A coherent if one-sided Platform for Change discussion about education

Last night Platform for Change hosted a debate looking at the potential for Northern Ireland to have a coherent education system. Around 65 people attended the two hour event in the Ormeau Avenue Holiday Inn.

Initial five minute introductions from the panel of seven were followed by questions from the audience.

  • Ciaran Helferty ex-QUB SU President, now with Amnesty/BMA
  • Liam McCusker from Spirit of Enniskillen
  • Bronagh Heatley & Anthony from WIMPS/Public Achievement

  • Mark Langhammer from Association of Teachers and Lecturers
  • Mary Dorman from Irish National Teachers’ Organisation
  • Alan Smith from UU’s UNESCO Institute

It was a long and largely unexciting evening. Themes that I picked up include:

  • We “neurotically test” our children, yet as a colleague of Mark Langhammer says “You can’t fatten a pig by constantly weighing it”
  • The effect of social segregation shouldn’t be forgotten on top of the religious segregation in NI education. The big differentials between wealth/income across communities adversely affects educational outcomes.
  • The existing limited social mobility into the grammar sector “compresses deprivation” in the secondary sector.
  • Education reform needed along two fronts: equality and social cohesion. The political agreements didn’t look beyond an end to violence; we are hindered by post-conflict political structures. The political system also amplifies and extends social tensions that influence ‘parental choice’ around schooling.
  • Parental choice is good, and in some people’s eyes parental choice is also dangerous.
  • There’s little confidence that ESA’s single system will make the overall education system more coherent (or better).
  • The Irish language sector is quick to point out educational benefits of bilingualism. The integrated sector should be more brash about trumpeting that “social balance creates better schools”.
  • Integrated schooling challenges the prejudices of parents as well as children.
  • The need is not to extend the integrated sector but to make its ethos and patterns part of the existing mainstream options. We need measures and milestones to drive increased sharing and more importantly structural change within the system. Mark Langhammer wondered whether social balance be monitored and punishment introduced to encourage improvement.
  • Young people – at least those involved in WIMPS – are increasingly unconcerned about community background and the need to declare and monitor it.
  • We need to “nurture leadership” in young people: this can happen outside schools. in general, the changing of attitudes about education needs to extend beyond schools.

The Q&A session is in three parts. The battery in the roving radio mic died at one point, but you should still be able to hear the questioners.

Overall the evening was a disappointment.

February’s Platform for Change event had attracted the full range of political opinion – nine parties in total, including DUP and Sinn Fein – to the panel looking at flags. This time, the centre ground (particularly centre-left) was represented but the extremes were largely absent.

The urgency and emotion of the flags debate was absent, perhaps understandable given the getalongist audience and panel.

The great majority of last night’s non-party political panellists had direct experience of the integrated and Catholic education sectors. Members of various parties were present in the audience: Green, NI21 and possibly Labour asked question.

The lack of strong push back – or even representation – around the existing education system from the pro-grammar, pro-CCMS or pro-selection lobby reduced the potential conflict and certainly allowed the ideas and alternative models around sharing and integration to better develop. But the lack of challenge also diminished the complexity of the arguments and made it all seem far too straightforward.

Shorter introductions and fewer Robin-isms between speakers* would have sped up proceedings and perhaps allowed the event to finish earlier.

I spotted FitzJamesHorse in the audience and he has blogged his comments on the evening.

* Robin Wilson is however forgiven since he shared a joke that will tickle all the maths nerds out there. [Ed – on Slugger?] A piece of Northern Ireland graffiti spotted on a wall saying:

6 into 26 won’t go

Underneath someone had scribbled

Try base 9!

, , , ,

  • Thanks for this and the use of the word “getalongist”
    I also found it hard going.
    The Panel should have been five rather than seven. Effectively the two members of WIMPS and the Spirit of Enniskillen guy did not add anything that wasnt covered by any one of them.
    There was I think emphasis that Catholic schools are more SOCIALLY integrated than Protestant/State sector.

    The IDENTITY thing. We have different takes here. The young people seemed concerned about monitoring their religious or community affiliation when they didnt feel they had one. For a person of my age that was pretty nonsensical as that monitoring is there for a purpose.
    Certainly when applying for my first jobs in the 1970s I had to declare the names of the schools I attended, my nationality (it was pre Europe) and even sign an oath or declaration of allegiance.
    Perhaps understandable that the four young people did not know the significance of that….but an absolute disgrace that the older people there were nodding and voicing approval.
    incidently all four young people were from Catholic backgrounds.
    As I recall the loudest applause of the night was for the whole “79%” want integrated education. The audience loved that. But if Mary Dornan had actually pointed out her school in Cookstown was a polling station in March at an election (Mid Ulster) when only 1.3% of people voted for it.
    Of course the PFC websitetells us they have little support in places like Mid Ulster. Nevertheless that “1.3%” might have been mentioned to bring a bit of reality into the procedings.
    I left around 9.20pm. At that point Parental Choice was under attack…a pantomime villain.
    The words Catholic and Protestant were thrown about a lot but oddly the words “unionist” and “nationalist” were hardly mentioned…if at all.

    And thats odd…because frankly nobody in PFC really cares about “Catholic” schools …the real target is “nationalist” schools, the perception …a pretty accurate one…that Catholicschools “teach” a form of Nationalism/Republicanism.
    For which quite a lot of us are really quite grateful.

    by the way one of the two Vice Chairs of SDLP was in the audience and a slip of your keyboard, you moved “Holiday Inn ” from Ormeau Avenue to Ormeau Road.

  • Is the formula for Coherent Education along the following lines?

    Coherent Education (Integrated) + North of Ireland + Irish Children (Catholic) = Young British Unionists (Catholic)

    At least they should be honest about it and stop hiding behind the feel-good camouflage. Yet elsewhere in Slugger we are presented with the virtues of parallel education systems for the Danish minority in Germany and the German minority in Denmark.

    Odd that… 😉

  • That just about sums it up.
    If there was a Papal Bull tomorrow ( Laudabiliter Part 2) which compelled Catholics in Norn Iron to adopt British ways and Catholic schools to teach Britishness …then there would be no call for Integrated Education.
    We would have the homogenous society that Platform for Change craves..
    Its a dilemna for so called liberals in Norn Iron. How can you the have the British (English/Welsh) version of Diversity and preach a single (British) identity in Norn Iron.?

  • Newman

    Agree entirely..needs to be more honesty around the word ‘integrated’ A healthy and pluralist society allows for diversity of provision. Am more excited about concept of shared schooling which maintains ethos and respects difference but allows proper and healthy opportunities for interaction. When parental preference overridden by the liberal elite it’s time to end the game.

  • sonofstrongbow

    MOPE 101.

  • BluesJazz

    Do you think Belfast Metropolitan College (slight catholic majority) is ‘integrated’ ? Especially in its British catering and bricklaying ethos?
    Maybe its Sociology courses are a trap for luring good Catholic nationalists into a British marxist ideology?

  • Here’s a radical idea,
    Apparently parents are not equipped to make the right decisions regarding their preferred education choices for their children and lots of people, as per the above, all know that the integrated option is, of course, the way to go.
    So lets hear a convincing argument as to why? Please?

  • Does anyone know the percentages of children receiving their primary and secondary education at state schools versus private schools (i.e. public schools in British English) in the rest of the UK?

    In Israel this problem was dealt with by letting separate sectors set up their own educational “streams” with different curricula. Last time I checked there were five separate streams:
    1) state secular schools
    2) state labor schools (for supporters of socialist parties)
    3) ultra-Orthodox schools
    4) modern Orthodox/religious Zionist schools
    5) Arab schools.

    There is now a political fight over the ultra-Orthodox schools because the secular public wants to force them to teach math and science courses so that they will be employable in the private sector rather than remaining wards of the state with men spending their adult life studying scripture in religious seminars. Arab schools are required to teach both Hebrew and Arabic and Arab students study Jewish history as well as Arab history.

    In NI language isn’t an issue because I don’t know of any nationalists who grow up speaking exclusively Irish. But Israel does have the issue of dealing with religion at state-funded schools. It might be worthwhile to look at the experience of Israeli education with the same issues of separate antagonistic nationalisms and different religions that NI deals with. The place to start would be to look at what has been written about the issue by Israeli academics rather than by the government.

  • BluesJazz

    The state provides funding for secular schools and RC schools. Independent Christian schools receive nothing.
    Fair enough.
    But why no funding for Marxist schools???

    Why not adopt the FE college methodology of learning for the sake of it. Same as the OU : ”
    Learn and Live.
    If a school wants to have a weeping statue or blood steeping virgin at the reception then they deserve the same treatment as the Independent (FP) christian schools.
    And a big statement, ‘Scientific evidence and Evolution are wrong!’-Jesus told us so- at the door.

  • ‘And a big statement, ‘Scientific evidence and Evolution are wrong!’-Jesus told us so- at the door.’

    Because that, of course, is what RC Schools in NI teach, right? Funny, because I sat triple award science at GCSE together with a whole host of others at my grammar with more fellow students sitting science based subjects at A-Level than Arts, but hey, we must have been studying it to figure out how it was wrong, ay?

    BD, Seamas and FJH and a whole host of Nats know what this is really about, getting rid of schools that ‘“teach” a form of Nationalism/Republicanism’ or are at least sympathetic to these ideals, RC orders is the medium it is delivered via in the main though that is changing with Irish medium education where RC Orders are nowhere to be seen. I had even asked someone at some Integrated Education Organistaion what their stance on Irish Medium schooling was; they were perfectly comfortable with this where a group of parents had come together and showed that they wanted the choice to go with this.

    But also, I am struck by the rather delcious irony of the near religious like zealotry of some wanting rid of something that doesn’t conform with their own beliefs and ideology, in this instance parental choice being allowed to be used and the arguments of ‘why are my taxes paying for this stuff blah blah blah’.

  • Shared education systems are the norm across Europe where there are communities with differing (or competing) identities, from Belgium to Switzerland. In many regions of the Continent parallel but equal curricula exist reflecting and accommodating the reality of communal divisions on the ground.

    It is no coincidence that when the push for “integrated education” in the north-east of Ireland is challenged through quite legitimate questioning of the political agenda behind it the verbal response from Unionists is invariably laced with sectarian or racist language. The real policy becomes immediately obvious.

    Perhaps those who are supporting the campaign for “integrated education” might question why centre-left, secular (and indeed atheist) Irish Nationalists are opposing it and address their genuine concerns?

    As things stand it is hard to escape the conclusion that “educational integration” is anything other than code for “communal annexation”.

  • I also note that the word “segregated” was thrown around a lot on Monday night. Throwing up images of Alabama and Soweto.
    Education was never a Civil Rights (remember them) issue here and that surprises Americans who visit here. It had been a fundamental part of the American movement but as was noted on Monday night, many of Norn Irions Civil Rights leades came thru Catholic school system aided and abetted by Grammar Schools.
    Arguably the Orange State sewed the seeds of its own destruction thru Education policy.
    Indeed my own alma mater (the school that gave you Gerry Adams) noted a few weeks ago that new Mayor of Befast, Mairtin O’Muilleoir is also an “old boy”.
    The most interesting aspect of History as taught at that school in the 1960s was the parallel Timeline.
    That the Tudors had a parallel with Silken Thomas and Themmuns.
    That the Elizabethans had te O’Neills and O’Donnells.
    That the English Civil War had Drogheda etc.
    That the Glorious Revolution had The Wild Geese
    That the French Revolution had Tone
    That theFirst World War had the Easter Rising.

    Yes unionist and nationalist taxes paid for it. But is any unionist including the new letsgetalongerists really that bothered that their taxes paid for learning about the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit and the Gospel of St Luke.

    At best footnotes in “British history” but central in the History taught inWest Belfast, Armagh, Newry, Omagh and Derry.
    So Catholicism is hardly the issue for those who tell us they want to end the segregation because they are not exactly worked up about faith schools anywhere else. That would be Diversity and “good”.
    If these people want their integrated school …fine. But if you cant get the 60-40 viability test, dont come looking for me to make it easy for you by making integrated school the norm and a faith school the exception.
    Its a sham fight here. Many of us who support “Catholic” schools will happily admit that it is as much about preserving a Reublican and Nationalist heritage.
    The integrated lobby dare not say that many within their lobby are quite properly on principle opposed to Religion in schools but many are concerned by the politics (ie Republicanism) of it.

    To its credit Platform for Change does what it says on the tin. It promotes a raft of measures that makes Norn Iron more homogenous and de facto unionist.
    What it fails to recognise …publicly at least….is that there is no place for nationalism in a homogenous society (even one that talks Diversity out of one corner of its mouth).
    Nationalists simply wont sign away the Future.

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    Howdy. Interesting that you say (here and in previous posts) that it’s about keeping nationalist heritage to the fore (summarising, not quoting, please correct if need be) .

    If one listens to politicians like John Dallat SDLP we would be given the impression that it is solely down to the fine work of Catholic teachers through the decades.

    So, thanks for the honesty.

    That being said, the whole thing (us arguing about a workable future) is then pointless:

    Keeping the schools and therefore society divided just so that one half of the country/state/whatever can have a captive audience to ensure the preservation of something that ironically is feared by many hardline unionists as a ‘contagion’ (such is it’s natural appeal) is a tremendous price to pay and one that is levied in bloodshed.

    We all butt heads on this page about orange parades, loyalist parades, the GAA, the Irish language and interface areas.
    And this will always be the case as longs as our kids are raised separately.
    Doesn’t matter how well most of us raise our kids, the unforgivable truth is that there will always be an element who are as thick as pig shit and a segregated society brings out their worst side. Much better to have them befriend their equally thick and bitter opposite numbers on the other side of the fence and let their hoodlum tendencies bond them together rather than live apart and foster the a hatred to ‘themuns’.

    We all suspect that it would be more difficult for a 15 year old loyalist band member sing “what shall we do with the f****n b*****d?” on the bus back from a parade on a Thursday night in May if he has to sit down beside his Catholic schoolmate the next day.

    Same goes for hostility to the GAA and the Irish language, much more difficult to regard them as ghoulish instruments of ‘the kern’ if your mates in class are quite taken by them.

    Not likely to happen if Protestants aren’t allowed to grow up alongside Catholics and learn alongside them.

    In all honesty, I think that the hardline unionists would have more to fear from integration as they would have then lost the their fight to ‘shield’ their youth from ‘Gaelic subversion’.

    As you can imagine, going to a state school I was not exposed (or indeed ‘denied’ my birthright as an Irishman) to this ‘nationalism’.

    So what is it? What did I miss out on? And what would specially structured integrated system therefore be depriving our youth of? Gaelic lessons? Pretty sure we can find a way around that.

    Gaelic football? Surely the kids can have a choice?

    History? According to Prof Walker at QUB in his book ‘dancing to history’s tune’ kids in NI have one of the lowest rates of history studies in the UK, if not Europe. (the book was printed a while ago so the statistics may have changed somewhat in the past decade).
    Should we not all be reading off of the same hymn sheet anyway?
    I say force feed everyone Irish history to the point that they’re sick of it, a bit like the Irish language in Dublin (open to correction from any Dubs here, but that is my impression from living in Dublin for a while and meeting ye all in every possible corner of the globe…)

    You’re doing nationalism a disservice by (seemingly, please correct if necessary) suggesting that it needs to be buoyed by a divisive and harmful apartheid.
    Especially one that is not actually actively supported for it’s apparent reason d’etre: religion. (some one tell John Dallat)

    At least now that absolves me of any guilt I may have had about feeling like a bigot every time I attack the system; apparently Catholics don’t care about the Catholicism.

    If a new integrated system could be constructed that incorporated Gaelic sports, the Irish language and more Irish history would there be less support for the segregated system?

    I’d personally be well up for it, I’m baffled by my contemporaries in the Unionist community who see it as a threat.

    I consider myself as Irish as they come, yet I’m still a unionist.

  • Few points. I was at the event. Not entirely impressed either, but some interesting points of view, albeit from one specific school of thought (so to speak).

    I would say this – my education on Irish history in a majority Protestant grammar school did more to reinforce my political viewpoints as a ‘nationalist’ than perhaps a Catholic grammar might have. So, from my experience, I don’t necessarily believe that elements of ‘Irish’ culture or heritage would be lost in more religiously integrated schools. I believe it is a weak argument against integrated schooling, but I do get where FJH and co are coming from.

    My points boil down to these, and it would be interesting to get viewpoints from those opposed to less segregated schooling:

    – I do not believe that maintaining a system where schools are made up of 90% Catholic or Protestant pupils is socially sustainable for this place in the long run. It ingrains a division in our social consciousness (or sub-consciousness) during our most formative years that presents a severe threat to our ability to achieve a lasting peace and therefore prosperity for this place.

    – I do not believe that the state should be funding religious/ faith schools. That is a fundamental belief.

    – Finally, on selection rather than integration, the most important point made during the evening related to social mobility. It’s the silver bullet in the argument against selection at 11 and potentially grammar schools more generally. A few of our pupils are the best in the UK, but a heck of a lot of them are the worst. This trend generally sorts itself along social lines and, coupled with integration, this is a recipe for social disaster. Is there anyone who truly thinks that the benefits outweigh the costs in the current set-up?

  • ..force feed everyone Irish history..

    Maybe start by reading my brother’s first book, “Tyrone Triumphant” dealing with the events between the Elizabethans and the O’Neills aided and abetted by the O’Donnells. The book also contains a personal history of my brother titled “From Bigot to Ulster Scots”.
    It’s available from Amazon.co.uk

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    You know Mr Joe, I think I will.

  • Good man. My brother took a moratorium from his work to research and write the book. Took him about a year and he is now preparing a follow-up dealing with the flight of the Earls and the subsequent Plantation. He thinks that most people in N.I. have Scottish blood. Family research shows that, of our 4 great grandfathers, one was Welsh, two were Scottish and one was Irish. There are clues too that the Irish one was of Scots descent.

  • I have two children in Irish medium education for four main reasons – non-demoninational, bi-lingualism, not an indenti-kit 11+ factory, cultural heritage. The competitor in our heads was the integrated school and many of those in the Irish language pre-school move on to the integrated school if not going to the Bun Scoil.

    The debate on this page highlights brilliantly the dilemma and cause of the inertia in moving to a non-sectarian society. It’s largely self interest – through fear of the alternative. Very interesting that the high achievement of some in the current system is aspired to and viciously protected by those who have access to it – as opposed to an ambition that everyone have access to it. It looks like a zero sum game – if we move from the current system some people will lose out, probably “my people”. I don’t think this has to be the case, e.g. Most Scandanavian countries with a more equitable system of education and higher outcomes. Therefore our self interest is unfortunately unenlightened self interest – more like long-term self defeating, saying that it was hard-won.

    A shared education does not have to be a sanitised one but if we (each belief and political aspiration) had belief in our ideals then they should be able to stand being tested, challenged, and stretched when exposed to others. This goes for both unionism and nationalism. It’s in that exploration of the depth and values within them that new recruits to the cause will be found or something new and better can emerge.

    We just need to agree what that model looks like and that starts at the very start with an agreed take on what education is for and from there we can facilitate the choices that deliver it. Right now the debate is reactive. Has been for some time and that is why the integrated movement is making headway.

  • Scáth Shéamais

    We all suspect that it would be more difficult for a 15 year old loyalist band member sing “what shall we do with the f****n b*****d?” on the bus back from a parade on a Thursday night in May if he has to sit down beside his Catholic schoolmate the next day.

    I realise this is anecdotal but I have a few friends who went to integrated secondaries, and they’d all disagree strongly with that statement. It wasn’t just a case of it happening out on the streets but in the school itself. They all said it got especially bad around Poppy season when the ‘fenians’ were very easy to pick out.

  • It is anecdotal and remember we are barely through the first generation at Integrated Education. This is a longer term game than that. Exposing that behaviour in a school deserves a dialogue with the people doing it as to why, to what end and the consequences on them and their intended victims rather than be stifled and brushed away as if it is not latent.

  • We were told that the Peace Process would finally yield an Irish Language Act or Official Languages Act in the north of Ireland. Fifteen years later we are still waiting.

    We were told that the Unionist political establishment would accept full equality between the Nationalist and Unionist traditions in the north of Ireland. Several months of anti-democracy protests over the vote by Belfast City Council put paid to that myth.

    Now we are expected to believe that the Unionist establishment in the north-east will accept a “shared” education system blending elements of the Irish and British national curricula with regional elements? That there will be Irish language lessons in all schools, the availability of Gaelic games and history lessons on Ireland’s War of Independence and its democratic underpinnings?


  • BluesJazz

    “we are barely through the first generation at Integrated Education. ”


    Anyone who attended a ‘tech’ (now FE college) knows that they were/are very much integrated in every sense of the word. I’m lost as to how ‘British’ or ‘Irish’ they were/are.

  • BluesJazz,

    An excellent example. I wonder if it was because religious organizations were kept well away (I don’t know if that is true)?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Mr Joe – Looking forward to it

    Scáth Shéamais – I said “more difficult”, not “shall cease forthwith”. For every bigoted nut job you have in an integrated college think of how many there will be in the ‘rear echelon’ i.e. the non-integrated schools, which potentially serve as a ‘bigotry mothership’ for nutters who are in integrated schools.

    As for the middle of the road marching season bigots (such as my teenage self and my friends) we quite simply wouldn’t have had the stones to carry it through, integrated education should help prevent middle of the road types from choosing the wrong path. Not the full-on Lenny Murphy appreciation societies.

    Michael – It is indeed a longer game than that, you are spot on

    An Sionnach Fionn – Not sure if you’ve made that statement on my comments alone so I’ll reserve my response for later, all I’ll reiterate for now is ” I think that the hardline unionists would have more to fear from integration as they would have then lost the their fight to ‘shield’ their youth from ‘Gaelic subversion’.”

  • IJP

    I’m glad I didn’t bother.

    It’s hard to get the right answer if you don’t ask the right question. Among all this stuff about segregation, social mobility and so on, no one actually asks what the purpose of the education system is.

    Currently, it is not fit for purpose – turning out too many doctors, lawyers, public-sector accountants and teachers (all of whom are paid entirely or almost entirely from the public purse, by the way), and too few entrepreneurs and engineers.

    You can discuss all you want, but until you throw that obvious point into the ring, you’ll be going around in circles because you haven’t even decided what outcome you want!

  • IJP,

    I couldn’t agree more re the purpose of any edcucation system being where we should start in any discussion. My only point of concern would be that (it appears to me) you have decided to pick ‘winners’ with engineers etc. For instance, if every country decides to churn out more and more engineers as proposed then we run the same problem as we have now with teachers and lawyers (I am one of the latter btw in gainful employment), so yes, this should be the starting point for any discussion IMHO

  • BluesJazz

    Are you including the FE sector there?

    The grammars are producing people for university-*whatever*- the viability of employment.

    The ‘secondary’ schools are providing either dole fodder or candidates for FE.
    Nobody wants to deal with the reality that Stranmillis and St Mary’s are no longer fit for purpose. 5% employment rates.

    And George Osborne has now set the public sector at low level pay for decades. For new entrants at least. NI is a ‘public sector economy’ .
    That means we’re becoming poorer. Relatively speaking of course. But the consequences will be grim.

  • Starviking


    Anyone who attended a ‘tech’ (now FE college) knows that they were/are very much integrated in every sense of the word. I’m lost as to how ‘British’ or ‘Irish’ they were/are.

    Indeed! Coming from a CBS education, I decided to repeat at a local Tech. Before then the only Protestants/Unionists I knew were neighbours, and I was terrified of what I would encounter – especially as my first name was very ‘Irish’. After getting over the stress of introducing myself to my classmates I settled into one of the most, if not THE most, integrated and relaxed environments I have ever experienced in my life. I miss those days.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Mr Joe “He thinks that most people in N.I. have Scottish blood…”

    Hard not to agree with that one off the bat.

    Makes sense though, plantation, Mcdonnells and Gallowglasses aside, it was the easiest place to get to/from coastal Ulster till the iron horse came along.

    In the battleground of school history at an integrated level, that is something I’d like to see explored more closely, the Scottish – Irish Gaelic historical overlap.

    Unfortunately, the Ulster Scots movements at the moment seem to be doing their best to pin Ulster flags and Union Flags to any ‘Ulster Scots’ events thereby making it unattractive to anyone of Scots descent that manybe isn’t enamored with ‘Britishness’.

    But, if some one could find a way of bringing a history of shared Scottish & Irish Gaelic culture into the classroom then that would be spiffing. Certainly much better than learning about the plague and Great fire of London or whatever they teach at GCSE (I hold up my ignorant hands on that one).

  • Three of us have now posed the question: what do we want from our education system?

    I think the first priority is to fulfil a childs potential (in whatever they are interested in or excel in)
    A second outcome is to prepare a child for productive life in society (i.e. being a responsible, curious, healthy, and helpful citizen who knows how to meet their needs)
    A third priority is to provide them with a self confidence to be able to carry their role in society
    A fourth is to offer them options to establish a base for a working life (academic, vocational, professional, sporting, arts, political, public service etc.)
    A fifth is to teach them how to question everything (including the first four)

  • BluesJazz – I understand what you are saying about FE colleges. It is likely they helped some people overcome fears of the other side. Still, the big majority of pupils were still going through the segregated system (all of them until age 16, and most after that).

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Michael and Bluesjazz

    You both have points, I can only give anecdotal accounts too; by the time I got to the FE college I found that the damage was done so to speak.

    I had nothing in common with the Catholic lads. We could have a civil conversation with them but never mixed. They had their own social groups and all their chat about GAA and wot not was just greek to me.

    On the other hand my former class mates who studied business (?) seemed to have more success at mixing. Marginally. I suppose having girls in your class helps though…

  • Barnshee

    “A coherent if one-sided Platform for Change discussion about education”

    “One sided— “sure — all ?? of them funded by the taxpayer what a surprise

  • IJP

    At risk of being a bit harsh, I suspect footballcliches, BluesJazz and particularly Michael have contributed more to a coherent debate on education than was the case in the entirety of Monday night.

    Re footballcliches, the recent successes of Wrightbus and (locally) Bombardier show there is still a role for engineers – yet visit Bombardier in particular and you’ll find they’re by no means all local. But that’s not really my point – my point is in terms of the vocations our entire system is aimed at separating a professional class from the rest, but not producing any wealth creators at all to pay for that professional class. It’s nuts, when you think about it.

    That said, I fully subscribe to Michael‘s excellent set of core objectives which go well beyond the vocations. I particularly like the last one – too many people emerging from “education” emerge unable to assess information properly. Information assessment – i.e. the ability to detect whether information is useful and/or accurate – is perhaps the key skill of the Internet age, yet too many of our young people lack it. As a result, unscrupulous financiers, politicians and others are able to shaft a great bulk of the population almost at will.

    I would just slightly amend BluesJazz‘s point. In terms of actual productivity and economic contribution, NI isn’t getting any poorer. The whole thing is an illusion, from an apparently “rich” period from about 1997 to 2007 when in fact we became wholly reliant on wild public spending levels (including salaries) and lunatic property prices against which to borrow money. With public sector salaries already 43% higher than private sector salaries (truly crazy stuff, as public sector salaries are paid from private sector tax take), stopping increments will serve to remind us how rich/poor we really are – which will be no bad thing. Sure, it might even mean we can have a real debate about education…!

    Thanks for those highly thoughtful responses.

  • IJP,

    ‘the recent successes of Wrightbus and (locally) Bombardier show there is still a role for engineers – yet visit Bombardier in particular and you’ll find they’re by no means all local. But that’s not really my point – my point is in terms of the vocations our entire system is aimed at separating a professional class from the rest, but not producing any wealth creators at all to pay for that professional class. It’s nuts, when you think about it.’

    Oh, you won’t find me questioning having more engineers about the place, what I’m afraid of is selecting winners in such a way where we have far too many and this leads to having too few of other required qualified people in other roles. No system will ever be perfect, there will always be a dearth of some roles and far too many of another that needs to be filled, further I am not against some learning for the sake of it at some stage in someone’s life (these people do have a value in any society) but what I am more interested in seeing is something a bit more joined up between schools, businesses and tertiary establishments much like in Germany or Austria with Mittelstands for instance. This could require a large overhaul of the system or maybe not, I do not run education and library board so I don’t know but I would like to see something put in place where we can raise the standard and role of engineer and engineer vocational roles that add value and quality to what is designed and produced here. It’ll bring in more money, create better paying jobs and hopefully lead to more sustainable growth.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Excellent posting footballcliches. Canny Bombardier are employing “by no means all local” talent because they need real skills that Shorts nourished, but which have begun to dramatically ebb locally with the drive to well paid scrounging from public coffers that the Peace Process® has required of the educated.

    And would they be here for a second longer than the overt and covert favours and financial support lasts?

  • Barnshee

    ” A few of our pupils are the best in the UK, but a heck of a lot of them are the worst.”

    Why not recognise these as facts of life?

    I never tired of pointing out to parents who complained about children’s “underachievement” (with the almost unspoken allegation of teacher failure) by pointing at the number of children, in the same group,taught the same curriculum, by the same teachers-who had performed well.

    Pupils are in school for some 15% of their time . Might not the reasons for “failures” be attributable elsewhere

    The Home/parental support?
    or (very unfashionable) Individual ability,focus, hard work?

  • Thanks for the compliment paid Seaan,

    I remember about 14 years ago there was something called the Engineering Education scheme where schools were partnered with a local company to try and have a go at solving a problem that plagued them, usually something minor, but it gave pupils a chance to call to a factory, deal with a senior engineer and a trainee on his year secondment and together you tried to piece together a solution. Is this still about? Is there anything else on the go like this?

    As for a drive to scrounge from public coffers on the part of graduates, tbf I think that’s insanely harsh. I just think engineering and other professions related to it are suffering from a lack of promotion and chance to succeed.

    Anecdotal at best but my friend is a trained engineer (quite afew in my extended family are also including one from Holywood) and his major gripe is that there is not much by way of interesting work for engineers available in the UK so you’re best to go off to the Middle East or Aus for instance. Perhaps this is one of many reasons that people stay away from it nowadays, but only one. It could also be how it’s taught or as Barnshee noted, maybe it’s the kid?

  • Barnshee

    you make a valid point but I think coming from a different perspective to me. I’m sure you didn’t mean to sound like a Daily Mail columnist, however a schools based approach to raising aspiration and achievement is merely one piece in the jigsaw. Poverty is the biggest factor and like it or not we are just being kept out of dire poverty by a massively distorted public sector.

    Therefore health outcomes (including mental health, substance misuse, life expectancy, morbidity), financial well being, civic engagement, participation in arts and culture, are all aspects of deprivation. We call it multiple deprivation in NI and despite our obvious expertise in measuring it down to the neighbourhood level, we are just useless at making an impact.

    25 years of big grants, Neighbourhood Renewal, massive urban regeneration, community development and we are no further into tackling the systemic presence of these issues.

    Too much of the system needs to be changed and NI just doesn’t have the ability to get the “tipping point” of people in leadership positions to change the way they do stuff.

    So I agree the issue of educational achievement should not be isolated from all the other stuff going on in people’s deprived lives, and indeed the conversation about education has to at some stage understand this wider context and have leaders acknowledge that its all part of the same story of mediocrity.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Hi Footballcliches, yes I agree at all points with you. And yes, its harsh to accuse the graduates of scrounging from public coffers, I agree, when there’s little else for them to do. But its what’s happening. I’d only wish that there had been an attempt to develop a real economy while we were rich in skills that had grown over a century where a quick intelligent work force developed their native intelligence through engineering, and could compete with the world before the 1960s ruined it all well before any hint of the troubles.

    I’m really bitching about the drive to white collar employment end funded by money from Westminister.

  • FuturePhysicist

    There’s three bits of glorious historical irony around the notion of indoctrinating unionism by removing Catholic schools, one that tithes and recusancy against people from a Catholic background actually spurred Nationalism from across religious backgrounds against discrimination, also Cromwell’s “Liberal Secular” Republicanism was brought by the Sword and Deaths in the name of anti-Papacy, did nothing more than boost Home Rule/Land League, thirdly the Union itself was a product of the Catholic Emancipation to encourage the Catholics to be Unionist but had failed in spirit to maintain the mixed marriage, And fourthly the fact is in the Republic there is parental demand for state schools and a government program to get them where they are wanted, and after the child sex coverup scandals their appeal has wained. The idea that Catholic schools are a bastion of Irish Nationalism and destroying them will preserve the Union goes against the dynamics of history and the social dynamics of modern Ireland.

    Is Arlene Foster the only Unionist smart enough to realise that trying to give carrots to Catholic parents and indeed the Catholic Controlled Sector would be a better way of preserving the Union and indeed a Christian democratic ethos that the DUP stand for while at the same time letting those disaffected by the Catholic schools help convert Protestant schools to integrated ones.

  • FuturePhysicist

    The lack of strong push back – or even representation – around the existing education system from the pro-grammar, pro-CCMS or pro-selection lobby reduced the potential conflict and certainly allowed the ideas and alternative models around sharing and integration to better develop. But the lack of challenge also diminished the complexity of the arguments and made it all seem far too straightforward.

    Well the fact is that there are four major problems with the argument that Catholic education is the enemy of the Union from history and today … 1. Tithes and Recusancy were tried against Catholic institutions in the name of the Crown and it failed promoting Irish Nationalism 2. The Destruction of Catholic Rescusants under Cromwell was tried and it failed promoting Irish nationalism 3. In fact the Catholic Emancipation was vital to the creation of the Union, had at least brought stability between the Isles 4. Parental Demand is closing down Catholic schools in the Republic but opening Faith Schools in England, logistically it might easier to reunite Ireland through integrated schools than by being tolerant to Catholic ones.