Belfast Telegraph

Equitable education system must be goal

Editor's Viewpoint

Hundreds of Northern Ireland pupils who get their transfer test results tomorrow will not get into the grammar school of their choosing no matter how well they did in their exams.

For the simple reason, as our report today exclusively reveals, is that all 64 schools in the province who choose pupils by selection tests are oversubscribed, with some having nearly twice as many applicants as they have places.

What this demonstrates is that many parents still favour sending their children to a grammar school, even if it means putting them through the ordeal of taking selection tests.

These parents obviously believe that the grammar schools will offer their children the best education and therefore the best career and life opportunities thereafter.

Even four integrated schools which are non-selective in intake have started grammar streams.

Parental choice is something that has to be recognised by those who devise education policy, and the minister now in charge has made it clear that he is in favour of selection, overturning the policy of previous incumbents of the Stormont post.

But while many favour grammar school education, it is clear that many children may not be able to avail of it because of the very high grades demanded by some schools or the large numbers wishing to attend others.

That is why there needs to be renewed focus on the secondary schools so that all children will receive equal opportunities in education. These schools, it can be argued, deserve extra resources because of the demands of teaching children of varying abilities and skills.

There are particular concerns about the attainment levels gained by Protestant boys from working-class backgrounds, but many Catholic boys from similar socio-economic groups are also leaving school with few if any qualifications.

We cannot allow a two-tier system of education to develop where we produce high achievers - among the best in the UK - at one end of the spectrum and generations of youngsters who leave school with few prospects at the other end.

The results which come out tomorrow will determine which schools most pupils will attend in the future.

The education authorities must ensure that no children are consigned to a school that stifles their potential.

Something very fishy about the elusive salmon of Ireland

It's not been a happy new year for Irish anglers with not a single salmon landed in the first 26 days of the season.

It seems that the fish are not falling for any of the lines dropped by anglers on the River Liffey and River Drowse, or else have decided to remain out in the Atlantic, leaving the fishermen all at sea.

Quite why the salmon are so reluctant to return to their native rivers so far this year is not clear. Some fear that their numbers have been decimated in recent years by as yet unknown factors.

It is a puzzle that will keep marine scientists busy for some time. Meanwhile, for the anglers seeking a bite, fins aren't what they used to be.

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