Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Our school system just doesn't add up

It does not take great literacy or numeracy skills to realise that there is something seriously wrong with our education system.

 We have perpetuated the myth that our schools are the best in the UK because we have so many high achievers, mainly in our grammar schools. But the latest Audit Office report dispels that notion in no uncertain terms, revealing that more than 40% of pupils leave school without achieving even basic reading, writing and counting levels.

Given that that is a higher figure than leaves primary school without reaching the expected standard in these subjects, it shows that the post-primary system is failing more and more children. While the grammar schools are driving up the reputation of education here, the secondary sector is failing to reach acceptable standards in far too many cases.

The quick, maybe even obvious, solution would be to establish some sort of comprehensive system. But would that really work? Can anyone guarantee that such a system would stretch the most academically able while also driving up standards among their less capable, or more vocationally driven, peers? The unfortunate situation is that those who form opinions, and most often influence policy, are satisfied with the current education system. It served them well and will serve their children well, but it certainly does not assist those families who come from socially deprived backgrounds.

The finding of this report must be considered carefully. Do we really know why the system is failing so many pupils? Is it lack of funding and resources for the secondary school sector or lack of teachers with the necessary skill sets to reach those most in need of their help? What we do know for certain is that four in every 10 post-primary pupils are being left behind in the race to gain acceptable examination results. That is storing up problems, not only for those children as adults, but also for society which depends on a well-educated workforce to drive the economy forward.

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