“all schools in the Catholic sector should move to an alternative form of transfer as soon as possible and by no later than 2012…”

Six years in the writing, the Northern Ireland Commission for Catholic Education (NICCE) has published its Post-Primary Review Strategic Regional Report.

It’s a mixture of proposals of limited school closures, amalgamations… and wishful thinking.

As the BBC reports, Catholic Church representatives have been focusing on one issue in particular.

Cardinal Brady was speaking at St Mary’s College in Belfast when he criticised continuing academic selection by schools.

“It is totally unacceptable that some Catholic schools are, in effect, becoming all ability schools, while local secondary schools bear all the negative consequences of educational change,” he said.

“What is happening in some areas is, in fact, the absorption by stealth of secondary schools by local grammar schools who are changing their entrance grade requirements to keep their numbers up.”

The head of the Commission on Catholic Education, Bishop Donal McKeown, told Radio Ulster’s Evening Extra he wanted rid of academic selection as soon as possible.

“We are working towards convincing people that it is possible to provide quality academic education without the charade, that exists only in Northern Ireland, of academic selection,” he said.

Here’s what the review has to say on the issue [pdf file].

In March 2009 NICCE set out very clearly their commitment to the transfer of children at age 11 by non-academic means. This policy statement is available at www.pprce.org. This policy identified the need to develop a phased approach to moving away from the use of academically selective admissions’ criterion and this remains a central tenet of their policy. NICCE believes that every pupil educated in a Catholic school is entitled to receive a quality education in modern, well equipped facilities. This cannot be delivered for all of our pupils without a significant shift in the way facilities are organised, managed and maintained.

A further issue has emerged since the launch of the policy in March 2009. It is now clear that, in the context of moving away from the use of academic selection as an admissions’ criterion, a formal development proposal is required. While the statutory consultation processes associated with a development proposal are clear and uncomplicated, any development proposal needs to be considered in a wider context of the impact on other schools and their communities, as well as a minimum timeframe for processing such proposals.

The recommendations contained in this report are in respect of the development of area-specific proposals for the medium to long-term re-organisation of postprimary provision. As a consequence NICCE continues to support a structured transition from academic selection at age 11 as a means of admission to any of their schools. This will allow the Catholic community of schools to move away from the use of academic selection in a planned way, consistent with a shared strategic vision for each area.

And the NICCE March 2009 policy?  As noted here, the policy statement was quite specific.

  • The Commission restates its position, accepted by the Working Group, that the current system of academic selection at age eleven is no longer an appropriate way for children to transfer to Post-Primary school. Therefore it is our view as Trustees that all schools in the Catholic sector should move to an alternative form of transfer as soon as possible and by no later than 2012, in time for the full implementation of the Entitlement Framework [3] in 2013. [added emphasis]

By the following year the ‘deadline’ was being dropped.

In response to today’s publication by NICCE, the Northern Ireland Education Minister, Sinn Féin’s John O’Dowd, wants a new, unspecified, ‘deadline’ imposed.

“I note that the Commission have once again reiterated their commitment to ending academic selection. However this commitment needs to be translated into time-framed action if the sort of progressive changes required in the education system are to be delivered and the educational outcomes for all children are enhanced. [added emphasis]

Why he thinks a new ‘deadline’ would make a difference this time is another question…  As the BBC report notes

The director of the Governing Bodies Association (GBA), John Hart, said that schools would take time to reflect on Monday’s report.

The GBA represents 52 voluntary grammar schools including all 30 Catholic grammar schools in NI.

“Boards of governors alone are responsible for deciding admissions policy,” he said.

“Indeed it is appropriate these decisions are taken by people who understand the local needs and ethos of schools in their community.”

What we can say is that we’ve known that “there are too many schools in Northern Ireland” since the then-NIO Minister Maria Eagle enthused about George Bain’s Independent Strategic Review of Education in 2006.

And the then-proposed “area-based planning process”, on which the NICCE “regional strategy” is based, had still not been progressed by the end of 2009.

Apparently the Education and Skills Authority, which was supposed to implement that “area-based planning process”,  is to be properly established by April 2o13…

Adds  One other archived Slugger post to note – “Vagueness blocks discussion and disagreement..”

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  • Pete Baker

    Adds One other archived Slugger post to note – “Vagueness blocks discussion and disagreement..”

  • INTO: Report in Catholic Education Disappointing

    Mr Murphy continued, “At a first glance we are disappointed by the lack of detail in the proposals. While there is reference to the development of new 11 to 19 educational structures, INTO believes that without a firm commitment to move away from academic selection any new structures will in themselves reinforce the inequalities that have existed throughout the educational sector. In addition the report puts forward a number of proposals for schools and school groupings without sufficient detail or timescales to allay any fears that may exist for.

  • Pete Baker

    A tree! A tree!

    *shakes head*

  • caseydog

    Pete is right – all of the promises made by the Church a few years ago to establish a new non-selective system have now been abandoned. He is only partially correct in saying that the new policy is ‘school closures, amalgamations and wishful thinking’. It would be more accurate to describe it as ‘school closures and wishful thinking’ Many of the school amalgamations are unlikely to proceed because this requires the acquiescence of grammar schools but they have shunned the Commission from it’s inception.
    This sorry outcome was always predictable when the Church failed to use their authority to appoint new governors to Boards of grammar schools when the opportunity arose a few years ago. Another opportunity to change governors will arise shortly.
    John O’Dowd also has powers at his disposal, which he is unwilling to use.For example; he could refuse to pay the transport costs to
    deliver children away from their local secondary school. If he withdrew this hidden subsidy to the grammars, then the numbers
    going to local secondaries would increase and become more viable.
    Despite the failure of the Church and the Minister, this issue will not go away, not least because the primary and secondary sectors are crying out for change.

  • Brian Walker

    As time goes on, it seems more and more bizarre that the Catholic bishops and the rest of the institutional church should behave as if they hold sway over the running of schools. Well meaning as they are,they are already exposed as pretty impotent and may in fact have less influence now than the divided Church of England has over their schools, controled and maintained.

    The cardinal’s intervention is surely a distraction from the serious business of breaking the selection deadlock or living with it.

    One thing is perfectly clear. It can’t be settled by any individual minster alone of whatever party.

    The Executive as a whole will have to deal with it collectively and widen the discussion with all the stakeholders.

    Noises about taking punitive action against grammar schools will prove futile. It will only harm children and destablise the Assembly.

    Time is overdue for grown up politics and getting down to the real problems.

  • Diffus

    The Catholic grammars continue to do more damage to the Catholic Education system than any other entity since the Penal Laws! They say they are there for academic excellence and yet they just lower the bar to fill up desks, creaming off the kids who should be going to the local secondary. If they really want to be there for excellence then they should only take the top 25% via selection and the rest of the children should go to the secondary schools where they get an excellent education backed up with pastoral systems that count! The secondary system has borne the brunt of cut backs, redundancies and under-funding for years. The bishops should now show their bottle.

  • caseydog

    Even more bizarre is the report in today’s Irish News that a very leading figure in the Catholic Commission, who sat beside Cardinal Brady at a press conference launching their Report, was also the Chair of Governors of a school which two days later issued a statement saying that they would defy it’s recommendations!

    I’m not sure that I agree with Brians argument that the Church leadership are impotent. In my view they are insufficiently determined to end academic selection. They show lack of leadership, in that the do not use every opportunity to explain why academic is wrong. Even in Brady’s statement at the press conference he could not bring himself to clearly state that he opposes academic selection, that it is wrong and that grammar schools should not be rejecting children at the age of 11. Instead he talks about ‘change’ and ‘sharing’. Moreover, most of the other Bishops never mention the issue at all!

    Patrick Murphy, writing in today’s Irish News, sums it up ‘not for the first time the Bishops find themselves on the wrong side of an issue of social justice’. The Bishops, if they are ever to regain credibility in this country, need to recast themselves as champions of social justice. But I won’t be holding my breath!

  • Old Mortality

    Drumcree College, one of the schools earmarked for closure, has a feeble enrolment which might suggest a Catholic flight from Portadown. However, there are two Catholic primaries in the town and the controlled Ballyoran’s enrolment is said to be mainly Catholic. Together, they churned out more than 100 P7 pupils last summer. They can’t all have gone to grammar or integrated schools so a significant number must be being bussed to non-selective Catholic schools elsewhere. If they don’t live more than 3 miles from Drumcree, they are not supposed to get free transport and I can’t imagine many of them would pay for it. Yet it looks as if in O’Dowd’s own constituency, the education authority are subsidising the demise of Portadown’s only Catholic secondary school.
    If Drumcree closes, the taxpayer will be liable to pay for the transport of schoolchildren from Portadown to whatever Catholic school they feel like attending.

  • caseydog

    Drumcree is a very low achieving school with a poor reputation in Portadown. Girls in Portadown have fled to St Catherines, an excellent girls comprehensive school in Armagh. Many boys have fled to St Patricks Grammar in Armagh, which accepts wide range of abiliity but still claims grammar status. In order to accommodate the Portadown boys it excludes (using the unregulated test) the least able boys from the local housing estates in Armagh, who are directed to the local secondary school : St Brigids, which struggles with low enrolment and financial problems.
    The Chairman of the Board of Governors of St Patricks Grammar is Cardinal Brady. The Principal of the St Patricks is a priest.

  • Old Mortality

    casey
    Do all those girls going to St Catherine’s live more than 3 miles from Drumcree and if not are they paying their own fares? According to the rules, they should not receive free transport. I suspect that if free travel was withdrawn, you’d see Drumcree’s enrolment and results improve pretty rapidly.
    As for Armagh, I believe that a substantial number of girls as well as boys get bussed out to Keady.
    When ‘choice’ means that schools in major population centres are abandoned, it’s time to blow the whistle on it. The taxpayer cannot be expected to pander to parental whim whatever the cost.

  • Lionel Hutz

    i went to school in dungannon and there were atleast two bus loads to portadown. The problem has been made worse by constant rumours over the future of drumcree college

  • BluesJazz

    “The taxpayer cannot be expected to pander to parental whim whatever the cost.”

    Old Mortality, what country do you live in? Obviously not in Northern Ireland where pupils are bussed (free) from Downpatrick, and further afield, to Methody and INST. Oh and Wellington College and Aquinas and Assumption…

    It’s a middle class world. And NI has it’s (de facto) non sectarian middle class bubble. The fact that the class bubble overrides the sectarian bubble is seen as a good thing. That’s the way the socio-economic cookie crumbles.

  • Lionel Hutz

    The way this whole debate is being played out is encouraging grammar schools to continue with academic selection. Read the quotes above and just about any statement from the Minister and its all about the cuts.

    For example:
    “It is totally unacceptable that some Catholic schools are, in effect, becoming all ability schools, while local secondary schools bear all the negative consequences of educational change,” he said.

    “What is happening in some areas is, in fact, the absorption by stealth of secondary schools by local grammar schools who are changing their entrance grade requirements to keep their numbers up.”

    So what is acceptable – that Grammar Schools drop selection, become a less desirable choice and then expose themselves to cuts to save a few secondary schools?

    Why would a Grammar School Board of Governors or Trustees go for that? We are living in a hostile educational market and its survival of the fittest at this point. Grammar Schools will want to keep their edge.

    So despite being critical of much of the hyperbole coming from the Church, I have to say that the ideas of shared campuses are steps in the right direction.

    The time for three deadlines has passed. That tactic has failed. The Minister belives he doesn’t have the power to change things but thats because he has no imagination.

    You need to have a plan which could take a decade or two to complete which will redesign the school estate in individual areas to meet the needs of those areas.

    Unfortunately, Stormont only deals in quick fixes.

  • BluesJazz

    Most Grammars are for the UK University export market.
    Those that graduate in mediocre QUB or worthless UU either stay and become mininum wage AA civil servants or ‘go in to retail’.
    The FE Colleges produce some degree of sociologists/social workers, healthcare workers, car mechanics, prison officers ,( sorry custody officers) and a few hairdressers and construction detainees.
    It could be worse, they could be studying down south.
    At least they don’t have media studies down there.

  • Old Mortality

    Blues Jazz
    ‘Obviously not in Northern Ireland where pupils are bussed (free) from Downpatrick, and further afield, to Methody and INST. Oh and Wellington College and Aquinas and Assumption…’

    I looked at the situation in Portadown because of the threatened closure. The schools you mentioned are all grammars (Assumption?) so maybe its because the bussees failed to get into local grammars in Downpatrick. That suggests inadequate grammar provision in south Down which is definitely not the case everywhere.

  • RyanAdams

    BluesJazz

    “Those that graduate in mediocre QUB or worthless UU either stay and become mininum wage AA civil servants or ‘go in to retail’.”

    Don’t think that’s quite right at all;

    QUB Archaeology – 10% with grad job
    QUB Drama – 20%
    QUB ‘English studies’ – 14%
    History – 15%
    Languages – 28%
    Geography – 20%

    Just to highlight a few prospects of courses at Queens. Meanwhile at Ulster …

    Architecture – 70%
    Engineering – 70%
    Human Resource Management – 70%
    Mechanical, Production and Manufacturing Engineering – 75%
    Medical technology – 70%
    Nursing – 100%
    Ophthalmics 100%

    Of course that’s not to say Queens does completely useless courses, while Ulster does plenty too but that’s a very unfair generalization to make.