking to their position on this issue. Because – who would get those lost votes?
    Actually, I have the teeniest niggling suspicion that some of the DUP could be bought off by an offer of funding for the Free-P schools.

  • willis

    Reader

    You cynic!

    BTW are the FP schools comprehensive or selective?

  • willis

    Fair Deal

    How do you suggest the DUP should raise educational achievement among Poor Prods?

  • Reader

    willis: BTW are the FP schools comprehensive or selective?
    They are comprehensive and co-educational. They would have terrible problems with numbers to be any other way.

  • PACE Parent

    Brian,
    I note your venturing back onto the education platform without reference to your last thread before the Christmas holidays in which you made a substantial error in fact. http://sluggerotoole.com/index.php/weblog/comments/the-great-transfer-debate-latest/
    It seems that on Slugger it is only the Turgon-types who are pilloried ad nauseum. Perhaps your good manners will require a belated redress of the self-inflicted haplessness?

    When you address the error perhaps we can move on to the current thread and a critique of your latest effort to play the politics of education.

  • willis

    PAGE

    Good try, but I think Brian can do whatever he likes, within reason of course. It was a mistake, we all had a laugh, time to move on.

  • PACE Parent

    Willis,
    Re-read #8. You will note it was aimed at Brian, the thread author. I am sure he values your intervention on his behalf recognising that half a loaf is better than no bread on the integrity front. Determining whether his posting was a mistake or otherwise is for Brian to clarify. Silence is also speech. Brian has created a dilemma. Which of his postings are credible?