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Editor's Viewpoint: Education chaos must come to end

Published 23/11/2011

Our report today that 69% of grammar schools in Northern Ireland last year accepted pupils who scored the lowest grades in the transfer tests will give ammunition to critics who say that this sector cherry picks the most academically able pupils and then fills out their rolls with other applicants irrespective of grades obtained.

Given that only two grammar schools filled their desks with pupils who obtained the top marks, it is a hard argument to counter.

The situation is made worse by the fact that there are two separate post-primary selection procedures, meaning that many pupils sit several tests in the hope of getting into a grammar school.

That puts additional pressure on the children and adds to the concerns of their parents.

Of course, the tests also demonstrate that many children are motivated and determined to gain admission to what they regard as the best schools and such dedication is a valuable lesson for them to learn.

However, this newspaper is no advocate of selection. Rather, it wants to see the long-running chaos in the education system sorted out and a transfer system put in place where children can be streamed according to their ability and can rise to the top on merit in their chosen fields of endeavour. It is accepted that many pupils who obtain poor grades in tests at 11, prosper as they mature and are among those who make Northern Ireland the top-performing region when it comes to GCSE and A-Level results.

Unless a system which rewards merit is devised and implemented across the education sectors in Northern Ireland there is no doubt that many parents will continue to opt to send their children to the grammar schools which they feel offer them the best opportunities and who will take pupils of all abilities.

That means other schools will be starved of pupils and of resources creating an uneven playing field and that is to no one's benefit in the long term.

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