South and East Belfast Sinn Féin -- Building an Ireland of Equals

Grammar school lobby holding onto an unjust system (November 2009)

Last weekend saw the second of a series of unregulated private admission tests for eleven year old children in which their future admission to certain schools is based. The pressure heaped upon these children at such a young age is abuse. To brand a child a failure at this age can damage a child's self esteem, confidence and create problems for them by not allowing them to fulfill their full potential.

Much has been made in the media of those pupils who will be sitting the tests, I wish them all well and hope they understand that they are unique valued individuals regardless of what their test results are.

I would also like to pay tribute to the silent majority, the pupils who will not be sitting a test, who will transferring into a Post primary school which teaches the exact same curriculum as Grammar and offers access to the same level of qualifications as grammar schools.

These pupils too deserve our attention and regard as they prepare for the next chapter in their academic and vocational lives.

Those who argue that our current system produces results are correct in that a small minority achieve high grades by getting selected at eleven. By continuing this system we are maintaining a two-tier system where thousands of young adults leave school without the basic qualifications.

Many people have gone on from not achieving a pass in the eleven plus to great success and this actually proves our children develop at different levels and should not be subject to educational apartheid.

Abolishing selection at eleven will not degrade academic achievement but will allow all our children to chance to reach these higher levels. The standard of teachers, the ability of pupils and the basic infrastructure will not have changed. In fact, under the guidance of Sinn Féin Education Ministers, the school estate has been improved considerably creating schools fit for the 21st century.

With the focus totally on academic selection much of the other positive additions to our education system have been either ignored or not given the same media profile. As Minister, Caitriona Ruane has introduced major changes that will benefit all our children.

The revised primary school criterion allows teachers to focus on teaching our children the fundamental basis of a good education. The curriculum based on reading, writing and arithmetic allows this development without the pressures of having mock testing foisted upon the children.

Under the reforms the transfer to post primary which can be stressful in itself is now smoother, and the post primary curriculum provides a range of subjects to allow each child to advance their education based on equality.

The curriculum provides for a academic path, vocational path or a blend of both academic and vocational. With this curriculum children choose a pathway at the age of fourteen, not by stressful exam but in conjunction with parents and teachers based on sound advice.

The grouping of schools in every area now allows for a choice of subjects that was unimaginable only ten years ago. With the world developing at such a rate it is important that are children are equipped to compete in such a competitive market. Only by allowing each child to utilise its own skills and developing a variety of subjects available to them can we equip our children for a successful future. No one school on its own can now provide this diversity

Academic selection has been abandoned in most developed countries across the globe and in every case academic achievement has increased. In Finland, that abandoned selection in 1972, academic achievement rose from 72nd in the world to now leading the way in the number of children achieving top grades.

I would call on all those who are genuinely opposed to the socially unjust practice of Academic selection to recommit themselves to ending it, not by accommodating further testing on the false promise of 'give us more time and we will change'. The facts are the grammar lobby has had 50 years to change and they have continually held onto their unjust system.

I also welcome the fact that the Catholic sector will move away form the practice of Academic selection within 2 years, I hope others reconsider their position and open their schools up to centres of educational excellence for all.