Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: We need cohesion not more confusion

The sheer scale of the reforms proposed for Catholic schools in the province has taken many people by surprise.

They encompass almost 100 post-primary schools, which educate some 68,000 pupils and cover every area of Northern Ireland. The NI Commission for Catholic Education has acted with almost brutal swiftness - giving only until the end of May for responses to its proposals.

The proposals will obliterate the existing system of education, essentially removing the distinction between grammar and secondary schools and replacing them with all-ability schools, which will not use any selection test for pupil entry. Many single-sex schools will also become co-educational.

Many parents and pupils will be concerned at the sweeping nature of the proposed reforms. Just how will streaming in all-ability schools work to allow pupils with different talents fulfil potential? All-girl grammar schools in the past have been among the highest achieving in examination results. Will the creation of more co-educational establishments mean a levelling off of results?

While the Commission will argue their proposals are a responsible reaction to the abolition of the 11-plus selection test and curriculum changes, there will be many within the Catholic education sector; teachers, pupils and parents, who will take a lot of convincing. It will be interesting to see just how those most in favour of retaining traditional grammar schools will react to the proposals.

However, the Commission has produced a plan for the future of its sector. Meanwhile, the state sector has yet to formulate any cohesive response to the abolition of the 11-plus and other proposed changes in education policy. Education in Northern Ireland is in a state of chaos, with no certain outcomes in sight, and certainly no over-arching approach encompassing all post-primary schools. The worst outcome would be even more fragmentation, but that is entirely possible.

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