School transfer tests – a way out or surrender?

Might this be the start of some sense intruding into the school transfer mess? Browsing as you do for the latest on academic selection, I see the excellent Kathryn Torney has got hold of the report “Portfolio for Advice” from the Educationalists Advisory Panel’, a document  “which was presented to Assembly members last month and its contents shrouded in secrecy ever since.” Are MLAs waiting for inspiration or at a loss about what to do? We should be told.   According to the summary, the  main recommendations in the report are distinctly modest. They seem to amount to accepting the continuance of selection but improving the  procedure,  if such a thing is possible.

  • there should be a single, province-wide method of transfer from primary school.
  • Any new end-of-primary test should be formulated and led by school leaders assisted by expert test designers.
  • There is a need for a re-imaging and a restructuring of the post-primary sector in order to achieve parity of esteem across the whole spectrum. This will require a major injection of funding.
  • Free school meals is not the best social index to decide access to post-primary education and is not sufficiently robust for this purpose. This is one of Caitriona Ruane’s flagship policies.
  • A panel of head teachers should be established and consulted before any new school initiatives are put in place

Buried in here may be a hope that selection will wither on the vine as non-selective schools improve and the trend continues for many grammars to become, in effect, mixed ability schools. Transfer tests may become indistinguishable from aptitude tests in England. That still leaves the problem of entry to be cracked.  Might the suggested approach be the nearest we’re going to get to the case against selection made by former head of the school testing body Alastair Walker, in which  he also criticised the “single lurch” approach to non-selection of Caitriona Ruane?  

“Moving in a single lurch from a selective to a non-selective system, without undertaking all of the changes needed to make the process successful, would have had a terrible impact on the education of tens of thousands of children.

It is also worth remembering that the hurdle itself is set at different heights for different schools. Postcodes are as important as grades in our present system in determining who gets into grammar schools. Grammar schools are currently serving 40% of our community well. Transformed into excellent all-ability schools they would serve 100% of our community every bit as well,” he claimed. We already have a number of first-class all-ability schools. We know they work. We do not need selection with all of the trauma and stress that accompany it.”

Will the obdurate Caitriona back down from her position of  dogmatic impotence and can the Assembly as a whole pass a basic  test of competence at problem solving ?  Objective answers welcome but please, spare us rants.

  • PACE Parent

    I’m sure you understand the principle of academic selection Brian. How could you fail to see the purpose of yet another panel of “experts” determined to undermine the principle and remove choice from parents? The failed Stormont political system is looking for another convenient patsy.
    Your citation of Alastair Walker, the anti-selection, former grammar school teacher and former CCEA 11-plus exams chief demonstrates your willingness to provide cover to failed educationalists. Time to provide your own objective answer instead of posing conundrums

  • Reader

    Brian Walker: Will the obdurate Caitriona back down from her position of dogmatic impotence and can the Assembly as a whole pass a basic test of competence at problem solving
    If Catriona will accept deferred victory in preference to endlessly protracted defeat she is better balanced than I think she is.
    Mind you, that’s hypothetical, since her opponents aren’t going to accept the end of selection, however you try to dress it up.

  • willis

    It is rather a pity that we do not yet have a link to this ‘top secret’ document. According to the BT report the first summary point is

    “If selection remains there should be a single, province-wide method of transfer from primary school.”

    A bit different from what you have.

    It seems remarkable that a panel of experts would make this one of their summary points:

    “Free school meals is not the best social index to decide access to post-primary education and is not sufficiently robust for this purpose. This is one of Caitriona Ruane’s flagship policies.”

    Might it be the case that a bit of comment has got mixed in with the reportage?

    While I agree with the sentiments:

    “There is a need for a re-imaging and a restructuring of the post-primary sector in order to achieve parity of esteem across the whole spectrum. This will require a major injection of funding.”

    I do wonder if asking for more money at this point is a good idea.

    It looks like another missed opportunity.

    “Much of it is in the form of answers to 21 questions posed by the politicians.”

    I wonder if they asked what to do about this:

    “More than a fifth of Northern Ireland’s working-age population have no academic qualifications, according to a new report from business advisors PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).”

    Read more: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/business/business-news/high-rate-of-northern-ireland-school-leavers-not-qualified-14814177.html#ixzz0q4kj3uBH

  • Sorry folks, this comment might be a bit like a commercial break…

    In case anyones interested BooksNI.Com are offering a couple of free copies of the book Selection Challenged: The Case Against Selection for 11+ written by Alastair Walker – details @ http://booksnibiz.blogspot.com/2010/05/debate-continues.html

  • Granni Trixie

    About the only thing I applaud SF,Catrina and the Catholic Church for is for sticking to their guns over doing away with selection. Nil points for the way they have gone about it.

    I simply could not bear it if we are back to square one because “experts”,teachers and parents want to go back
    to an elitist system which has so badly served children such as those I taught whose esteem is negatively affected long term because of the system.

    In present circs I could thole a compromise of a selection procedure for a few years to give time to adjust. Grammars would be the better for having to teach an all range ability and secondary from not having academically gifted creamed off.

  • Reader

    Granni Trixie: Grammars would be the better for having to teach an all range ability
    How do you account for the utter and complete failure of the comprehensive lobby to convince anyone of the merits of this claim?
    Or might this somewhat novel claim have been planted by an undercover Grammar school operative to make the comprehensive lobby look ridiculous?

  • PACE Parent

    Still nothing of substance from Brian Walker on the principle of academic selection. Well perhaps he should compare notes with the “excellent” Kathryn Torney, Bele Tele education correspondent and protégé of Roy Lilley the former (yes Roy former) editor on the matter of the “free” tests offered by the Post Primary Transfer Consortium and provided by GL Assessment.
    It turns out the tests weren’t “free” after all but cost schools close to £250,000. How is it that parents should have any confidence in educationalists and education correspondents who appear not to know the difference between zero and a quarter of a million and care even less? Little wonder numeracy and literacy problems abound.

  • willis

    PACE

    “How is it that parents should have any confidence in educationalists and education correspondents who appear not to know the difference between zero and a quarter of a million and care even less?”

    I think the Prof has something to say on this:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/greenslade/2010/jun/03/journalism-education-newspapers

    “Some journalists are proud of lacking a head for figures. That’s a shame because many news stories are based on numbers and statistics, such as ratios, formulas and basic addition.”

    Since you are a bit of a dab hand with the FOIs, research and all that, tell me what you think about this.

    http://www.pwc.co.uk/pdf/gf_school_workforce_0510.pdf

    Interesting that they didn’t have much time for DEL’s Essential skills strategy.

  • “My beautiful beautiful children”

    What have Dr. Who, Paul Merton and Stephen Nolan in common? Why is Chief Executive Iain Shields making the tea for all his staff? How is it possible that everybody who takes an exam gets an A*? Which group is so constipated that they can neither stand up nor sit down? And where does the Harland & Wolff Gay Pride Carnival Committee fit in?

    For the answers read on…..

    Remember the 11+ and the children that fail? Such a never to be forgotten humiliation at such an early age. But what if, in later life, having risen high in the Transfer Test Agency, you can do something about it?

    Step forward Chief Executive but self styled “captain” Ian Shields who sets out to change the face of education in Northern Ireland. Not only is there fierce opposition from expected sources there’s also the insidious resistance from within his own Agency. At any point in time, plotting and scheming, sabotage and subterfuge become the norm as Iain deals with a manipulative Personal Assistant, a mutinous crew, scandal seeking reporters, a disingenuous even duplicitous Government minister and a new IT manager.

    Written in 2003 and set in 2008 [how time flies] “My Beautiful, Beautiful Children” is a light comedy drama telling the story of one man’s campaign to abolish academic selection. Along the way you will also meet Mrs Ryan, mother of Craig “the boy who passed” and all of the “beautiful, beautiful children” of the Ulster Telecom Sponsored Park View primary school.

    At journey’s end you will have found out what happens when all of Northern Ireland’s 16,000 P7 children taking the 11+ in 2008 get an A* not once but twice despite every establishment ploy to prevent a repetition.

    Oh and there’s one last question. When does a one man campaign become a one woman campaign and was it really a one woman campaign all along?

    Read the award lacking TV Script by leaving your contact details on my web site.