Belfast Telegraph

Education system has a lot to learn

Editor's Viewpoint

Every year when the GCSE and A-Level examination results are published we bask in the achievements of our high-flying pupils, mostly from a handful of very good grammar schools. Their grades, which annually outstrip other regions of the UK, are taken to show that we have a world-class education system. But a report published today says that narrative is a lie.

The figures from the Education and Training Inspectorate show a very different picture from the one that education ministers are keen to portray. Quite frankly the report is a litany of shame which shows that the popular image of our schools is grossly skewed by the results of a few.

Some of the statistics are shocking. An estimated 21,000 pupils attend schools that need to be improved; one in three secondary schools cannot be classified as good and 40% of pupils don't achieve five good GCSE's including maths and English.

It is hardly surprising that results in many secondary schools leave a lot to be desired when it is realised that 5,000 children leave primary school each year with poor literacy and numeracy skills.

If ever there was a wake-up call to educationalists then this is it. Even in these unprecedented times of austerity, the budget of the Education Department has been protected to a large degree. What is now needed is a strategy to improve standards right across the primary and secondary sectors. It is not good enough for ministers to say that grammar schools cream off the most academically able pupils and that the secondary sector must inevitably suffer as a result.

While selection will skew results to a degree, it should not produce the drastic difference in standards that this report highlights. And what is the excuse for children leaving primary school - where all abilities are taught side by side - without being able to read or count to an acceptable standard?

There are no excuses for the under-performances of such large numbers of schools as shown in this report. Those involved in education, from the minister down to the classroom, must accept that change is needed and needed urgently. Education is one of the primary services provided by government and ideally it should give every child an opportunity to realise his or her potential. That is evidently not happening and that is shameful. We must drop the notion that our education system is world class and, instead, strive to make it so.

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