The Parental Alliance for Choice in Education welcomes Arlene Foster’s recent statement on education if it is a vow of commitment to her educational vision and not simply a sound bite.
Recent comments from her suggest that she would lead a revolution in education. It says something about the effects of fifteen years of Sinn Fein misrule that common sense proposals to return to the traditional values that made our education system admired worldwide seem revolutionary.
The promise of positive change at this stage is perhaps necessarily vague. Given her appreciation for the education system in which she grew up, perhaps we can look forward to concrete proposals for protecting the educational heritage currently under direct threat from John O’Dowd and that she will commit her Party to retaining the long-established parity between Northern Ireland’s public examinations and those in England.
Why didn’t she give a cast iron guarantee to underprivileged children to remove entirely the Revised Curriculum with its “learning-to-learn” philosophy, proven to be damaging to the achievement of children living in poverty? Why are we continuing to teach these children according to flawed constructivist principles when a longitudinal investigation of the impact of the Enriched Curriculum on disadvantaged children demonstrated that they had fallen significantly behind their peers in traditional classrooms? Why not just remove a curriculum in which the rich were getting richer and the poor poorer? Readers may recall that the CCEA-designed curriculum proposed to raise the reading standards of those children deemed to be not “developmentally ready” by delaying the formal teaching of reading by up to two years! If Arlene Foster were to abandon this ill-conceived curriculum her party could claim – without fear of contradiction – to have removed a significant number of poor children from the “left behind” category.
It currently seems that Arlene Foster doesn’t intend to sweep away John O’Dowd’s legacy. This leaves schools under threat, a curriculum in place which leaves the underprivileged child behind and the standards demanded by CCEA examinations (for the first time ever) perceived to be inferior to those in England, breaking parity.
It follows, therefore, that the most puzzling part in Arlene Foster’s no-child-left-behind policy is its widespread popularity. The First Minister of Scotland proposed precisely this policy one year ago, but that merely involved using standardised tests in Scottish schools to detect underachievement. This could hardly be presented as an educational revolution? Curiously, both First Ministers use the words “no child left behind” without attribution. The education world attributes these words to George Bush’s policy that no child should be “left behind” in a school which isn’t making “adequate yearly progress.”
Are we to believe that the DUP will advocate the American approach to no child left behind? There can be little doubt that this would indeed amount to an educational revolution. But there’s one among many snags facing Ms Foster. For all its focus on tests, the real emphasis in the American model is teaching. It is a requirement of the policy that instruction be “research-based”. That would mean the inevitable abandonment of the Revised Curriculum and a return to traditional teaching in Northern Ireland.
In short, we await further details before deciding if the First Minister’s words are more sound bite than coherent educational vision.
Chair, Parental Alliance for Choice in Education