Record numbers take entrance exams to Catholic Grammar schools…

Simon Doyle in the Irish News today notes two interesting facts regarding selective education in Northern Ireland. One is that five years after a state run and funded 11+ the number of entrants is rising annually; by ten per cent since they were first introduced.

And the other is a recognition by the current Education Minister, John O’Dowd, that he does not have “the power to bring it to an end..” He called instead for more lobbying, “those opposed must act and act now, not in favour of my policy but in favour of their own.”

That sounds suspiciously like “I haven’t got a policy…” Although it would be accurate to suggest that in fact Mr O’Dowd’s predecessor took on a fight she had no means to win

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  • Charles_Gould

    There are not specific entrance exams to Catholic grammar schools. There are indeed two sets of tests, but neither of them is used exclusively by Catholic Grammars, the one the Catholic Grammars use is also used by a number of the multi-denominational Grammars.

    The Catholic sector is planning a switch away from selection and Loreto School Coleraine has already done so.

  • Charles_Gould

    Abbey CS Grammar in Newry has also announced that it is to move away from academic selection with a first step in which it will use academic selection for only 75% of pupils, and then in the fullness of time this number would fall further.

  • Loreto’s interest may be more one of survival and not supported by everyone http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-24903523

  • Charles_Gould

    thedissenter

    Those children going to Loreto on free buses deserve to be supported. Loreto should not be punished by having free bus passes removed because it has removed academic selection.

  • Reader

    Charles_Gould: Abbey CS Grammar in Newry has also announced that it is to move away from academic selection with a first step in which it will use academic selection for only 75% of pupils, and then in the fullness of time this number would fall further.
    According to their prospectus they are taking so many Cs and Ds that they might as well be doing that already.

  • Neil

    If there’s any kind of point in abolishing academic selection then no college is at any disadvantage if being encouraged to take local pupils. Surely that’s the whole idea.

  • Charles_Gould

    Reader

    I think that the Catholic Church should begin with Newry and Derry and convert all the schools in Newry gradually to all ability status. In the first year they can make the schools 75% selective, then in the second year the figure can fall by 10% with a phased reduction taking then 8 years to work through. The reason to select those areas is that they are border areas and across the border schools are all-ability, so the parents aren’t likely to send their children elsewhere in response to this change. Then monitoring this they can move on to the Belfast grammars.

  • Charles_Gould

    “If there’s any kind of point in abolishing academic selection then no college is at any disadvantage if being encouraged to take local pupils. Surely that’s the whole idea.”

    It seems harsh to Loreto that its free bus passes be taken away for children from Limavady. Loreto College should not be punished (in terms of free bus passes) for moving to become a comprehensive school with an all ability intake.

  • Neil

    If one seeks to remove academic selection then what type of selection will be used for ‘mixed ability’? Geographic proximity would be preferable to myself. Loretto has just over 800 pupils, i.e. 105 students per year average, call it 120 to make up for the half of people who don’t do A levels.

    Coleraine has 60,000 people living in it. If they seek to remove academic selection a good start might be to take on pupils from Coleraine and leave the Limavady students to a Limavady school, Christ knows there should be enough locals looking in.

  • Charles_Gould

    Neil

    What you say is logical. I think the Church needs now to apply some pressure on the schools to move to all ability status.

  • Reader

    Charles_Gould: The reason to select those areas is that they are border areas and across the border schools are all-ability, so the parents aren’t likely to send their children elsewhere in response to this change.
    Plus, there’s a shortage of Voluntary and Controlled Grammars in those areas, to soak up the families who still want to avail of selection. Your plan actually comes crashing down once you try to apply it in an area with too many Prods. Suddenly people have to decide whether the Maintained school ethos is more important to them than selection.

  • Charles_Gould

    Reader

    The example of Loreto suggests that fear may be overdone.

    I think the Catholic Church will have to go with its principles and convert all its schools to all ability. If some parents go elsewhere so be it. The Catholic Church has made it clear it thinks selection is totally immoral so it cannot continue with academic selection even in areas like Belfast etc.

  • sean treacy

    Charles,why do you claim to be against academic selection and yet support the SDLP whose deputy leader last week slammed SF for their “hatred of grammar schools”and labelled their anti selection policy as”class warfare”.

  • Charles_Gould

    Sean
    SDLP is against academic selection.

  • sean treacy

    Charles,is Dolores Kelly against academic selection? Her comments seem to suggest otherwise.

  • socaire

    Charles, aside fom the SDLP partispeak, you sometimes have an odd sensible post but your stammering posts are very irritating. Collect your thoughts in one post please.

  • New Yorker

    How can selection be immoral when by nature some students are better than others. What is natural cannot be immoral.

  • Reader

    Charles_Gould: I think the Catholic Church will have to go with its principles and convert all its schools to all ability. If some parents go elsewhere so be it. The Catholic Church has made it clear it thinks selection is totally immoral so it cannot continue with academic selection even in areas like Belfast etc.
    Somewhere in your comment above is a gap between word and deed. Either the CC doesn’t have the control over the School Governors that you imagine, or they aren’t pushing very hard to implement their stated policy. I suspect a little bit of both. What’s your theory, and what’s your solution?

  • Charles_Gould

    Reader
    My view is that they have control over school governors (in that they could withdraw support for the school if they wanted) and so they could bring about this change. This is what they will have to do in all honour, if as they say they think that it is morally wrong to select on academic ability.

  • Mick Fealty

    They don’t Charles. The church is against all manner of things that its adherents don’t follow. The Catholic Principals Association did a survey of their members which reveals concerns that parents are the driver for selection.

    It also reveals concerns amongst 43% of heads that removing selection would encourage parents to abandon the Catholic system.

    The shadow boxing over selection is just posturing. It’s ended in a dead end and has left everything up to those responsible for delivering education.

    No one in politics is actually playing an active never mind proactive role in developing interventions to tackle underachievement at the lower end.

  • Charles_Gould

    Mick
    So the Catholic Church could not sever links with schools that did not comply?

  • Mick Fealty

    It could, but it won’t. What does it stand to gain from cutting free from its own estate it highest performing schools, in order to adopt a change which has no ministerial re-enforcement?

  • Charles_Gould

    Mick

    It is on record as saying that selection is fundamentally against its principles. It could apply more pressure than it does, I suspect. There are threats short of cutting free, I suspect. My charge against the Church here is that they aren’t really living up to their words-there are cities and towns that could be transferred to all ability status such as Newry or Derry where the out-leakage would be minimal because there are too few nondenominational grammars to cause a threat.

  • Newman

    Academic selection may be good or bad and various Bishops may wish it away, but it is not part of canon law or catholic teaching..if it was we would need to see Downside Ampleforth and Sedburgh amongst others close in the morning along with Blackrock and the private system in the south.There is an honest disagreement in the catholic world on the issue and this is not the time to implement the belt of the crozier. A more mature and wide ranging debate does need to take place but a one size fits all approach ideologically driven is not a panacea

  • Charles_Gould

    Newman
    The bishops have issued a plan under which all schools are to become all ability in NI.

  • Mick Fealty

    Charles,

    Did you even read Newman’s comments? [This is site is for conversation, rather than flying pickets; cards will follow…]

  • Pete Baker

    Mick

    “The Catholic Principals Association did a survey of their members which reveals concerns that parents are the driver for selection.”

    Well, yes. But despite the widespread coverage of those figures, and the multiple appearances of the anti-selection Bishop McKeown, there’s an important caveat to that survey.

    In a Catholic Principals Association survey, 63% of those who responded agreed failure to end selection would have adverse consequences.

    Of the 400 principals written to, 112, or 28%, responded. [added emphasis]

  • Charles_Gould

    Peter

    Am i to infer you think that the 28% who responded were not Heads of Catholic Grammar schools?

  • caseydog

    The survey by the Catholic Principals Association(CPA) gives us an important insight into the thinking of school principals, and the response rate of 28% is comparable to other government consultations. Principals believe that academic selection is fundamentally wrong, and that the system has outlived its relevance, reliability and suitability but feel that they are under pressure to prepare children for the test. This pressure comes from a minority of parents; but the threat that these parents may withdraw their children from their school is enough to ensure that they provide coaching for the tests.

    They also feel let down by the Bishops. They feel that selection effectively undermines catholic teaching and church teaching on education, and that the pace of change in implementing the Bishop’s policy in not acceptable: the Bishops are unduly deferential to the grammar schools.

    The responsibility for dealing with this mess lies with the Bishops, but few people believe that they will intervene.Commitment to social justice and equality were never strong attributes of these men.

  • Charles_Gould

    caseydog

    Excellent post.

    Do you agree with me that the Church could press the schools more, if they were really committed to what they say about the wrongs of selection?

  • caseydog

    Yes, Charles. The Bishops are claiming that their influence is now so diminished that they cannot press the grammar schools to change. Others believe that the Bishops lack commitment to the change that they themselves have flagged up. I think it is the latter.

    Most of those Bishops are Chairs of Governors of Diocesan grammar schools. Have they ensured that their own statements on ending selection have been tabled for discussion at these BOG meetings?

    My guess is that they have not been tabled.

    But maybe an enterprising journalist could investigate? A job for ‘The Detail’ ?

  • Coll Ciotach

    the Church is not a democracy and will force no one, they will quite rightly try to convince and will accommodate those who feel different. And that is the correct way to proceed.

    There is already a Catholic Grammar, St MacNissis, which has changed to a comprehensive school. Renamed St Killians it serves the east Antrim coastal region.

    Strangely the concept of all abilities together is not applied – the children are streamed according to ability.

    You have your choice, either stream them before transfer or after, but streamed they quite rightly will be.

    It is all a facade, I believe it is more about rationalisation of the school estate which drives this policy from all concerned.

    Pity the parents won’t play ball, tsssk, pesky parents.

  • antamadan

    I don’t know why the southern system isn’t highlighted more as something to aim for. Students/parents decide which schools to go to e.g. historically academic or newer technical-now-Community Schools. Academically challenged kids don’t want to go to particularly academic schools, so 80% of problems sort themselves out.

    Then, within the ‘academic schools’, some choose to stream students (academic selection), while others don’t. However, there is a higher/honours and ‘ordinary’/pass level exam at Leaving Certificate/A levels for all subjects, and for maths english and irish at junior certificate/o levels. The teachers advise the students if they might be in danger of failing the higher level exam, and the students are more than keen to move into the ‘ordinary level’/generally called pass.

    The system works. It’s voluntary and most studnets CHOOSE to do the higher/honours syllabus/class and exam for some subjects; while the bright kids to he higher syllabus for all subjects.

    I can’t remember much controversy. The system selects by ability slowly over time, and voluntarily; not at a young age and for ever.

  • antamadan

    Typo: I meant in the bulk of the schools (academic focused), there are classes doing the higher syllabus and classes doing the lower syllabus for various subjects.
    Some weak students choose to do the lower syllabus and go into that class for all subjects.
    Strong students choose the higher syllabus and go into the classes following the higher syllabus for all subjects.
    Other-AND THIS IS THE KEY POINT- choose to do some higher syllabus subjects and some lower syllabus. If they find that they are not enjoying/not able for the higher syllabus, and the teachers advise that they are in danger of failing same, they (with parents advice), choose to move into the lower syllabus class WITHIN THE SAME SCHOOL. There are more subjects in the south at A level/Leaving Cert, so mediocre students could still be in the higher class for Art or whatever subjects they are good at.

  • Mick Fealty

    Coll/AntA..

    Good to see some actual education issues and some experience raised for a change… It’s worth putting in a word for the historic role of the VECs (abolished this year) which established and ran a whole class of vocational or trade schools…

    These used to run local, very small scale tech schools, but in later years set up the regional technical colleges as centres of excellence, with the minimum of fuss and nonsense. For me it’s part of a general ‘British disease’ A, to site controversial social engineering projects in education, and B, to underinvest in non academic forms of education.

    In England Comprehensives stream (which you could call internal selection), and stream rigorously (in some cases rigidly) from age nine onwards… Social class of the area is a huge factor in overall school performance…

    Grammars are either private (eg Manchester) or exist in LEAs which did not convert. Where they exist the exert a great pull on the cream of academic achievers, and skew the intake of local comps.

    We are currently enjoying the worst/best of both worlds…

  • Coll Ciotach

    There is too much political interference and ideology in education. Personally I believe that the state should only be involved as far as funding and setting minimum requirements, I believe in the personal freedom of parents to decide the system of schooling for their children, if bishops or politicos believe different let them persuade.

  • “There is too much political interference and ideology in education.”

    Coll Ciotach, schools in receipt of public funds are bound by the terms of the ICO Model Publication Scheme.

    So far as reasonably practicable, they must publish [releasable information] in an electronic form that is capable of re-use. .. Any major proposals for the future of the school involving, for example, consultation on a change in school status. .. Minutes, agendas and papers considered at such [Board of Governors] meetings should be published as soon as practicable, with the exception of information that is properly considered to be private to the meeting.

    The Catholic Principals Association is a lobby group and any survey carried out by a lobby group ought to be taken with a pinch of salt. There’s no mention of the above survey on its website, let alone a detailed report, including a list of the questions asked.

  • “Good to see some actual education issues and some experience raised for a change…”

    Mick, issues around the Coleraine Area Plan were posted on Slugger back in June and, around the same time, the fate of the Causeway School Museum, a facility that helped deliver part of the primary school curriculum across all sectors as well as some schools across the border.

    The current NEELB area plan fails to fulfil the collective strategic task set by the Minister; it merely produces a plan for the two schools it controls viz Coleraine College and Coleraine High School. The Catholic school sector disappeared from the shared process very early on; the integrated school more recently; Coleraine Academical Institution appears to be maintaining an arms-length relationship; and the Northern Regional College appears to have been overlooked.

    Why has the Education minister permitted such a failure to persist? Will he be presented with an area plan which is little more than a series of plans stitched together and which may have been compromised by commitments given to Coleraine Borough Council and/or the Department for Social Development? Why does he support segregation by religious affiliation but oppose segregation by academic ability?

  • OOPs – link to Causeway School Museum story. Both stories put a question mark over the ability of NEELB members to scrutinise official reports and to ensure that the terms of the Model Publication Scheme are adhered to. Other guardians of the public interest in the education realm perhaps could also greatly enhance the quality of governance.

  • Coll Ciotach

    Nevin- i fear I missed the point of your post regarding the ICO model scheme and the Catholic Principles Association in relation to too much political interference. Why would the Cathoic Principles Association publish information which is not theirs to publish?

  • caseydog

    Nevin: you are incorrect to state that there is no mention of the Catholic Principals Association survey on its website – look in the Members section (which is open) and you will see a link to the questionnaire in the letter about the Conference. Since the results were only released at their Conference last Friday I expect it will take more time for a detailed report to be published. The fact that the survey was open to all primary principals gives it credibility, and it cannot be easily dismissed.

    Although you are right that the survey showed that 43% felt that there would be a drift to voluntary and other grammars in other secrets if they abandon selection, 66% felt that any drift away must not a deterrent to abandonment of academic selection. Over 90% of respondents believe that the Catholic school system would not suffer irreparable damage if selection is abandoned.

    I think that the survey indicates that there is considerable unease in the catholic school sector, and a dismay at the lack of leadership by the Bishops, who appear to think that they can sit tight and it will all blow over.

    I’m told that the attendance at the CPA Conference was the highest ever, and that the troops are getting more impatient.

  • Seamuscamp

    Mick

    My grammar school (Barrack Street in 40’s and 50’s) had streaming. My children’s grammar school (York in 70’s) had streaming; and streaming continued when it amalgamated with an intermediate to become a comprehensive. Streaming of itself isn’t as judgemental as selection as it can allow individuals to change streams and to follow streams that reflect their personal strengths. (My son was in the top steam for mathematics, the C stream for French and the lowest stream for music). Note I said “can allow”. It all depends on the individual school and its management.

    Charles G

    You have an outsider’s belief in the role and powers of bishops and of the Church. Do you watch QI?

    Caseydog

    “They feel that selection effectively undermines catholic teaching and church teaching on education”
    There is no way of knowing whether a responding 28% is representative other than of themselves – particularly when details of the poll question are unknown. They may believe that selection undermines church teaching on education, but that doesn’t of necessity make it so.
    I happen to believe that selection is wrong in principle but I don’t think it a question of church teaching. Were it so, the Catholic Grammars could not rationally claim a Catholic ethos.

    I remember debating the essence of Catholic education with a monk from Ampleforth; the best he could offer was “the rich also deserve to be educated”. As if the rationale of public schools was education!. Catholic “public” schools – now there is a scandal.

  • caseydog

    Seamus : I agree with you that selection is wrong in principle, and it is irrelevant whether it is against church teaching. All I am doing is reporting the outcomes of the survey, which indicates dissatisfaction and unrest within the largest school system in the North.

  • caseydog, thanks for pointing me in the direction of the members section. I expected to see a link to the survey as well as at least an outline of the results in the News section ie somewhere where parents and other interested folks would expect to find them. This would also be more illuminating than a few figures picked up by journalists.

    “Immediate access to local, high quality, all-ability provision in a single school in the community, is a basic and inalienable right as well as an urgent need of all parents of all post-primary pupils in Northern Ireland.” .. Michéle Corkey.

    And yet the CPA is insisting on a Catholic school in the community. Surely in communities such as Ballycastle a post-primary school irrespective of creed and class would be of more benefit to children; ditto for a single primary school in Armoy.

  • “i fear I missed the point of your post regarding the ICO model scheme and the Catholic Principles Association in relation to too much political interference.”

    Coll Ciotach, the CPA link related just to ideology.

    It’s very difficult to find out how political decisions are being taken and influenced because of the failure of Boards of Governors, Education and Library Boards and others to publish informative agendas, minutes and reports.

  • Seamuscamp

    Caseydog

    I don’t doubt there is a substantial body of educational professionals who would agree with us in principle. Whether they are the majority is a moot point – a 70+% non-response suggests an unillingness to put heads above the parapet. As a professional statistician I would have regarded the poll as a starting point from which to explore rather than a conclusive answer.

    A further important point is whether the CPA, a vested interest, should have a greater say than elected politicians and parents and pupils. “Too much political interference” seems to be the inverse of what we actually have.The reason for political reluctance is obvious – fear of a voter backlash. The only active promotion of change seems to come from the NIAP ever-futile advocacy of integration as a solution to society’s other ills.

  • PACE Parent

    PACE have abstained from contributing to Slugger on education matters for quite some time because of the sterility of contributions. Parents have moved on. Academic selection at 11 via a transfer test is safely in the hands of the private sector. Getting rid of AQE’s political spies is well in hand.
    There are two points PACE wish to make now.
    (1) Auxillary Bishop Donal McKeown is a former principal of St Malachy’s College, Belfast. Donal is steadfast in his refusal to say when he changed his mind on academic selection. It is not only Stormont politicians who practice hypocricy.

    (2) On December 3rd The OECD Pisa rankings were published and immediately cited by the local lazy, innumerate journalists in the form desired by Pisa’s Andreas Schleicher and their UK agents, NFER. (Nfer were responsible for the CCEA transfer test now replaced by the superior and more popular AQE test)

    A crude, frenzied but wrong attempt was made by the media and latterly John O’Dowd to associate grammar schools and academic selection with a “poor result” for Northern Ireland.

    The Pisa rankings have been exposed by various academics as based on a conceptually flawed model known as the Rasch model. The rankings are useless and wrong.

    David Spiegelhalter, Cambridge University Winton professor for the public understanding of risk, has made it clear that Pisa rankings are unreliable. See his blog to read the full expose. He previously hosted a BBC Radio 4 programme, Pisa, Global Education Tables Tested. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03j9mx2

    If a contributor on Slugger, which includes many of the above cited journalists have a reply, based on the mathematical argument, they should publish it or otherwise refuse to willingly act as agents for the ideologically insane.

    On December 10, 2103 the Minister of Education went even further with his anti-grammar self assessment via the OECD report he commissioned and had available to him in April via a press release. which deliberately did not contain a link to the OECD reports.

    http://www.deni.gov.uk/news/news-de-101213-oecd-report-affirms.htm
    He will no doubt be kept busy over Christmas writing his note to Santa asking for answers to the AQWs Jim Allister has placed seeking verification of his proposterous claims.

  • Barney

    Pace parent wrote
    “Academic selection at 11 via a transfer test is safely in the hands of the private sector.”

    And funding for these discriminatory schools is safely in the hands of the public. If you want discrimination in education pay for it, don’t sponge off the state.

    Parents may be opting for discrimination in education but parents also opt for Xbox, playstations and designer goods, it’s called marketing. When Tobacco advertising was removed the numbers opting to smoke fell, these tests are nothing but a marketing device.

  • Barnshee

    ” If you want discrimination in education pay for it, don’t sponge off the state.”

    But make sure that the Roman Catholic sector is fully protected and separate and continue to keep the jobs in it exclusive to the roman catholic community. (It also helps to preserve its all the brits /jaffa fault agenda)

  • Barney

    Barnshee wrote
    “But make sure that the Roman Catholic sector is fully protected and separate and continue to keep the jobs in it exclusive to the roman catholic community. (It also helps to preserve its all the brits /jaffa fault agenda)”

    Where did I write anything about the Catholic sector?
    Where did I write anything about “the Brits” or Jaffa what Israel has to do with this I really dont know.

    I simply pointed out that grammar schools expect to be treated differently yet want funded the same as ordinary non discriminatory schools.

    If you want to separate yourself from the mainstream thats fine just dont sponge off the state, it really is a very simple concept.