February 10, 2010
It will come as an unwelcome surprise to Gordon Brown, Nick Clegg and David Cameron to learn of the results of an ICM poll on grammar schools.
The Daily Mail http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1249765/85-young-people-want-grammar-schools-created.html focussed on the fact that “85% of young people want more grammar schools created”
December 22, 2009
The future of education cannot be compromised
The search for a consensus in the debate over post-primary education is flawed, simplistic and anti-democratic, says Robert McCartney QC. Either we retain selection, or we don’t
Friday, 18 December 2009
While the good intentions of the Belfast Telegraph in attempting to resolve the chaos in education are praiseworthy, it is doubtful if its Sit Down, Sort It Out campaign will provide the solution.
Sentiments such as ‘agreement’ and ‘consensus’ invest their users with a halo of goodness, but rarely address the complexities of the issues.
The popular belief that every problem is capable of solution by getting people to sit around a table to achieve compromise consensus is both flawed and simplistic. It is also the antithesis in many cases of the democratic process. True representative democracy accepts that the electorate may make a choice between conflicting policies and offers procedures for a decision between them in the absence of agreement.
In place of real democracy, Northern Ireland has a permanent mandatory consensual requirement so in the absence of agreement nothing is decided and chaos prevails.
The DUP claims that at St Andrews it preserved the principle of selective education. Sinn Fein and the SDLP, having removed the 11-Plus as the method of selection can however effectively block any alternative form, thereby rendering any regulated implementation of the principle impossible.
For a newspaper to advocate a particular consensual solution that would require one or other of the conflicting opinions to prevail, is a course of action fraught with danger.
The present crisis in education centres on the differences between those who believe in selection and those who oppose it.
The former see the purpose of an educational system as one which provides every child an equal opportunity to attend a school best suited to the fullest realisation of its potential. This requires a selective process.
Those who oppose selection believe that the purpose of a school system is not simply to provide appropriate excellent education; it is a means of implementing a system of social engineering to advance some ideological idea or political policy of which they approve. They do not believe in the liberal concept of equality of opportunity – they advocate the Marxist idea of equality of results.
Divested of any political content and viewed objectively, the selection system in Northern Ireland has for years produced the best GCSE and A-Level results in the United Kingdom and totally outperformed its comprehensive counterparts.
In terms of upward social mobility which education is supposed to promote, 42% of the Northern Ireland students going to university are from the lower income groups compared with some 28% from the comprehensives in England and Wales.
In terms of quality education, the demise of the grammar schools is now almost universally acknowledged as a mistake which it is nearly impossible to reverse. The eminent sociologist and educationalist Musgrove described the Labour Party’s betrayal of the working class by the introduction of the comprehensive system in the following terms:
”The Labour Party did not abolish the Great Public Schools, the obvious stronghold of upper class privilege. With unbelievable perversity they extinguished the only serious hope of working class parity. The upper class kept their public schools, the working class lost theirs.”
Critics of selection, forced to accept the excellent results of the grammar schools, counter by alleging the system produces a long tail of under-achievers. This is not even supported by the minister’s Education Department. In the department’s report for the year ending 2008 it confirms that of some 24,000 school leavers, only 850 left without a GSCE – a result that compares favourably with mainland Britain’s comprehensive system.
Northern Ireland’s grammar schools have demonstrated their determination to maintain their commitment to academic excellence in the face of pressure from political parties, clerical institutions, and those progressive educationalists whose theories have failed on both sides of the Atlantic.
Parents exercising the choice offered to them by the grammar schools have shown their support by the number of their children they have submitted to the tests provided. Before the introduction of the foundation curriculum designed to abolish the free preparation for the 11-Plus provided by the primary schools, lower-income parents did not need to pay for coaching. It is these parents whose children could possibly suffer some future disadvantage.
Insofar as it can be discerned the Belfast Telegraph’s Sit Down, Sort It Out campaign seems to have settled on transfer at 14 as the preferred option. In support of this, an array of educational experts was assembled.
Of the few that are professionally engaged in education, both Professors Smyth and Gallagher are publicly declared anti-selection activists. At this point, it should be noted transfer at 14 can be effected either by a selective process, as in the Dickson Plan, operating in Craigavon, or an elective process by parents, as proposed by the minister.
Under the Dickson Plan, pupils at age 11 left primary school without sitting the 11-Plus, but having sat year-end tests used for streaming them when they moved to junior high schools for years 11-14.
At age 14, based on tests and streaming, they progressed either to senior 11-16 high schools for the lower streams or grammar schools for the higher-stream pupils. Research indicated that those in the lower streams underachieved.
In November 1998, the Department of Education commissioned Queen’s University Education Department to evaluate the Dickson Plan as an alternative to the 11-Plus. This research was led by none other than Professor Tony Gallagher.
It concluded the Dickson Plan was both too porous and small to provide a comparative position vis-a-vis the 11-Plus. In any event, the Dickson Plan was a selective one and completely different from the elective transfer at 14 proposed by Minister Ruane.
The minister’s proposal is that, at 11, each child would transfer to its nearest neighbourhood school whether a grammar or secondary modern. There would be no selection and each school’s intake would be ‘all ability’ as in the comprehensive system.
At age 14, the child’s parents would elect if it would remain at that school, or move to a school more suited to its abilities. The basis of assessment for such election remains unclear, but the consequences can be imagined.
For example, a child of modest ability from a middle-class suburban home goes to his or her nearest neighbourhood school which is a grammar. At age 14, its parents elect that it will remain there since it is close, discipline is good and they find it socially acceptable.
Their position is, in parental terms, understandable. In an inner-city secondary modern with an indifferent record, the parents of an exceedingly bright child from a public housing estate find it impossible to get a place in a school that will maximise its abilities due to ‘desk blocking’.
The problems that have plagued the comprehensive system will be repeated in Northern Ireland and upward social mobility from lower income group children will plummet. Money, postcode and coaching will replace merit and ability as the basis for selection.
The real objection to elective transfer at 14 is the fact that since every ‘neighbourhood’ school will have to take an unselected ‘all-ability intake’ it will become, by definition, a comprehensive school.
In effect, the grammar school system based on selected pupils will be permanently destroyed; hardly the material for an acceptable consensual compromise!
Over the years, I have been grateful to the Belfast Telegraph for publishing a series of detailed articles on various aspects of education. The contents of this article are, to a degree, critical of the Sit Down, Sort It Out campaign and the consensus principle upon which it moves. In these circumstances, and as United Kingdom Chairman of the National Grammar Schools Association, I offer my sincere thanks to the editor for permitting me to restore, in my view, a degree of balance to the debate.
Consensus is not in every circumstance possible for, as Winston Churchill once remarked, “Where is the point of compromise between the fireman and the arsonist”, or in the circumstances of this debate, between those who seek to preserve the demonstrably excellent and those who seek to destroy it.
The Sinn Fein and PUP anti-academic selection position criticised by National Grammar Schools Association
November 14, 2009
The ideological positions of republican and unionist political parties in Northern Ireland on academic selection and grammar schools has been dissected by the chairman of the National Grammar Schools Association, Robert McCartney QC during an interview on the BBC Daily Politics Show. (at about 14 mins in)
The interview and discussion on the Northern Ireland selective system was broadcast on the day prior to the first unregulated 11-plus transfer tests. It pitted the Education Minister’s pointman Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd against Robert McCartney QC former MP and MLA, since retired from politics. Mr McCartney is the current chairman of the National Grammar Schools Association http://ngsa.org.uk Mr McCartney highlighted the absurdity of those paramilitary groups with links to political parties such as Sinn Fein and the IRA and the Progressive Unionist Pary and the UVF, both of whom wreaked havoc, terrorised and murdered the parents of primary school pupils. Mr McCartney pointed out that their political leaders now claim to be looking after the interests of socio-economically deprived children by abolishing grammar schools and academic selection. The NGSA leader suggested to BBC viewers that this claim is the ultimate ironic claim from terrorists.
September 14, 2009
November 16, 2008
The article below was one of a series of three supplied to the Belfast Telegraph by R. L. McCartney QC.
Without explanation this remained unpublished by the newspaper which recently bombarded parents with endless “exclusives” on the Northern Ireland education reform issue. Take note that the Belfast Telegraph and the BBC have adopted Professor Tony Gallagher as a neutral expert. Professor Gallagher has declined the opportunity to legally challenge the charges made against him. Parents may wonder why not?
The proposed educational reforms place the future of Northern Ireland’s children at the edge of an abyss. The questions facing their parents are these. How and why have we come to the present chaos? and what if anything can be done about it?
Martin McGuinness when he became Minister of Education was hardly, by experience, an expert in the subject but he mistakenly believed that the principle of selection as well as the method of making it were socially unfair and elitist. His social and political objective was to abolish both. The case for removing the principle of selection was weak, with 64% of the parents consulted in the Costello Report responding in favour of its retention. An equal percentage of parents however voted against keeping the 11+ test as the means of selection.
Democratically, the issue which should have been addressed was the finding of a fairer and less stressful method of selection which might have included possible improvements to the existing test, like the use of computer adaptive testing. Research and investment should also have been directed to those areas of the current system said to be failing and the initiation of policies to remedy identified defects.
The cost of this, both in financial and social disruption terms, would have been minimal compared to the consequences of the present proposals, which will create and enrich an array of well rewarded bureaucrats.
Viewed objectively, selection was producing for Northern Ireland, academic results that were the envy of the rest of the United Kingdom. In terms of upward social mobility it was out-performing the mainland comprehensives by some 50%. Despite claims to the contrary, a smaller percentage of children in Northern Ireland were leaving school with no qualifications than was the case on mainland Britain. The case for “keeping the best and improving the rest” was unanswerable in both educational and administrative terms. None of this, however, would have satisfied Sinn Fein’s political and ideological objectives. Grammar schools were erroneously viewed as bastions of middle class privilege and, as such, had to be abolished. The popular antipathy to the 11+ was, therefore, used to mask the real target which was the principle of selection itself. It is noteworthy that on two occasions Sinn Fein has made the Education Portfolio its first choice. It was necessary for Sinn Fein to enlist the assistance of “progressive educationalists” in support of a new education infrastructure that would advance the Party’s political agenda. As a result, the Minister commissioned a series of allegedly independent reports from groups whose members were, in the main, anti-selection and whose advisory experts such as C.C.E.A. (Council for Curriculum Examinations and Assessment) were opposed to a subject based curriculum.
The first report was that of Tony Gallagher on “the effects of the Selective System of Secondary Education in Northern Ireland”. Gallagher was a self-acknowledged opponent of selection and the composition of his group and his own disproportionate contribution raised serious doubts about its independence. The next report from Mr. Burns relied heavily on Gallagher and made no attempt to answer the central question – “Does comprehensive or selection education provide the best results and the greater degree of social mobility?” A comparison between Northern Ireland and the mainland’s comprehensives would have provided an affirmative answer to both in favour of Northern Ireland. Burns avoided either putting the question or allowing the comparison, since neither would have served the Minister’s objective. In his attempts to veil his support for comprehensives, Burns came up with the totally unworkable idea of the Pupil Profile to be prepared by the primary school and made available to parents as an aid to their choice of school, but not to be disclosed to the admitting school. All efforts to produce a Pupil Profile meeting international standards of validity and reliability have utterly failed. Indeed, recent exhaustive research in Germany where assignment of primary school pupils to an appropriate further school is based on teacher assessment and advice to parents, has demonstrated an overwhelming prejudice in favour of children from middle class families to the clear disadvantage of children from poor and working class backgrounds – the very children who in Northern Ireland are supposed to benefit from the proposed reforms.
The next report was that of Costello. This group, like its forerunners, Gallagher and Burns, was largely populated by anti-selection personnel. This report synthesised the unbalanced findings of Gallagher and Burns and recommended a curriculum directed to the reduction of subject based teaching in favour of the more “Holistic Approach” advised by C.C.E.A. This satellite government funded agency was dedicated to many of the progressive ideas that had failed in pre and post war America, pre-war Germany, and post-war Britain. As an advisory body it was critical of subject based learning and supported its gradual replacement by grandiose schemes clothed in vague and nebulous language. The failed progressive ideas of sixty years ago were enshrined in the paragraphs of Costello dealing with the curriculum and subsequently embedded in legislation by the Education (Northern Ireland Order) 2006.
Carmel Gallagher, then Manager for Curriculum in C.C.E.A., had earlier described her curriculum framework as “the Trojan Horse that would be the vehicle for effecting significant change”. Clearly the change intended by a policy of deception was a move away from subject based learning like languages, maths, physics, chemistry, as well as history and geography, into a generalised and failed so-called progressive education for the 21st Century in which hardly a single idea was new or had proved successful throughout the 20th Century. Moreover, this progressive education had failed most dramatically in helping children from poor and disadvantaged homes. Middle class parents could provide the means that ensured their children survived the most extreme and untested educational reforms, but for the poor, if they were not taught at school, they were frequently not taught at all.
The new curriculum creates a basis for future education requiring “Big Schools” offering a “Bloated Curriculum” and based on educational ideas that have failed in the past. It is a curriculum which is the antithesis of the grammar school ethos and the form of education the grammar schools offer. As such it will eventually make the survival of the grammar school and subject based education untenable.
It has now become evident that the entitlement framework with its projected 24 GCSE subjects to 27 A Level subjects is fatally flawed. No definition of what is claimed to be vocational or academic has been made even when they have been re-designated as applied and general. The 11+ has been abolished without any alternative method of matching a child’s aptitudes to an appropriate school. Parents are placed in a condition of total uncertainly and the Minister is clearly at the furthest limit of her competence. Her present attempts to escape from a chaotic situation by farming out decision making to local groups largely composed of fellow travellers is evidence that she finds the current situation beyond her capacity to solve. The introduction of the Entitlement Framework ( the new curriculum ) is now about to be postponed until 2013, while the inappropriately named “ Enriched Curriculum” for primary schools has now been repackaged as the “ Foundation Curriculum “ with a flawed linguistic phonics programme at its’ core. Starved of resources this curriculum is now in an administrative limbo. Perhaps because of a recognition that it is based on ideas inconsistent with the most recent research on the teaching of reading as demonstrated by the Rose report.
The curriculum proposals embodied in the Education ( NI ) Order 2006 are wholly inconsistent with any future for the subject based education which Northern Irelands’ Grammar schools provide and only its’ repeal or substantial amendment coupled with a fresh beginning can offer any hope for their ultimate survival.
Until parents organise themselves in mass protest and teachers refuse to be dragooned into compliance with the alleged progressive demands of the Education Department, Local Boards, alleged experts and some of their Union representatives, the future education of Northern Ireland’s children will continue to remain bleak. In the United States it was the widespread protest of parents, particularly from black and underprivileged areas, and the courage of independent journalists such as Walter Lipmann that stemmed the wave of “progressive reforms” generated by those claiming to be experts in education; and who mistakenly believed that schools could solve any social or political problem when their real purpose should have been merely “to educate”.
A prominent Northern Ireland QC has sent an Open Letter to Conservative |Party leader David Cameron on behalf of the National Grammar Schools Association (NGSA)
Read the letter here.
The letter was sent prior to the Conservative Party Confernce in Birmingham. It is remarkable that so little has been reported from Northern Ireland MLAs and MPs given that many attended the Conservative Conference and hosted fringe meetings.
Has the cat got their collective tongue or are deals underway to guarantee the destruction of Northern Ireland’s academic selection system and with it grammar schools via the Tories and their Unionist friends?
Parents must decide if the failed position of political and church leaders will be allowed to destroy their child’s right to a suitable education.