Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 22 November 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Education could do without more chaos

Parents at top Londonderry grammar school Lumen Christi must wonder what is going on over the appointment of new members to the Board of Governors.

Two prominent Sinn Fein members have been put forward by Education Minister and fellow party member John O'Dowd. One of those proposed is Paul Kavanagh who was convicted of killing three people during an IRA bombing campaign in London in 1981. Another is Mary Nellis a fierce critic of academic selection which the school favours.

While the minister argues that he wants to see greater diversity in public appointments - in itself no bad thing - these two appointments have raised eyebrows. Mr Kavanagh, who is a special advisor to Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, may have left his terrorist past behind but there are many who will remember it and wonder if that is the sort of track record fitting for the position for which he has been put forward.

But of more general concern to many parents - as well as the school - is the perception that the proposed appointments are influenced by the debate on academic selection. Lumen Christi, which regularly tops the table for GCSE results, is undoubtedly a very fine school catering for pupils with a strong academic bent. It defied former Education Minister Caitriona Ruane by continuing to use academic selection to determine its pupil intake. Some may now wonder if her successor, who is also opposed to selection, is attempting to introduce dissident voices to the Board of Governors who develop school policies.

And, on an even wider field, Mr O'Dowd is facing criticism from the Governing Bodies Association - representing the province's 52 voluntary grammar school - for appointing people to Boards of Governors without consultation. The education system is already in chaos and surely does not need further internecine squabbles. This newspaper has long advocated debate on the issues affecting schools and future generations. High-handed unilateral decisions are not the way forward.

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