Apart from taking on Justice powers, the end of deadlock over 11 plus school transfer tests will be another big test of a functioning Assembly. Are the parties inching towards a new approach? Thanks to Mick for drawing attention to the Heart and Minds discussion on the fundamentals. The educationist Alastair Walker who used to run the system was surely right to say that the onus is on abolitionists to convince parents that school standards wont be harmed if academic selection is abolished. This he agrees will take some years. Reformers like him argue with some force that the validity of 11 plus is eroding anyway, with increasing number of grammars accepting more in pupils who fail to gain grade B and above in the tests. A modern political approach of transparency and open debate is now essential.1. The parties should accept current reality for a fixed term and regularise a common transfer procedure for both State and Catholic grammars, which educate around 40% of the total, remember.
2. Although this will be controversial, resume the publication of school league tables of all post-16 academic results, with value added weighting to show any improvements in performance in each school. Why should the public be denied this information?
3. Immediately publish for consultation area planning which rationalises the schools estate and creates local school networks to expand curriculum choice. This allows pupils to change courses according to their aptitudes throughout their career and would end the basic unfairness of a once for all transfer to a particular school at 11.
4. Produce a vision for specialist schools which break up the rigid academic vs secondary modern divide and provide for local governance to diversify further the State/ Catholic/ integrated sectors.
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