Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 30 September 2014

It's the children who are failed by exam fiasco

The 11-plus. The exam they couldn't kill. Back in 2008 the then Education Minister Martin McGuinness pronounced the 11-plus extinct. It was over, he said. Done with for good. Finito. Consigned to history.

But four years on the Continuity 11-plus is with us still in the form of myriad transfer tests - and education here is saddled with a convoluted, complex system of selection which varies from area to area and school to school.

Pity the poor parents having to deal with all this. Pity the poor teachers.

But above all pity the poor children.

Like his two predecessors, the current Education Minister John O'Dowd acts as if he believes the selection argument to have been settled.

But it isn't.

The blunt fact is that he hasn't been able to kill off the transfer test because in Northern Ireland - and this is among parents and educationalists from all sides of the community - there is still a massive demand for it.

Mr O'Dowd may not like that fact. But that doesn't make it any less real. Aside from comments warning primary schools that there could be sanctions for preparing children for the unregulated tests, the minister appears to have adopted a typically Stormont approach to the situation.

Act like it isn't actually happening.

He is not alone in this. Stormont as a whole seems to have decided our current, weird, hybrid selection system is best left to somehow sort itself out. The whole thing is a shambles.

It is government by cop-out.

When Peter Robinson recently suggested some sort of "initiative" to establish a common test to replace the plethora currently in use, he was reprimanded by his coalition partners in Sinn Fein.

Ruefully he conceded the parties at Stormont were unlikely to reach agreement on the matter.

"It's the kind of subject where there isn't a middle ground," he noted.

Um, so that's it then? We just allow things to fester and rumble on as they are?

Apparently so.

This week this newspaper has once again been publishing a series of transfer test practice booklets aimed at helping parents and pupils.

They've become as much an annual fixture as the Cheltenham racing supplement.

Like Banquo's ghost the 11-plus is with us still - albeit in dodgier format than before.

Like those interminable multiplication tables you did as a child, this educational impasse just seems to go on and on and on forever.

The politicians didn't sit down and sort it.

So the children have ended up paying the price.

The children, their parents and the teachers who continue to try to make the best of a system that isn't one thing or the other.

Just a mess.

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