Belfast Telegraph

O'Dowd's witch-hunt nonsense

Editor's Viewpoint

The shambles in our education system has been highlighted once again by the letters sent from the Department of Education to 11 primary schools in the province warning them about coaching pupils for unregulated transfer tests.

This is simple bullying by the department, which named the 11 schools and then, astonishingly, said that the issuing of the letters does not necessarily mean the schools have been preparing pupils for the tests.

Why then have the letters been sent or the schools named and shamed?

But this move by the department is a nonsense in any case. Last year some 10,000 pupils took the unregulated AQE and GL Assessment tests despite opposition from Education Minister John O'Dowd.

The 11-plus examination may have been abolished but the powerful grammar lobby still clings to its selection tests in spite of Government demands to end them. And it is obvious that parents are prepared to go along with this transfer method.

The nub of the argument is as it has always been - that parents want their children to go to the best secondary level schools they can.

While the department wants all second level schools to become virtual comprehensives, this is an ideal that does not find majority favour from parents or pupils. Mr O'Dowd may think that the most academically able pupils can be streamed successfully in a comprehensive system and achieve the sort of results which they currently obtain in the grammar system.

But he has failed to persuade either the grammar schools or the parents of pupils transferring from primary schools that a quasi-comprehensive system will work successfully across the board.

The Catholic grammar schools have even defied their bishops in refusing to drop selection tests, again demonstrating the depth of feeling on this issue.

It therefore follows that coaching for the tests is inevitable, and it is obvious that more children than the pupils of these 11 schools receive extra help in preparing for the examinations.

Of course the primary schools should deliver the full curriculum to all pupils and any preparation for the tests should not impinge on their statutory obligations. But Mr O'Dowd and the department should concentrate on sorting out the shambles in education here instead of engaging in a public witch-hunt.

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