Simon Doyle (‘Pro-selection schools among worst performing grammars’; Irish News Jan 11) displays an overt sectarian attitude in his article highlighting the academic performance of grammar schools. In attempting to link a pro-selection stance with suggested underperformance in academic achievement by rank order in non-Catholic grammars Mr Doyle avoids important facts and misses the bigger picture.
The first and most significant point is that any school not placing academic selection as the first criteria for entry is not a grammar school. Faith school perhaps, grammar no. Therefore the aim in naming pro-selection schools was to rob the public of a much more potent message. Those schools not favouring a test of attainment at primary school are no longer entitled to describe them selves as grammar schools. This list includes the entire Catholic or denominational grammar school group. Faith may be used to control access to Catholic schools, including increased baptisms among lapsed Catholics but the DENI figures explode any claims about Catholic schools being integrating never mind integrated. Perhaps some revelations on how future access to these schools will be determined in the absence of an objective 11-plus entrance test will be detailed by their Trustees. At the moment the schools are almost 100% Catholic in intake with many Catholic parents choosing to send their children to other voluntary schools such as Methodist College (which does not now support academic selection) and Belfast Royal Academy (which does) in order to obtain a grammar school education. Roman Catholicism may not be the number one criteria for Catholic parents in choosing an education provider – a grammar school education, blind to religious or social status, is. No matter what way the DENI evidence is unbundled to make an anti grammar school case by Mr Doyle the simple truth remains that 75% of grammar school pupils attain 3+ A-levels while the corresponding figure for secondaries and so-called comprehensives is less than 17.5%. Will the revised curriculum improve those figures? No. Only by robbing Peter to pay Paul can the equality of results agenda be achieved. Only through removing choice and with the active collusion of grammar principals and governors can the DENI and bureaucrats succeed .
Fifteen (15) times more pupils leave secondary schools without any formal qualifications than in grammar schools- figuress which will get worse as evidence from jurisdictions operating the comprehensive model shows. Since the critics of grammar schools, many of them beneficiaries of the system, cite the admission of C and D grades as a reason to abandon selective schooling.
The Catholic Church seems to support a position where protection of their sectoral interests is paramount even if that involves the sacrifice of the principal of academic selection. At the moment there may be less social selection in the Catholic grammars and while academic attainment is roughly comparable between all grammars this position will change if academic selection is abandoned. Cardinal Brady, in a private meeting with me, indicated his desire for social justice for all schoolchildren. Backing a plan to further isolate schoolchildren by removing academic selection indicates the extent to which protectionism is valued. St Joseph’s Grammar in Stoke, a Catholic selective school has fought a stellar campaign against the local authority’s plan to close the school. It was a fiery principal (who happens to come from Northern Ireland) and a parental body uniting and working together which drew national attention to the plight of the school. The main aim was to preserve an academically high-performing school from being replaced with a new school in which standards would drop on the basis that academic selection is outlawed in new schools. Does this sound like a prophetic story? One important difference is that St Joseph’s takes a significant percentage of non Catholic pupils.
The second point that Mr Doyle omitted (since I am sure is aware of it) is that CCEA do not have any expertise in item writing or test designing. CCEA are nothing more that the Curriculum and Assessment elements of their grandiose title. Nfer and teachers perform the key functions around the tests-CCEA merely act as administrators. It is important to bear in mind that Gavin Boyd, former chief executive of CCEA, was a member of the Costello Working Party which had responsibility for suggesting replacements and alternatives for the 11-plus. Mr Boyd knew from the outset that there was to be no replacement, no alternative tests were ever commissioned or trialled by CCEA yet now when the wheels are coming off the unaccountable progressives education bandwagon urgent deadlines are announced about decisions on testing. Meanwhile Mr Boyd has secured himself the position of leading the entire education future for Northern Ireland as head of the Education and Skills Authority (ESA) while leaving a trail of disasters behind him. The 11-plus debacle, the revised curriculum, the unethical Shankill enriched curriculum experiment and a failed numeracy and literacy strategy are just a few examples of his legacy at CCEA. These have cost the taxpayers millions without a single shread of evidence of success.