Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

We have to protect the core subjects

The latest Belfast Telegraph survey on educational standards has revealed a disturbing decrease in achievement by some grammar school pupils in the core subjects of English and mathematics.

Just 31 selective schools improved their GCSE results in 2012, compared to those in 2011. The survey also found that the number of pupils with good GCSEs in English and maths has fallen in half of all the grammar schools in Northern Ireland.

In 22 grammar schools less than 92.9% of pupils had five good GCSEs, and this figure is down from 93.9% in 2011. The marked decrease in the standards of achievement in English and maths is particularly worrying. It is also disturbing that this shortfall is occurring in grammar schools which traditionally have provided a top-class education.

It is difficult to know why this has occurred, given the educational set-up in grammar schools remains broadly the same.

Perhaps part of the answer lies in the rapid changes in our society, and particularly in modern methods of communication through social media.

Fast delivery does not always mean accuracy, particularly when people have their own method of texting, and on Twitter, where shortcuts are taken with the traditional methods of spelling which have formed the standard education of people throughout many generations.

The same argument might well apply to the use of maths and the way in which calculations are now made. The widespread use of calculators has been a boon for many pupils, but this is not quite the same as working on multiplication and division in the time-honoured way when the individual, and not a machine, had to do all the hard work.

No doubt the grammar schools are taking seriously the implications of the drop in standards in these subjects, however small.

The irony of modern life is that we have never been better equipped technically to educate our children, but we must make sure that they come out of school with the greatest possible proficiency in such basic subjects as English and mathematics.

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