Catholic Post-Primary Education Reform: “I am anxious to try to build consensus on the way forward”

Following on from the Northern Ireland Commission for Catholic Education (NICCE) belated publication of its Post-Primary Review Strategic Regional Report, individual dioceses are bringing forward their suggestions.  The first one out of the blocks appears to concern Catholic maintained schools in Londonderry.

The Derry Diocese Administrator, Monsignor Eamon Martin, has published “Together Towards Tomorrow – a discussion paper re Post-Primary Education in the Derry City Area”.  [Direct link to 9mb pdf file here].


This Discussion Paper explains the opportunities offered in a ‘partnership’ model and sets out a vision for what it called the Le Chéile Partnership of Catholic Post-Primary Schools. It proposes a phased transition away from the use of academic selection as an admissions criterion and the possibility of substantive change to the shape of post-16 education in the Project Area. Anticipating the possibility of ‘bilateral’ status in the short term for the City’s current grammar schools, the Paper commends a move to co-education for all and makes suggestions about future admissions criteria for schools.



According to the BBC report, the proposals got a rocky reception at a meeting on Wednesday night.

A number of parents criticised a proposal to base school admissions on where a child lives: “zoning”.

One parent said: “If they do push it through my youngest child will go to the worst performing secondary school in the town because of where I live.

“It’s the children from disadvantaged areas that are going to be worst affected”.

Parents also expressed fears that they would lose the ability to decide on important matters.

The decisions include whether or not their child sits a transfer test and whether or not they go to a single sex school.

“Choice is the biggest factor,” said one man.

“It’s not to do with streaming. It’s a very serious thing.

“I have a child coming up now to secondary school and I want to see choice, it should be there”.

The discussion period has been extended from its original deadline, of 31st May, to June 22nd.  But as the principal of Lumen Christi College told the BBC in February

Pat O’Doherty, the principal of Lumen Christi College in Derry, said his school remained committed to academic selection.

“At the moment it would take an awful lot to convince me that academic selection is not the best way of education for those pupils who are academically capable,” he said.

“At the end of the day it comes down to parental choice and if there are parents out there who wish to retain grammar schools then that choice should be honoured.”

‘Choice’, of course, was a notable absentee from the then NI Education Minister’s 2008 “Every School a Good School” proposals[Unless the choice is of a supernatural variety! – Ed]  Indeed.

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  • wild turkey

    ““At the end of the day it comes down to parental choice and if there are parents out there who wish to retain grammar schools then that choice should be honoured.”

    PB excuse me for this exegesis but…

    we life our lives under 3 main influences; necessity, chance and choice.

    my 11 yr old just the other day got the official notification that he will be attending a grammar school. arguably (if the various test results tables, etc, etc, are anything to go by) one of the best in norn ironland. admitedly he is a bit weird having often enjoyed and been inspired by your science, especially space, posts. so be it.

    he will benefit from this opportunity. of this, there is no doubt. but it is just that, an opportunity.

    over the next 6-7 years of his life,academically, he can soar or cruise or crash. personally, if i have anything to do with it, 2 and 3 above are not options on my watch.

    where is this going? whats the argument? simply put, our family currently comes from a fairly, very, income constrained circumstance. so what.

    i have never felt such circumstance to be a reason, explanation or excuse not to strife for the exceptional rather than the average.

    Fortunately the primary school my son attends has a similar view. it also has about 40% of its pupils of FSM. It also saw about 2/3 of its pupils who did the transfer tests get their first school of choice.

    bottom line on your post. any moves to a fairer system of selection which enhances equality of opportunity is to be welcomed. the current system ain’t perfect, far from it. but any alternative which enforces a one size fits all egalitarism will be, in both a statistical and social sense, a convergence towards mediocrity.

  • caseydog

    It’s sad to hear the Principal of a Catholic School (Pat O’Doherty) characterise those pupils who who do not go to a grammar school as not being academically capable. Surely he must be aware of the considerable achievements of the pupils of St Cecilias? It is the continual denigration of secondary pupils by O’Doherty and other grammar Principals that undermines confidence in the non-selective system.

    Wild Turkey doesnt want a ‘one size fits all’ schooling system, yet all pupils follow exactly the same NI curriculum, and do exactly the same GCSE and A levels, whether they go to Lumen or St Cecilias, or anywhere else.

    Mgr Martin has come up with imaginative and challenging proposals for the Catholic sector which should end the educational apartheid in Derry. He is attempting to think about the needs of all children, not just those who go to a grammar school. He recognises that although grammar education is much prized by many, there many children excluded and rejected by them who feel that sense of rejection and exclusion for the rest of lives.

    Grammar schools were important in their day, but that day is now over.

  • Pete Baker


    Glad to have been of some help, somewhere. More weirdness, I say!


    “Wild Turkey doesnt want a ‘one size fits all’ schooling system, yet all pupils follow exactly the same NI curriculum, and do exactly the same GCSE and A levels, whether they go to Lumen or St Cecilias, or anywhere else.”

    And yet the Catholic maintained schools emphasise the importance of their particular ‘ethos’ in the education of children.

    Just as the grammar schools, of all and no faiths, do.

    Go figure…

  • Barnshee

    ” do exactly the same GCSE and A levels, whether they go to Lumen or St Cecilias, or anywhere else”

    Do they really? what are relative proportions of each cohort at entry, doing A levels

    What are the relative proportions of those doing e.g. English, Mathematica Physics Chemistry Biology French German ? My short experince is that the proportions are wildly different. How typical is that?

    PS what you get at a Grammar School is a better behaved class of yob and partial avoidance of the hoi polloi Add to that useful OB networks and facilities occasionally enhanced by OB actions

    The result is a degree of priviledge -it is unrealistic to expect parents not to want what they see as “the best” for their child

  • Drumlins Rock

    Wild Turkey, your 11yr old reads Slugger? wow i’m impressed 🙂

    I tend to see the NICCE proposals as a circling of the wagons, in will be interesting how many if any of those wagons remain outside the circle, for sure some of their perspective pupils will drift off to other camps, the extent this happens will be interesting to see.

  • cynic2

    Why is the state still allowing the Church to control the education of these children?

  • Newman

    Because we live in a democracy not a totalitarian state where there is one official line and schools are placed a value free zone high on tolerance (of a certain kind) and ambivalent on virtue. Because education is more than just about reading and writing and because parents freely decide that they want to educate their children in schools which are run by the Church…Oh and I almost forgot parents are also taxpayers….

  • abucs

    Well said Newman.

  • Mick Fealty

    What fascinates me is how none of these presumably majority nationalist parents have any nationalist advocates.

    Not saying they should, but with a growing middle class might it be giving away a hostage? This is an area that could stand some kind of debate that enables all sides to climb out of their trenches and actually enumerate and evaluate what’s actually wanted from education and perhaps negotiate a re-balancing of resources accordingly.

    The problem I see is twofold: that convergence towards mediocrity concerns even teachers who support moves towards some form of comprehensive system; this kind of coercion of schools just further fragments the system and lessens the capacity of church or state to positively affect outcomes across the system.

    In fact I see little concern with outcomes and more with ideological tinkering with a policy that’s been bought second hand from a direct rule minister…

  • Newman

    Mick.Good points.The debate has been ideologically hidebound..if there could genuinely be a discussion where there was room to consider various models and where everyone committed to core principles then we might make some progress…..That may well mean different solutions for different areas and an abandonment of nonsense like the Entitlement Framework which is being used adroitly to introduce change by stealth.

  • caseydog

    The comprehensive case, and the advantages that it gives to all children is solidly supported by the Pisa findings funded by OECD. OECD find that the school systems that are the most successful in raising the achievements of both the most and least able are those that don’t use selection.

    Mick claims that there are teachers who favour comprehensive education but believe that it leads to mediocrity. They must have been hiding their light under a bushel, as their research is unknown to me. Perhaps he could he could ‘out’ them, so that we could know who they are!

  • BluesJazz

    Anyone who has experience as an examiner (GCSE and A level) knows the quality of English comprehensives, compared to NI grammars.
    NI grammars are roughly on a par with fee paying private schools in England. (Not quite, but almost, so the £20,000 per annum fees in England make Methody etc middle class dreamland).
    But, in England, there are ‘comprehensives’ in Shropshire and comprehensives in Birkenhead.
    Reading the exam scripts it’s easy to tell which centres are from former and latter, by a (county) mile. Actually there may be 2 ‘comprehensives’ in a particular location, and the differences in ability are painfully obvious.
    Postcode selection or Academic selection. That’s the alternatives.

  • caseydog

    The argument about academic selection/rejection ebbs and flows, but it won’t go away. Last week’s proposal by the Northern Irish Bishops that selection should be reduced to 75% by 2014 has been followed up by the more significant announcement today by the Trustees of Christian Brothers schools that it will implement the proposal in it’s 3 grammar schools. Maggie Taggart reports that the Boards of Governors of these schools are unlikely to oppose the Trustees.

    There are only 28 catholic grammar schools in N Ireland.

    Has the dam broken?

  • Mister_Joe

    Isn’t it beyond belief that a country like Canada with no grammar schools can produce educated adults who can hold their own with any others in the world, who can distinguish themselves in many fields?