Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: O'Dowd gets top marks for effort

After the abrasive tenure of Caitriona Ruane as Education Minister it is heartening to hear the more conciliatory approach of her successor John O'Dowd.

Tone is vitally important in restarting a debate which could lead to a resolution of the current impasse in the education system here and Mr O'Dowd makes many of the right noises in his interview in this newspaper today. Admittedly he talks largely in general terms about the way forward but even those terms are encouraging.

What was so often missing from the dogmatic approach of Sinn Fein to the education debate hitherto was the recognition that any system must include a process in which children can be selected, tested and streamed to allow them to fulfil their respective abilities.

While he talks about a comprehensive system of education - a notion which fills many people with dread given the bad experiences of that system in England - he also stresses that it is not his aim to axe grammar schools.

He stresses that academic selection at 11 is gone, and that he doesn't want to see children forced to sit several alternative tests to enter the school of their choice, but is also keen to allay the fears of many parents that academically able children will be submerged in the quest to find the lowest common denominator in education. The minister recognises that all children must be given the opportunity to flourish.

Ideally, any system should have a process of constant assessment and streaming so that, for example, late developers can change course to more challenging academic streams if that becomes their forte. While the grammar schools - and many secondary schools - currently produce excellent academic results, the playing field across the post-primary sector is not a level one.

Mr O'Dowd talks of creating greater equality of opportunity in all schools for all pupils and that is an ideal that he must pursue.

At the very least he appears keen to debate all the issues and that, given past experience, is a very welcome development.

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