Belfast Telegraph

Caitriona Ruane has let down our children and must go

We have really tried. Honestly. We had hoped that evidence of leadership, flexibility, vision and compromise would emerge. We have waited a long time. Nothing has improved.

That is why we say today that Caitriona Ruane must step down as Education Minister. She must do so for the good of our schools.

In saying that, we have no expectation that she will do. There is too much face to be lost within a political system that is too much about posturing and position taking. That does not make our call any less valid.

Ms Ruane, in our view, is simply not up to the job. She has presided over a catastrophic breakdown in relations at Stormont which has left the children of this country disgracefully let down by their education system.

Primarily, failure to tackle the issue of school transfer is a festering sore which shows no signs of healing.

The minister’s dogmatic, boorish insistence that there is nothing to debate on the issue would simply not be tolerated in any other country.

This year thousands of under-pressure schoolchildren will sit a variety of transfer tests at schools which refuse to abandon selection.

And we do not blame those schools, concerned as they are to preserve some semblance of excellence in the system.

What they, we and thousands of parents cannot picture is the system of excellence Ms Ruane will replace selection at 11 with. Her position can all too easily be characterised as a ‘one-size fits all’ levelling down of children.

She has failed to convince anyone that she has a system in mind which would constantly test, stream and develop children, placing them in classes in which their talents can be burnished, allowing excellence to rise to the top in whatever field.

She has failed to assure aspirational parents across all communities that she has their interests at heart.

We set aside the other blunders and the smaller things like the grandstanding insistence that all documents be translated into Irish. What is really the problem today is that she is a block to progress, someone who cannot now sit down with her “enemies” and attempt to find some common ground.

That is reason enough for her removal.

Let us clear up some things. This is what our call is NOT about.

It is NOT, despite what some will try to claim, an anti-Sinn Fein move.

This newspaper remains very supportive of the work of the Deputy First Minister, who, it seems to us, sometimes keeps the Executive going single-handedly.

It is NOT, again despite what some try to claim, a pro-grammar school, pro-11-plus campaign.

There are examples of very good all-ability schools in Northern Ireland but there are not enough. We have said many times, through our clear Sit Down, Sort It Out campaign, that all we seek is an attempt at consensus so this transfer shambles can be brought to an end. A competent minister has to lead this effort, not absent herself.

It is NOT an attempt to single out Ms Ruane as the sole symbol of Stormont's dysfunction.

Criticism of Environment Minister Edwin Poots' lamentable leadership of the reform of local councils is entirely justified.

But for now the most pressing need is our schoolchildren and an end to the confusion and chaos in which many of them innocently find themselves. What we do want is a rigorous education system in which excellence is supported and dogma and political correctness has no place.

Where children are born, into what religion, into what “class”, is irrelevant to us. Every child deserve the best chance to maximise his or her abilities. But they will only do that in a system that is honest, appraising and testing. Where the able, in whatever discipline, are gathered together not spread amongst.

Where an Education Minister has the ability to articulate vision for all of our schoolchildren and bring as many people as possible - for you will never get everyone - along for the ride.

Ms Ruane, on any measure, has failed. That is why we call today for her resignation. Our expectations of action on that call are, sadly, low.

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