Last week the Belfast Telegraph published A-level and GCSE league tables for Northern Ireland. There was an awful lot to celebrate in these statistics and we shouldn’t be shy about congratulating the schools and the pupils who did well.
The analysis also shows that there are still some serious problems with underachievement and that’s where bad, divisive leadership from the minister of education has such a damaging impact.
It’s absolutely clear that John O’Dowd is letting down children who are underachieving, while those who do well are succeeding in spite of his interference. I believe that the minister has failed pupils, schools and parents in the most dismal way, and should resign.
There are some great schools, right across the community, some of them operating in very challenging circumstances. It’s only right to celebrate excellence in our education system and it’s equally important not to demonise or encourage defeatism among some groups of parents or students.
John O’Dowd and his Sinn Féin predecessors have allowed the education debate to become focussed almost exclusively on the transfer test, which has left little room for discussion about helping schools with difficulties. The minister can scarcely muster a single idea to tackle underachievement and instead resorts simply to attacking the grammar sector, which includes many of the top schools in Northern Ireland. His divisive attitude does no-one any good.
He could be concentrating on developing strategies to boost standards where there are problems; strategies like improving early learning, reducing class sizes and getting the best principals to mentor struggling schools. He could be challenging parents about the role they have to play in encouraging their children to achieve more in education, and community leaders too.
Instead he has consistently let down underachieving pupils and schools by ignoring the real problems and scapegoating grammar schools instead. It’s time for Mr O’Dowd to finally put children and parents before ideology. He should step down, before he does more damage to an education system which still produces some excellent results.