Belfast Telegraph

Ruane too divisive to head education

There is little doubt that Caitriona Ruane is the most unpopular minster at Stormont. Her tenure of the education portfolio has been marked by controversy, rancour and utter confusion which has left educationalists, parents and pupils bewildered.

Today, in an interview with this newspaper, she describes scrapping the 11-plus as her greatest achievement. Can she really be serious? While this newspaper has not advocated retention of selection - it believes in a system which rewards merit and allows the streaming of the academically gifted - the Minster's handling of the issue has been catastrophic.

Politics is about the art of the possible and achieving a consensus. Instead the Minister has decided to forge ahead with the abolition of an existing system with no agreement - either from fellow ministers or schools - on how to replace it, resulting in a shambolic system whereby many grammar schools now set their own entrance examinations, the worst possible outcome for pupils.

What is very clear from her interview is that the minister is driven by ideology, irrespective of how others may view it. While it is a perfectly legitimate aspiration to have Irish as a subject in all schools, it is another divisive and needless barb. Similarly with her claim that the post primary education system in Northern Ireland should mirror that existing in the Republic. What evidence has she that the Leaving Certificate model is better than our GCSE and A Level models?

For all that she says it is clear that Caitriona Ruane puts her republican ideals first and education second. No one is saying that the present system of education here is faultless, but she does not attempt to seek any consensus for change and introduces policy proposals which can only inflame those already opposed to her. She says she hopes to retain the education portfolio after the Assembly election. Hopefully her colleague, Martin McGuinness, who has shown a pragmatism in his office which doesn't dilute his idealism, will ensure she is expelled from the post, never to return.

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