Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Shambolic start to schools strategy

Once again an attempt to address a pressing problem in our education system has got off to a shambolic start.

The proposals from the five education boards on the future of the province's 216 post-primary schools show little coherence or common strategic vision. Two of the boards have produced detailed plans while two others have little information for parents to judge. It almost appears that some boards have taken a half-hearted approach to the exercise ordered by Education Minister John O'Dowd last September and as any school report would say - must do better.

It has to be remembered that this is a vital part of the planning process for the future provision of education here. There are 85,000 empty desks across both state and Catholic sectors, a situation that is unsustainable, especially in these times of austerity. Yet this very challenge provides the minister and education authorities with a golden opportunity to create a new, streamlined and dynamic education system - if the will exists.

The blindingly obvious solution to the problem of falling enrolment and changing demographics is to create a shared education system. There are isolated examples of it in the proposals put forward by some education boards, but what is needed is to implement shared schooling right across the province. It is about sharing resources, not subsuming anyone's cherished ethos, and as such would win widespread public support.

But will Mr O'Dowd be willing to challenge the Catholic Church on this issue?

The proposals outlined suggest some grammar schools will have to merge with secondary schools, creating a challenge for the current selection procedures. But what is of prime importance is to keep intact the educational standards set by grammar schools. That is not necessarily an argument for selection, but rather for the optimum use of resources for the widest possible pupil catchment, giving them all equality of opportunity.

The minister has much to think about following these proposals.

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