“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..”