School transfers are big test for the Assembly

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 won’t 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.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Why is a solution so important?
    A non-solution is just as good.
    Cardinal Brady much to the chagrin of the Overclass has pulled the rug from under the feet of the overclass.
    The DUP/UUP are supporters of monarchy which is the ultimate hierarchy. They perhaps thought that the Catholic Church also a hierarchy might back them against the Republican egalitarians in the SF-IRA or SDLP.
    But turkeys are not yet voting for Christmas.
    The Catholic Church was given an arguably more special position by Northern unionists than southern free-staters.
    Catholic schools are the shools that hav churned out the SDLP civil righters and the IRA gunmen. No unionists among them. Not even John Gorman.

    The SF-IRA, SDLP, Catholic Church need each other.
    Those Catholic grammars which had threatened to break away. Well maybe some still will….but how they retain their ethos Im not sure.
    In the 1980s the Catholic Church was so to supply grammar schools. The “Catholic” roll at Methody for example grew until the Aquinas School took off in South Belfast.

    To the Catholic Church it IS about retaining “religion” (cue snide overclass commentary about abuse) and to the SDLP/SF its about retaining nationalism. Therefore they can cobble together an agreement between them.

  • PACE Parent

    You must do better to keep up with developments Brian.

    If you had listened to Bob McCartney on the Hearts and Minds broadcast you would have heard him draw attention to “an education cabal” responsible for the current mess.

    Mr McCartney excoriated Alastair Walker for his part in this grouping and alluded to Walker’s failure to address the recommendation of the Second Report of the Advisory Council for Education in Northern Ireland which pointed out;

    “The Qualifying Examination is an easy object to criticise provided the critic is not obliged to find some substitute for it”

    Alastair Walker, under pressure from McCartney claimed that he had brought his concerns to the attention of his employers and the Department.
    Yet the Transfer Test was used right up to 2008 without change. No public evidence of this concern has ever appeared.

    Instead of using Slugger to promote the latest wheeze from the GBA you should appreciate that the AQE tests do not rely on grades (which remove information) but marks to be used in rank order.

    GL Assessment can no doubt explain the absence of a published specification for their tests for themselves.

    Transfer tests are now privatised. No businees of CCEA or the DENI.

    Having removed selection from the control of an anti-selection CCEA, Catholic hierarchy and DENI the last thing needed is to return post-primary transfer to their grasp.

    I suggest you go back to your informants and let them know that the problems for the education cabal are only going to increase.

  • Framer

    Why is Ruane allowed to get away with telling the Protestant/state grammar schools how to order their affairs when the Catholic schools are exempt from fair employment legislation?

    They are entitled to discriminate in favour of Catholic-educated teachers and do religiously, while the state schools of all types apply fair employment practice even though they are not obliged to do so.

    The teacher exemption in NI anti-discrimination employment law was permitted by a Europe and the Equality Commission approves of it!

    EU Council Directive 2000/78/EC of 27 November 2000 states:

    “In order to maintain a balance of opportunity in employment for teachers in Northern Ireland while furthering the reconciliation of historical divisions between the major religious communities there, the provisions on religion or belief in this Directive shall not apply to the recruitment of teachers in schools in Northern Ireland.”

    You couldn’t make it up, but someone here in DENI did and Mandelson spoke to it justifying it under the ‘Irish exception’ rule.

  • PACE Parent

    Well it will come as no surprise to readers that the advice rendered to the Equality Commission on review of the Teacher’s Exemption was written by none other than the eminence grise of the education cabal, Professor Tony Gallagher.

    Heaping additional doses of irony on this bonfire of sectarianism PACE would point to Gallagher’s lack of classroom experience.

  • dodrade

    If the hierarchy pushes ahead with this i’m sure some Catholic grammars will become independent schools, while in other areas parents will vote with their feet and send their children to state grammar schools in increasing numbers as they have been doing already in recent years.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Dolrade, this is quite possibly true.
    But of course these new schools wont actually have buildings.
    Will the Catholic Church put them up for sale?
    You cant actually be “independent” and be “Catholic” if the Church doesnt support the process.

    Yep a few more “Catholics” in “Methody” or “RBAI” but as these Catholics were already semi detached from Catholicism, the Church wont care.
    And as few if any will be from Republican/Nationalist families nobody in SF-IRA or SDLP will care.

  • Newman

    PACE parent seems a little too self congratulatory particularly about AQE tests. The proliferation of papers has not been good for children and the inability of grammar schools to agree one test is ludicrous. If they can’t get this agreed how can they criticise politicians for their shortcomings. The present arrangements have all of the appearance of a sectarian carve up and do the grammar sector little credit. AQE need not have gone and formed their own organization. A nationally recognised t test was arranged and included several state and voluntary schools along with the Catholic Grammar schools. Wheeling on Bob to advocate on behalf of the grammar sector is also not doing us any favours

  • PACE Parent

    Thank you Newman for the opportunity to provide clarity on the recent “sectarian carve up” of grammar schools on the principle of academic selection at 11. Who exactly are the “us” you refer to? Perhaps the education cabal?

    The “ludicrous” decision to fail to agree one set of tests can be placed directly in the lap of the GBA, the majority of whose members are Catholic voluntary grammar schools.
    A brief history may assist. The Parental Alliance for Choice in Education (a U.K. wide parental group) withdrew from the nascent AQE when Finbar McCallion, on behalf of the GBA, refused to share the platform at a press conference announcing the formation of the group with other grammar school representatives. The group was determined to give voice and choice to parents wishing to avail of their legal right to use academic selection for a grammar school place.
    This was the sectarian carve up in action. You will recall that the Catholic hierarchy, SF and the SDLP are all opposed to academic selection – on moral grounds – but not today.
    The AQE, recognising the Minister and most political parties’ determination to end legal academic selection commissioned tests based upon the CCEA specification for the 11-plus transfer test. The CCEA specification was 32 pages long.

    Despite being invited and fully included in all AQE meetings the GBA majority group slid off and formed a Post Primary Consortium and commissioned GL Assessment (your nationally recognised test agency which was responsible for the old transfer test) to provide a separate set of tests.
    Should you wish to confirm details contact Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, the AQE spokesman.

    No information has ever been made available on who paid for these GL Assessment tests but they are constantly referred to as “free” by the PPC. Perhaps you will inform us Newman?

    Initially the PPC tests were to be based on verbal and non verbal reasoning but the brain trust behind this idea soon realised that this would not be acceptable. They ultimately adopted numeracy and literacy tests which proved to be remarkably easy for candidates to perform well in. The difficulty for the PPC and GL Assessment is the specification upon which their tests were based. None has been made public.

    When you mention one test Newman it sounds as if you have some experience in testing. The CCEA Transfer Test and the AQE CEA test comprised three papers. The GL Assessment reduced to two papers. I suggest you make contact with CCEA and ask them about their validity and reliability data.

    One other point Newman. Victoria College the non-denominational girls’ grammar in Belfast is a claimed as a supporter of AQE and yet inexplicably offered the PPC tests for admission. How the school will admit pupils is likely to be challenged by parents since there is no way that the two different tests are equivalent. Since the PPC tests were commissioned after the AQE tests a legal battle on the validity and reliability of the GL Assessment tests will ensue.

    Perhaps you did not read the earlier thread by Mick Fealty

    Bob McCartney QC is the Chairman of the National Grammar Schools Association, a nationally recognised organisation which represents supporters of grammar schools, including parents, throughout the UK. It is significant that not one Catholic grammar from Northern Ireland has ever been a member.

    Are you getting the pattern Newman?

  • PACE Parent
  • Newman

    PACE Parent

    A few inaccuracies:

    GBA did not form PPC
    GBA does not have a majority of Catholic Grammar Schools.
    Finbar McCallion has credibility with both AQE and GL which was why he was the agreed Chairman for the recent meeting of Principals


    Ideological legal challenges on the test should have been initiated before now. Otherwise there is a Statutory Appeal Tribunal to deal with complaints before JR can be considered.

    There is overwhelming consensus among Principals that one agreed test is desirable. There is a problem about cost which is at the heart of present discussions.

    I do not think that the grammar school lobby can afford to sit back and merely cock a snoop at the Minster without trying to show willingness to engage in a debate about the future. Unregulated tests will continue but the Department will also use all manner of means (capital development grants, Long Term Enrolment quotas, Entitlement Frameworks etc etc) to make life difficult. This needs to be factored into the equation about the future.


    I believe in academic schools. I also accept that there are demographic anomalies which will have to be faced if the grammar school argument is to be maintained with any integrity.

    Grammar schools have been a most effective model of social mobility but this has been distorted by intensive coaching of pupils. This also needs to be at the heart of any debate about the future.

  • PACE Parent

    The debate is long over.
    Your “inaccuracies” are non-sequiturs and are of themselves inaccurate.

    I made no claim that the GBA formed the PPC.

    Visit the GBA site and add up the Catholic grammars

    Your assertions about Finbar McCallion are as incredible as anyone suggesting that Sir Ken Bloomfield’s Category B school, Inst is representative of a typical grammar school.

    You also conveniently omit the controlled grammars in any representative voice. The very idea that Finbar McCallion could represent the State and the Catholic schools is putting the cart before the horse somewhat and reduces equality to comedy.

    Let me give you another slice of recent history Cardina,Newman. Finbar McCallion was tasked by AQE to determine the origin of the 24/27 figure of subjects used in the framing of the Entitlement Framework.
    For someone wearing your badge of “credibility” or should that read “convenience”, I’m afraid Finbar McCallion has come up with no credible explanation. How about you spending your valuable time having a go since you are clearly a person of influence?

    Otherwise you have not taken issue with my account of events demonstrating the deliberate sectarian division using exams to undermine the inclusive AQE.

    The decision now is to decide which grammar schools wish to remain so using the AQE tests. No parent gives a fig about what principals think. Grammar schools belong to the community.

    Have you seen a specification for the GL Assessment? If so, please point parents to it. If not you and the Boards of Governors of many schools will have a future opportunity to explain.

    Let me try to spell it out for you again Cardinal,Newman.

    The Minister has pushed ahead with her ideological decision to abandon her responsibilities on post-primary transfer. She knew what she was doing by removing regulated choice. The vacuum was filled by those who have moved beyond debate and created an alternative, private system. Parents supported that decision.

    Your observations are akin to looking into the past by star gazing. Your philosophy has been decisively rejected by the parents.

    The debate is over. Time for you and your friends to make decisions.

    No doubt Bob McCartney is watching you.

  • Newman

    GBA majority group slid off and formed a Post Primary Consortium

    The inference could be drawn that the GBA were involved but I accept it can be read either way.

    You are quite right the membership has a majority of Catholic schools…apologies.

    I do not share your analysis that we have created an alternative private system. All we have done is have a private test. Schools are still mostly fully funded by the state and the State will demand an input into the manner in which funding is distributed. The proposed development of ESA which would at one stroke undermine the independence of voluntary schools is an interesting example.

    There are no Catholic Grammar schools associated with AQE. Is that because Catholic Heads do not want academic schools? Maybe there are other reasons which have to do with the tone name and approach of AQE.IS it the case that you can ignore nearly 50% of the school population with a bland..”they can join if they want to”

    The Department could by Regulation end the present statutory requirement that grammar schools fill up their places and take only A/B grades. The effect of this on many grammar schools would be catastrophic. Hardly star gazing.This anomoly has been recognised by the DUP..hence Sammy Wilson’s claim that “there would be pain for the grammars as well”

    My philosophy has never been voted on by parents. Parents want academic schools and are prepared to sit tests to achieve that end. I have no issue with that and any change would have to preserve academic schools. The debate has not properly begun.

    You dismissal of the influence of Principals is interesting but not particularly realistic.

  • PACE Parent

    The replies from the principals to pending FOI questions will no doubt interest parents and others interested in decisions taken in their name.
    May I remind you that in the privatised tests offered by AQE grades are a part of history. Strict rank order by merit (mark) is the new order of the day. Any school using backdoor methods of social selection will have trouble on their hands. Caitriona Ruane will not be their only concern.

    Spare us the retrospective rationale on the Catholic schools not joining AQE. You were correct when you stated;

    “The present arrangements have all of the appearance of a sectarian carve up”

    You just blamed the wrong grouping.

  • PACE Parent

    A note to Brain Walker. It is remarkable that this topic, education, which was the litmus test for Ulster Unionists received so few contributions during the period of media frenzy leading up to the P&J vote in the Assembly.

    What about tonight’s meeting of the AQE? Any predictions Brian?

  • PACE Parent

    So education was not such a sentinel event after all.
    The philosophical death match must be called in favor of the national Grammar Schools Association’s Bob McCartney and his argument in support of the right to academic selection.

    Parents have a champion in McCartney, the comprehensive lobby have questions to ask of Alastair Walker, an ill-prepared ideologue with no answers as to why he failed to address the issue of improving the Transfer Test.

  • Newman

    PACE Parent

    You seem rather preoccupied with the nature of the specific test. Of course there can be improvements but larger issues prevail. The grammars are a sector in Northern Ireland and they need to start acting accordingly. Division will undermine their argument and division along sectarian lines further exacerbates the difficulty. This would not appear to concern you at all. Do you have any answers to the demographic difficulty question? Should we just let the secondary moderns eat cake and pull up our own drawbridge? Do the problems of education as a whole remotely interest you? Has coaching distorted the results in favour of the middle classes? Are there steps that can be taken by the Department which make the position of the grammars very difficult? Is there not a way to stand alongside the Catholic Grammars and support them? The failure to address these sort of questions or even have a view on them suggests to me that you have confined yourself to 2 issues (i) the nature of the test and (ii) keeping the present composition of grammar schools…that appears to me to be a very narrow focus and not one that is sustainable ad infinitum Your championing of Bob McCartney is also worrying. He has declining political influence and is not listened to by decision makers despite his superior advocacy skills.

  • PACE Parent

    Perhaps you have not been paying much attention to what has been going on with education in Northern Ireland for the last decade otherwise I must admit to failing to account for your stream of consciousness post.
    Unlike those whose selfish interest is about their school, their job, their career, their individual child(ren, PACE represent the principle underlying academic selection and the equality of opportunity afforded by a diverse provision of schools including grammars.

  • Medillen

    “equality of opportunity” PACE Parent

    A small extract from your previous post but a fundamental point that you clearly do not understand. However articulate and well financed this pro-selection cabal are, you are a minority and will not be allowed to inflict failure on the majority of our children any longer. You are in your death throws and thank god for it.

  • PACE Parent

    Mr McLaughlin,

    Sam Clements and “reports of my demise”, or his cousin’s for that matter, in the context of grammar schools is misplaced.

    Oxymoron definition – principled principals.

    Let them stand up to be counted on this decision by the church.

    PACE would advise timid principals ready to take the packages to be offered by the church to go quietly into the dark night.

    Too many of you have been listening to Tony Gallagher for too long.

    While it may seem flattering to borrow the word “cabal” I’m afraid it’s too late for cheap mimicry at this stage. The battle lines are set between schools and parents. I know you are on the wrong team and the losing side. No one leaves this battlefield unscathed. Need I remind you of the victims and the public view on the church’s record on the care of children?

    Self-assessment is hardly one of the strongest qualities in the church’s arsenal.
    No sermons please. PACE parents do understand the ideological differences in the equality of opportunity versus equality of result argument.

    If you had bothered to listen to ordinary parents instead of the cabal including the likes of Gallagher, Boyd and Donaghy and Mulryne and perhaps demanded some accountability from the “advisers” you wouldn’t have to resort to desperate and misplaced claims of morality.

    “you are a minority and will not be allowed to inflict failure on the majority of our children any longer” Take that up with Tony and Sean.

    How many battalions of parents has the Cardinal or the Minister?

  • Medillen

    Your military metaphors are an examnple of the sorry and pathetic state your elitist cabal are in. This is not a war, this is change and dinosaurs like you have held this issue back for too long. This is a bit like the tide coming in, so you and your mythical battalions can stand at the shore line, good luck.