On the problem of consultation as “cynical tokenism”…

Jeff Peel and Bobballs both have posts on an issue that’s perplexing both of them: the possible withdrawal of funding for places in the Preparatory Departments of 16 Grammar Schools. As BobBalls notes “the Protestant middle-classes don’t tend to be a tinderbox for revolutionary spirit.” But he also points out that the motive cannot be about saving money:

“Under the Common Funding Formula (CFF), the Education Department offers primary schools £2,911 in funding per pupil. The Department offers prep school pupils £808 in funding – and parents pay the balance in fees.

Ruane wants to pull the plug on funding prep places. But before anyone shouts ‘Good on yer Caitriona, that’ll save a few quid for the public purse’, think again.

How many parents will really be able to absorb an additional £800 in annual fees right now? Not very many – in fact, a sizeable proportion would no doubt be forced to remove a child from their school of choice.

If Ruane gets her way and destroys preps, more pupils will go to primaries. Which involves moving lots of children from the £808 funding bracket to the £2,911 bracket. If just a quarter of the prep population switches to primaries then the taxpayer would have to fork out an additional c.£5 million.

This at a time when expenditure must be cut by £370 million and the onus is on cuts.”

And as Jeff points out, “The Review acknowledges that there is a value for money case for continuing this funding but relies on the assertion that this is outweighed by “equity considerations”. More interestingly, from my point of view, it seems that the department’s budgeting already accounts for the likely change in expenditure, even though the consultation only ends tomorrow.

Asking for opinions on a subject the Minister has apparently already made up her mind is just one reason why the gap between government and people is growing daily. The challenge for all parties will be to connect with the interests of your voters between elections as well as during the four yearly election campaigns.

This is precisely the kind of tin ear consultation our workshop on involving more people in policy making on Monday seeks move beyond. Gary Kass in his 2001 pamphlet referred to such practices as “cynical tokenism”, so it is clearly not just a Northern Irish problem:

… the value of any dialogue may be brought into question if it is not seen to command an audience, or is used merely to legitimise previously made decisions. Some researchers, practitioners and commentators have warned that unless those wishing to embark upon public dialogue, clearly understand these dimensions, there is a danger that public dialogue may be conducted in an atmosphere of cynical tokenism, leading to bland exercises in public relations.

If you feel strongly about the subject, you can do what Jeff suggests, and get in touch with your MLA and let them know how you feel. Or you could try telling the Minister through her own ‘consultation’ process?


  • FitzjamesHorse

    I find it amazing that there are 16 of these Prep Schools to accomodate children called “Harry Darling” and “Amber Darling”….of course those are only the ones I used to see on the bus.

    They always struck me as unhappy little kids trained from an early age to be superior.

    They should be liberated immediately and dispersed into real schools.

  • FJH,

    My father, a farmer’s son, went to Portadown College Prep. I don’t recognise your crude caricature in either him or any of my contemporaries (I did not attend).

    I find it amazing that there are so few. I suppose I always assumed that every town had one…

  • FitzjamesHorse

    well isnt it a small world…..

  • Lionel Hutz

    What we are gonna end up with in Northern Ireland are a bunch of expensive primary or prep schools Grammar Schools, more than likely the non-denomination (As the CAtholic Grammar schools will give in), which will only be attended by upper-middle class kids. The schools themselves will be be brilliant, much better than than their ‘equitable’ public funded counterparts. Universities will love the exclusive schools and we will have a more unequal education system than anywhere.

    Also even the normal state schools will eventually become more unequal in terms of quality of service. The better schools will eventually be surrounded by more expensive housing, as parents will flock to the proximity of these elite schools, pushing up houses prices. They will do this because, if academic selection is completely taken away, there will be few fair mehtods of selection. Brothers and sisters at a school will be a bonus but in the end the lowest common denominator will be distance as the crow flies.

    Academic selection, though in many respects unfairm has allowed children from disadvantaged areas to go to an elite grammar school across town that they will never be able to access without it.

    We will all in all have an education system riddled with inequality, particularly in Belfast and large towns where there are so many schools.

    If you want a case study…. see England

  • dwatch

    Caitriona ‘encouraging private sector schools’
    Wednesday, 3 March 2010

    Perhaps Caitriona Ruane has been cleverer than she is being given credit for.

    The deregulation of the transfer process has resulted in fewer children applying for grammar school places.

    Principal, Rockport School
    Holywood, Co Down

  • dwatch

    Caitriona ‘encouraging private sector schools’
    Wednesday, 3 March 2010

    Perhaps Caitriona Ruane has been cleverer than she is being given credit for.

    The deregulation of the transfer process has resulted in fewer children applying for grammar school places.

    Principal, Rockport School
    Holywood, Co Down

  • It looks like Ruane’s idiotic, ideologically driven meddling will destroy publicly funded education and in the end only children with rich parents will get to go to university.

    Because the theory says that a particular course of action is more “equitable”, she must ignore all the evidence from England suggesting that the practice does not end up like the theory.

  • coconnor

    There’s not much problem with letting parents spend their money to send their kids to some school with a fancy name and uniform as long as those kids don’t get unfairly prioritised for entry to fancy grammar schools because of their parents’ willingness to pay.

    All children should get an equal chance to receive a high quality education and this should never be based on their parents’ ability to pay.

    Also, everybody acts based on their ideology, so to complain that Ruane’s actions are ideologically driven is ludicrous. Of course they are, so are your complaints.

    As Marx wrote, ideology is when ‘they do not know it, but they are doing it’.

  • jtwo

    Surely Ms Osborne is just touting for trade for an establishment that out does even Campbell in the ‘rich but thick’ stakes?

  • willis

    Reading BobBalls unearthed this nugget.

    “In fact the funny thing is that the killer blow which greenlighted Ruane’s plans came from the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP), whose Minister is… Sammy Wilson!!

    According to paragraph 2.8, page 8:

    In summary, the (DFP’s) BCS Report has concluded that there is no obligation on the Department to fund preparatory departments of grammar schools and that the Department should consider the withdrawal of funding to preparatory departments on the basis of the equality of access.”

    Funny old world. Red Sammy rises again.

  • willis

    Oh Bob

    “the prep we’re at is massively oversubscribed and they’ve just built a second classroom complex to satisfy demand.”

    Do you really think an extra £16 per week is going to change that.

  • dwatch

    Instead of castigating private sector Prep schools I propose Caitriona should increase them from 16 to 116 schools

    Selection: Like the PSNI there should be 50% Prods & 50% Taigs, 50% middle class (pay fees for entrance, boarding, uniform and grub stakes ) and remaining 50% under class (pay no fees for entrance, boarding, uniform and grub stakes).

    Entrance to University: Middle class must do 11 plus and Under class have a day off instead.

  • They should be liberated immediately and dispersed into real schools.


    Spot on

    Don’t you just love it when the middle classes wine like babies, what a pathetic bunch of losers they have become, me, me , me, and don’t forget little jimmy’s right to a leg up.

    It is hard to fathom these days how this class once played a constructive and progressive role in Ireland and the UK’s development.

    By the way do these hot house businesses get tax free status?

  • Alias

    “They always struck me as unhappy little kids trained from an early age to be superior.”

    I’ve no idea if the sentiment is accurate but its expression is excellent.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Oh I laugh at people having a pop at so called middle classes from the downtrodden working classes. Theres no such thing as the working classes anymore. Not like it used to be. Most of disadvantaged and as Ruane likes to put it ‘discriminated against’ (I mean wtf) are now more correctly called lower middle class.

    Those left are the unemployed or in some cases too lazy to get a job. And the funny thing is, Ruane wants to devise a plan to so that people on free school meals get the leg up, priority which doesn’t reflect the low numbers in that position.

    So the poeple that actually suffer are the lower middle class, (descendants of the old working class), who work their socks off and are just over that threshhold where their son or daughter would get free school meals. They are left behind.

    As with most things in a overly pc bullshit society, the people that suffer are the lower middle class, who like to call themselves working class

  • Eileen Calder

    There is no moral justification for a system which consigns two thirds of our children on the scrap-heap at eleven years of age. It adds insult to injury that the middle-class can ensure their kids get a head start by paying for a primary education totally focused on Grammar School entry. When this fails they have their kids assessed by ‘Independant’ (PAID) Psychologists who are happy to label them with ADHD and the connected Grammar School accept them through “Exceptional circumstances” Why are so many middle-class kids who attended the right Prep but got B’s and C’s in their 11+ in top Grammar Schools?
    Good For Catriona – she should shut them down completely -and while she is at it she should remove all religious control and influence from schooling – especially that of institutions which have been proven to be unfit to protect children from abuse.

  • Eileen

    Well said, as to your last paragraph it has been worse than that, as the Catholic church actively covered up for the perpetrators of child abuse in the hope that any public debate on this subject would be kicked into the long grass.


    Just as the’ end of history’ proved a tad premature, so to is talk of the demise of the working classes.

  • Reader

    Eileen Calder: Why are so many middle-class kids…
    It’s good that someone is keeping an eye on this. But could you be more specific please? How many is “so many”. And are you counting only “Exceptional circumstances”?
    On the general point of B’s and C’s getting in – we are passing through a demographic dip in school population at the moment. It isn’t surprising in general that B and C grades are getting in. The surprise is that there are still some schools who can keep them out.

  • dwatch

    Schools in Northern Ireland are divided into 5 categories

    (i) Controlled State Schools: 5 to 11 These are essentially Protestant schools – they are owned by the Education and Library boards, although they are mostly controlled by their Boards of Governors. The Protestant churches are represented on the Board of Governors. Majority of Pupils fail 11 plus selection exam and then attend Secondary high schools from 11 to 16.

    (ii) Catholic Maintained Schools: These are essentially Catholic schools – they are owned by the Catholic Church but are managed by a Board of Governors. The Education and Library Boards provide some financial assistance, by financing recurrent costs and the employment of non-teaching staff. Majority of Pupils fail 11 plus selection exam and then attend Secondary high schools from 11 to 16.

    (iii) Other Maintained: These are essentially Protestant schools, in that they are owned by the Protestant church and managed by a Board of Governors. Like the Catholic maintained schools, they received funding from the Education and Library Boards for the recurrent costs. Pupils who fail 11 plus selection exam then attend Secondary high Schools 11 to 16.

    (iv) Voluntary (prep) Grammar: 3 to 11 These schools are owned by school trustees and managed by a Board of Governors. Pupils who pass 11 plus selection exam then attend Grammar Schools 11 to 18, majority of pupils go on to University Education

    (v) Grant Maintained Integrated Schools: 11 to 18 These are essentially mixed schools, for Catholic and Protestant children. They are partially owned by trustees and managed by a Board of Governors, with their recurrent costs being met by the Department of Education. Majority of pupils go on to University Education

  • willis


    I can understand you were working at nearly 4 in the morning, hopefully somewhere in the States. Your upsum is wrong in many features.

    There is no such thing as the Protestant church, and even if there was it doesn’t own any schools.

    Catholic Maintained schools send many more students to University than Integrated schools.

  • dwatch

    [i]There is no such thing as the Protestant church, and even if there was it doesn’t own any schools.[/i]

    The Free Presbyterian Church, is a Protestant Church and they own and manage the following schools in Northern Ireland.

    Rev David Park
    Hebron Free Presbyterian Church
    Ballymoney Independent Christian School
    Market Street
    Ballymoney, Northern Ireland
    Tel: 028 276 63402
    Bangor Free Presbyterian Church
    and Independent Christian School

    Rev David Priestley
    277 Clandeboye Road,
    Bangor, Co Down BT19 1AA
    Tel: 028 91458422

    Christian School
    Headteacher Mrs Ruth Daly B.A.
    for more information contact either the Headteacher
    Tel: 028 91450240
    or School Administrator Rev David Priestley
    Tel: 028 91458422
    Rev. Peter McIntyre
    Clogher Valley Free Presbyterian Church
    Clogher Valley Independent Christian School
    13 Willend Crescent
    Fivemiletown, Co.Tyrone
    BT75 0QL
    Tel: 028 8952 1611
    Kilskeery Free Presbyterian Church
    Kilskeery Independent Christian School
    Interim moderator, Rev. T. Nelson
    Old Junction Road
    Kilskeery, Omagh, Co. Tyrone BT78 3RN
    Northern Ireland
    (028) 895 61560/61564
    Rev.Colin Mercer
    Mourne (Kilkeel) Free Presbyterian Church
    Mourne (Kilkeel) Independent Christian School
    5 Carrigenagh Road
    Kilkeel, Co.Down
    BT34 4NE
    Tel: 028 417 62712
    Newtownabbey Free Presbyterian Church
    & Independent Christian School
    307-309 Ballyclare Road, Glengormley
    Newtownabbey, Co Antrim
    Minister: Rev Brian McClung
    Tel: Church 028 90844937
    Manse 028 90835942

    E-mail bdmcclung@aol.com
    Rev.Kenneth Elliott
    Portadown Independent Christian School
    25 Killycomain Drive
    Portadown, Co.Armagh
    BT63 5JR
    Tel: 028 3833 2826

  • dwatch

    [i]Catholic Maintained schools send many more students to University than Integrated schools.[/i]

    Integrated Colleges Celebrate Exam Success

    Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education Welcomes Exam Success in Integrated Schools

    Year on year, exam results in integrated colleges across Northern Ireland have improved. This year is no exception. This week students in integrated colleges across Northern Ireland received outstanding results in GCSEs and A levels.

    Examples of success include Priory Integrated College, Holywood, where 100% of Year 14 students attained 3 passes at GCE A Level; 90% of these were at grades A – C and 23% were A grades. All Priory Year 14 leavers have attained places at university with the exception of one young entrepreneur who has started his own business.

    Principal Peter McCreadie stated: “These wonderful results illustrate the folly of making permanent academic judgements about children at age 11. All of these successful young people were labelled as failures at the time of transfer.”

  • Turgon

    I am afraid that your summary of the schools is largely nonsense. It is difficult to know where to begin but I will try.

    The funding is a bit of a red herring. Essentially there are as follows: (not an exhaustive list)

    State Primary schools
    State Secondary schools
    State Grammar schools

    All these are largely but not exclusively attended by Protestant children.

    Then there are Catholic Church schools largely (but not exclusively) attended by Catholics

    Catholic Primary
    Catholic Secondary
    Catholic Grammar

    Next we have Integrated schools attended by Protestant and Catholic (and others)

    Integrated Primary
    Integrated Secondary

    Then we have Irish medium schools

    Irish medium Primary
    Irish medium Secondary

    That is most of them

    However in addition there are some Nursery schools which are not connected to primary schools

    Then we have special schools for children with physical or learning difficulties

    Then in Craigavon we have a different system (the Dixon plan) with two different sorts of secondary school: junior and senior high with the state (largely Prod) and catholic versions thereof.

    Finally we have schools which are completely private such as Rockport and a number of Christian schools (largely Free Presbyterian).

    If you are not confused enough yet I am sure others can add to the confusion.

  • dwatch

    Turgon: Then this CAIN education website must be nonsense because this is were most of my info came from.

    Background Information on Northern Ireland Society – Education

  • Turgon

    the Cain web site is sort of right but also largely irrelevant. It explains the official funding and legal status of the schools but not who is attending them. In addition the reality is that the state pays for all the assorted schools apart from the private ones: hence, the maintained / voluntary / controlled issue is a bit of a red herring. In the past it mattered in that (I think) the maintained and voluntary schools got slightly less per pupil than the controlled but I am pretty sure that is no longer the case.

    Also CAIN does not mention the Dixon plan, the Christian schools or the Irish Medium schools.

    If you want to be further confused then I am sure a teacher or other expert will show up soon to make the whole thing even more unintelligible.

  • Coll Ciotach

    how are the accounts getting on Eileen?

  • PACE Parent

    You will find the CAIN site, with respect to education matters, has Professor Tony Gallagher’s fingerprints all over it. Thank goodness for DNA profiling and the ability to track educationalists.