The following warning to parents about comprehensivation was published in the Newsletter on 1st December 2004.
Platform – Future of education rests firmly on shoulders of parental choice.
Byline: STEPHEN ELLIOTT, PARENTAL ALLIANCE FOR CHOICE IN EDUCATION NORTHERN IRELAND
THE debate over changes to post-primary arrangements has trundled on for over five years.
Despite initial efforts to make consultation open and transparent, the Government has used their direct rule majority in Westminster to impose their preferred solution.
Legislation activity is currently proceeding unchallenged while the public think that no news is good news.
However, the forces behind the education upheaval raise basic questions that all parents must ask and answer for themselves.
Do parents recognise the two phases of comprehensivisation? The first has been sold to the public as a means of raising academic standards for pupils across the ability range. Just recall the Gallagher, Burns or Costello reports for evidence.
The failure to deliver on this promise has been a public relations blow to its proponents. The excellent academic results from our children in Northern Ireland provide an inconvenient obstacle.
Those ideologically committed to comprehensive education do not wish to see any child excluded from a school on the grounds of academic ability or socio-economic background.
There would be little point to these planned common schools, however, if pupils were segregated within them. Especially since ability and performance are highly correlated with social class.
The comprehensive principal requires that each school and each group within a school should contain a complete cross-section of the population at large – in respect of ability and socio-economic group.
In order for the comprehensive principal to be activated, the responsible authority must strictly control the intake to the school. Hence the need for new entrance criteria. These are to be used to further restrict parental choice.
On the subject of equality and competition, the political arguments raise their heads. Meritocratic principals form the basis of differentiated education and an egalitarian philosophy underlies comprehensive education. You must choose which to accept on behalf of your children.
These philosophies are powered by opposite ideas as to the nature of the child, his learning and the good society. The distinction between the meritocratic and the egalitarian corresponds to the distinction between “equality of opportunity” and “equality of results”.
A society that shuns equality of opportunity in favour of equality of results will try to prevent anyone with natural talent, whether it is artistic, athletic or academic from excelling or developing their talent to the full.
The communists learned to value competition highly because it encouraged all to do their very best, even if their contributions were necessarily unequal – for the sake of society as a whole.
This enlightened approach to competition seems preferable to labelling hard-working youngsters as “failures” if they do not do as well as their equals.
A differentiated education system with lateral transfer ensures the maximisation of opportunities.
In the first phase of comprehensivisation the emphasis was on ability and socioeconomic grouping; a political clash of interests between different socio-economic groups.
The oft-cited Household Survey represented the views of the people who matter, yet Government and educational policy wonks ignore their will and input.
So what can you do? Demonstrate your rejection of the Costello recommendations and their implementation by joining the Parental Alliance for Choice in Education.
Only parents can decide the future of the education landscape for Northern Ireland on behalf of their children. No one else counts. Act today.