“Good news was hard to come by in the Northern Ireland education world of 2010…”

Much like most recent years, you could say…  In a review of the year for the Northern Ireland education system, the BBC’s education correspondent Maggie Taggart notes an interesting fact

February saw the delivery of the first results from unregulated transfer tests which had taken the place of the eleven-plus, scrapped by the Department of Education in an attempt to end academic selection.

Widespread legal action was expected from dissatisfied parents, but time passed and only two court cases were proposed against grammar schools which had refused entry to pupils. One of those was rejected and the second family decided not to proceed.

And who had been stoking those expectations of widespread legal action?  The Northern Ireland Education Minister, Sinn Féin’s Cáitríona Ruane, for one.  As this BBC report from November 2009 notes

Education Minister Caitriona Ruane of Sinn Fein, told BBC News Online: “These tests are being run and organised by breakaway grammar schools.

“They are leaving themselves wide open to legal cases against them. I have written, and my officials have written, advising them of the dangers.”

Aided and abetted, natch, by some trade union officials

Teachers’ unions have confirmed that the grammars, both state and Catholic, may end up in the courts if they turn down children on the basis of them not having sat the selection tests. “I don’t think there is any doubt that there will be legal challenges facing the grammars when the decisions are taken on who gets in early next year,” says Frank Bunting, northern secretary of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (Into). Bunting, whose union has 6,500 members in Northern Ireland, says the challenges are likely to come in areas where the education minister’s party, Sinn Féin, is strongest.

[“classic Sinn Féin negotiating tactics”? – Ed]

Then there are the extant transitional arrangements put in place following the minister’s withdrawal of the NI Education Bill…

As I’ve said, the education system is clearly in the very safest of hands…

Still, with an enthusiastic Executive and some new year resolutions…  Minister?

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  • MichaelMac

    “They are leaving themselves wide open to legal cases against them. I have written, and my officials have written, advising them of the dangers.”

    Does that really fall under the category of stoking?

  • pinni

    Good news was hard to come by in the Northern Ireland education world of 2010, that is, apart from the fact that NI students again got the best GCSE and A level results in the UK.

    In fact, in A* A Level grades awarded, NI students were 10% better than second placed England.

    Pete, we can’t be perfect, you know! You are obviously a half-empty type personality.

  • DC

    It doesn’t do much for the concept of the State and its running of education what with all this disagreement, lack of consensus, slow decision making and non-decision making; which is why at times I seriously think the private sector has a role to play in the NI education sector. If Ruane has problems schools and areas of under-achievement let alone the goods schools and set to work on new ideas and management of the under-performing ones – in the same way academies have been introduced in Britain?

    For instance would you rather have Capita running recruitment for the NI Civil Service, an organisation run with one eye on the FTSE and one eye on operational performance and doing the job right – or say such another private sector experiment in the running of schools – and if over the medium term the schooling systems or those select schools fail to achieve results? Simply collapse them and terminate the staffing arrangements – all possible under the contract that was given out to them by the State, but run privately.

    Or would you rather settle for the State and its vested interests and allow its group think to form its own rigid idea of how schools ought to be, most schools here are run to religious theology and outlook – then controlled by the overly-bureaucratic Stormont system (dual first ministers – community vetoes, pride and prejudices running amok up there with Ruane and her own take on what education should be and mean for the people)? Of course, much of the two community group think terribly outdated – as Ruane’s approach has proven, comprehensives are not always the answer, especially if they are the only answer to system change. Hence no progress.

    It does take a stock-market listed and multinational company approach for privatisation to flourish here because small private firms – like solicitors here – carry their own mini-community approach as well. But multinationals don’t – they are open and performance driven linked to the FTSE and don’t have time and cannot succeed with parochial mindsets!

    So, my anti-State approach isn’t to be mistaken for that one crystallised in the minds of the southern English and in particular held by the Tories – where they see themselves as the sponsors and are reluctant to pay out heavily for it; no my views – once pro now hardening anti-Statist in service delivery – are entirely Irish, generally the history of ‘the State’ in Ireland and very particularly the performance of our Ni politicians – the MLAs – over the last while.

    Better to have private contracts given out at a similar cost as what would be the case if they were run by the state (therefore this intervention isn’t about hardcore rationalisation and cuts to public services) because at least there would one good eye on performance and operations and the other on effective management in line with market discipline, the alternative has shown lots of State meddling and group think – part ideology – part grandstanding and macho behaviour – all of it mitigating against reform or change – and applying new ideas and setting up new schools.

  • joeCanuck

    A political game is being played at potential great risk to individual children’s futures.
    Thankfully, as Pinni points out, the kids are doing awesomely well. Good for them.

  • DC

    Interesting speech on the subject of education reform by Lord Adonis here:


    Lord Adonis sets out six lessons from New Labour on public service reform:

    1 -follow failed attempts at reform, and learn from their mistakes

    2-are incremental and do not try to achieve ‘whole-system’ transformation

    3-are based on existing best-practice, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel

    4-require huge political drive

    5-require considerable support from stakeholders, even if this support is not made public

    6-create a new consensus in the general public.

    The ones in bold I think highlight the problems with Ruane’s and SF’s approach to changing that sector. Lack of support really, across the range.

  • 241934 john brennan

    Cheer up. Look on the bright side. Caitriona will not now be able to foist the failed English comprehensive system uopn our children – as least not this side of the Stormont elections.

  • edgeoftheunion

    You mean as opposed to the successful Scottish Comprehensive system.

  • 241934 john brennan

    Naw! .Ah ken a’ aboot tha Scottish comphrensive system.
    The’re a’ keik as weel. Tha Glasga weans is jest as stupid as belfast weans. Lavin school as numpties. A’ turnip heids frae want o’ schoolin.
    Scots hae twa systems. Comprehensive an’ fee payin public schools. Guess wur tha high heid yins send their ain weans?

  • edgeoftheunion