Parents expect more than polite platitudes from Heads and Governors of Grammar Schools

THE head of Royal Belfast Academical
Institution, Janet Williamson, and the
chairman of the school’s board of governors,
Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, are sending out
mixed messages over Caitriona Ruane’s
“visionary proposals” on education.

In practised doublespeak, the language and
commentary of the Inst leaders adds to the
plethora of polite platitudes on the future of
academic selection and grammar schools.
Parents and the public expect more from
those entrusted with responsibility for
leadership and welcome evidence-based
approaches to change.
The seeming internal confusion now made
public may emanate from the roles of Sir
Kenneth in his various guises as a
benefactor. A sample of his hats, caps and
scarves include: spokesman for the
Governing Bodies Association (GBA), a
group representing voluntary but not the
controlled grammars.
The GBA are dominated by the Roman
Catholic grammars and it is a matter of
record that the trustees of those schools are
opposed to academic selection.
Speaking for the GBA Bloomfield-endorsed
CCEA’s Pupil Profile, the instrument touted
by eminent heads such as Wilfred Mulryne,
of Methodist College, and the General
Teaching Council as a reliable and valid 11-
plus replacement instrument to quantify for
parents their child’s attainments.
The GBA have yet to disavow member
schools from support of CCEA’s failed
instrument. It is of interest that Bloomfield
lives happily with this dichotomy.
Sir Kenneth is also a patron of the
Integrated Education Fund whose mission
is the promotion and development of a
separate so called all-ability sector. Is he
ideologically naïve or unwittingly party to a
reverse take-over of grammar schools?
The intake of A-grade pupils at Slemish
College, an integrated school using
academic selection, doubled last year.
Which of the two sectors does Sir Kenneth
support, for it cannot be both?
Sir Kenneth Bloomfield is also spokesman
for the Association for Quality Education
(AQE). This grouping comprises the GBA,
Concerned Parents for Education (a group
dominated by principals, governors and
teachers) and the Confederation of Former
Grammar Pupils’ Association.
This cross-pollinating collective also
support the Pupil Profile approach,
although a minority claim they will now
offer a common entrance examination to their schools.
The Royal Belfast Academical Institution
have a mixed ability intake distinguished
from Integrated comprehensives only by
their Category B status which absolves
them of the requirement to admit pupils
from a three-mile environs such as the
Markets, Sandy Row, Divis, the Shankill
and Crumlin Roads. The fees of some £700
may also filter out the bright
disadvantaged.
Perhaps Miss Williamson and Sir Kenneth
will put their heads together and tell us how
they will widen access via Inst’s admission
criteria?
The Royal Belfast Academical Institution
needs to confront the evidence from the
London School of Economics on the
widening socio-economic gap with more
than platitudes. Money rather than ability
would seem to determine a child’s chance of
future success at RBAI. If there is evidence
to the contrary, no doubt it will be
forthcoming.

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