Subtitling of the BBC's Stormont Live brings us into the heart of the debating chamber and I've been fascinated by the bravery of Education Minister Catriona Ruane, and intrigued by the stir she caused when she announced she was going to ban academic selection. Much work still needs to be done, but I couldn't help feeling she was right.
Statistics show the top 4-6% of grammar pupils are among the brightest in these islands, but Catriona pointed out this has to be balanced by the 23-26% of our children who miss out on a good education and leave school ill-equipped for the job market. She claims the vast majority of professionals welcome her recommendations and all are agreed that 11 is far too young to decide on a future career and 14 is a better option.
Several years ago, accompanied by two other deaf people and Brian Symington, the director of the RNID in Northern Ireland, I met with senior education officials and chief inspectors of schools in Rathgael House, Bangor, to try and find a way of overcoming the lack of a recognised grammar school for deaf children in the province. Twenty of our brightest young students were then studying at the Mary Hare Grammar School in Berkshire and we discussed ideas on how to provide something similar in Northern Ireland.
As with our 11-plus, Mary Hare accepted pupils of that age after sitting an exam and interview and successful deaf children spent up to seven years in what is generally regarded as one of the world's top schools for deaf pupils.
At Rathgael we discussed ways and means of providing similar facilities at home. The meeting broke up with the promise of more talks later, but unfortunately it never happened. There have been big changes since then with parents becoming more aware of the help to be derived from modern hearing aids and cochlear implants. There is no doubt that some deaf pupils find the incentive of competing on equal terms with their hearing peers exciting and find the time and enthusiasm for the copious reading that is so essential in higher education.
The word deaf has many different meanings and the changes mentioned might be easier to face at 14 than at 11. I would love to chat about all this with our new Education Minister.
÷ A service of songs and signs for Christmas will be held in Wilton House (12.30pm) on Wednesday with a choir of deaf children from Jordanstown schools.