On December 21st 2007 the Belfast Telegraph published an article “Deprived children “failed by our transfer system”  http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/features/daily-features/article3274366.ece in which Betty Orr, principal of Edenbrooke Primary School on Belfast’s Shankill Road blamed the 11-plus for letting down many of their pupils.

The Parental Alliance for Choice in Education was asked to test Mrs Orr’s bizarre claims through an examination of evidence. A Freedom of Information Act 2000 request was made requesting information on pupils entered or not entered for the 11-plus transfer test and those on free school meal (FSM) status for the recent past.

In late February 2008, PACE received the following response from the principal:

Thank you for your email requesting transfer and FSM information.  It would be extremely difficult for us to obtain this information but if you contacted the BELB (Tel: 9056 4000) they would have this information readily available.

Betty Orr

Perhaps Mrs Orr was absent from school on the day that training was provided by the BELB on the responsibilities of schools for FOI Data Protection and Environmental requests. Perhaps if she spent less paid time giving interviews to the media and a posing poodle she could attend to the professional responsibilities that the taxpayer expects and requires her to do.
For 2007/08 only 31% of Mrs Orr’s pupils were entered for the 11-plus. It is astounding that 69% of pupils from a school in the most deprived area of Belfast are denied the opportunity to gain a choice of post-primary school type. It is even more astounding that the leader of the school blames the 11-plus test to measure attainment in English and maths. It seems that Mrs Orr does not want to address her failures in the teaching of numeracy and literacy but prefers to blame others.
Betty Orr’s ready embracing of the Enriched Curriculum experiment and its attendant focus on play and happy, smiling faces rather than the teaching of reading or the use of synthetic phonics demonstrates questionable professional judgement.
Mrs Orr exemplifies the flawed and shoddy thinking of many evangelist teachers in her comments about” more needing to be done to encourage and make it easier for more pupils from working class or low income families to take up places at grammar schools.”
What part of the process does she not understand?
  • The 11-plus is voluntary. Only those pupils seeking a place in a grammar school need take the tests.
  • If a pupil is not entered no grade. is awarded.  69% of Betty Orr’s pupils were not entered this year.
  • By not entering the 11-plus pupils have esentially given up a possibility of a place to some other pupil who entered and gained a D grade.
  • The 11-plus transfer test is easy. (See Gardner & Cowan Testing the Test 2000)
Could it be that Betty Orr and her teachers prefer that there is no measurement of their teaching effectiveness by means of external objective testing but would rather pontificate via the Belfast Telegraph?
Deprived children are failed by failing to teach them numeracy and literacy. If a child can’t read they can’t learn.
Is that the Betty Orr plan?
The only failure of children that Betty Orr should be talking about is the Early Years Enriched Curriculum experimental project. The evidence of its failure is beyond dispute but Betty and her fellow travellers remain remarkably mute?
Why don’t the Belfast Telegraph publish the evidence?