Reform of Northern Ireland schools – another attack on all that Protestants hold dear?

It must surely puzzle outsiders that grammar schools of Protestant and Catholic ethos adopt opposite positions on selection at 11.  The SDLP, Sinn Fein and the Catholic Church oppose selection and embrace the Revised Curriculum while the DUP and Ulster Unionists see a continued role for grammar schools.  It is striking that there are no Catholic grammars among the 25 grammar schools who propose setting their own entrance tests in order to retain their grammar school identities.  Furthermore, Catholic politicians and the Catholic Church have been staunch defenders of the Revised Curriculum which seeks to blur the distinctions between school subjects such as IT, mathematics and English through the introduction of incoherent “cross-curricular skills.”  Recently the Irish News published a blistering attack on the 25 Protestant grammars who wish to retain selection at 11.

A careful reading of the work of Britain’s leading educational philosopher, John White, reveals that Protestant support for a curriculum comprising distinct subjects, with learning assessed through objective testing stretches back 150 years.  According to White, curricula such as the Revised Curriculum, which eschew objective testing and blur the distinctions between the different school subjects, strike at the core values of Protestantism.  Given that John White was commissioned by the Northern Ireland Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) to evaluate the Revised Curriculum, senior figures in CCEA must have been aware that they were designing a curriculum at odds with a Protestant worldview.  However, the evaluation report has never been made public and when it appears on CCEA documentation it is accompanied by the word “unpublished.”

CCEA’s Carmel Gallagher described reform of the curriculum as a “Trojan Horse” for effecting radical change in schools and the Education Minister drew parallels between the radical nature of school reform in Northern Ireland and the partition of Ireland.  A cursory read of White’s latest book – Intelligence, Destiny and Education – may help explain the Catholic Church’s reluctance to sign up to the cause of maintaining Northern Ireland’s truly world class education system.  More puzzling, in the light of White’s analysis, is the role of the Protestant churches in embracing the Revised Curriculum and the abolition of selection at 11.

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