Education continues to make the headlines locally for both the best and worst of reasons.
On the positive front, the University of Ulster has revealed ambitious plans to relocate the majority of the courses currently delivered at its Jordanstown campus to Belfast city centre. The plans, which will mean a huge construction project opposite the university’s existing Belfast campus, are not just exciting from an academic point of view, but also socially and economically.
Developing the landmark building will cost in the region of £250m and will provide a much needed boost to the construction industry, albeit in a few years time. The relocation of courses to this part of Belfast will also make the university more attractive to students, as well as being a major factor in the continuing development of the Cathedral Quarter. The northern part of the city centre has long been something of a blighted area, but now its prospects are much brighter.
The Jordanstown campus will continue to be de
veloped around sport, with the university determined to become Ireland’s top centre of excellence in this field. With the demolition of the existing dismal concrete academic and administrative buildings, the university will have a valuable land bank which it might wish to dispose of when confidence returns to the housing market. The university is also planning to invest in its campuses in the North West, at Coleraine and Magee in Londonderry, to ensure it continues to play a full part in higher education. It has come a long way since its days as a polytechnic.
Yesterday, Education Minister Caitriona Ruane is
sued her guidance to second level education on the way forward following the scrapping of the 11-plus examination. While the schools will have to take “due regard” of her proposals, they are not bound by them and the future for children transferring from primary to secondary schools remains as unclear as ever. This weekend, P7 pupils will learn how they performed in the 11-plus exam. At least they will have an orderly move into secondary education. Future generations will not be so lucky.
While the Minister has announced new non-academic admissions criteria guidance, many gram
mar schools will continue to select on academic performance. A large number have already said they will use a written test, but others will use a verbal reasoning entrance examination and the position of the rest is still not clear. Put at its simplest, the situation is a shambles and will only deliver more confusion to the schools, teachers, parents or, above all, pupils.
The minister may argue that her reforms are aimed at ensuring more pupils benefit from their educational experience — too many leave school with few or no qualifications — but she must realise that there is no consensus. Shamefully, her proposals did not even make it onto the agenda of the last Executive meeting. It is difficult to imagine another democratic government where a minister would go ahead with far reaching reforms without the backing of cabinet colleagues. This demonstrates a flaw in the workings of the local administration. Yesterday saw the University of Ulster gain top marks for vision while the Education minister and Executive gained the remark — must do a lot better.