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TV View: School of hard knocks for our poor kids


Natalie with daughter Orla in The Transfer Test And Me

Natalie with daughter Orla in The Transfer Test And Me

Natalie with daughter Orla in The Transfer Test And Me

We're students in the school of life, you and I. Sure haven't we taken the hard knocks, rolled with the punches and exalted the ups and diminished the downs en route to our hopeful graduation? And yes, maybe we've grabbed a competent HND in media and woodwork or a sturdy 2:2 in leisure studies along the way, but that's just for kicks, right?

But imagine being 10 and being told that a decision you make now will affect the outcome of the rest of your life. That's what our young 'uns are faced with here with the proposition of the Transfer Test, which was the subject of the Transfer Test and Me.

The BBC's Natalie Maynes explored her experience of putting her two children through the examination - a replacement brought in by grammar schools after the abolition of the 11-Plus.

Say what you like about the 11-Plus, but at least there was a comfort in the mandatory nature of its measurement of inequality. Now, there's up to five papers from two different exam bodies, which is, as most 10-year-olds would put it, mental.

And as this fascinating finale for the latest True North showed, the transfer procedure for "one of the finest education systems in the world" inevitably favours children from more privileged backgrounds. Also, depressingly, it blithely reinforces our "unique" (and in no way jaw-droppingly divisive) tribally bipartite education system.

Maynes' fears and worries over daughter Orla were the natural concerns any parent has for their youngsters when they are exposed to any kind of undue pressure, but you always got the feeling that Orla would be OK in the end.

Young Dylan, meanwhile, came from a working-class household, yet held out hope of doing the Transfer Test and being the first in his family to go to grammar school.

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Elsewhere, Maxi, Cara's South African mum, provided a little light irony when she explained that she had come here because she didn't want her kids growing up with difference.

But rich or poor, what really came across was the stress the children were placed under and how remarkably and impressively mature they were - certainly more circumspect than I would have been going into my late teens. It was often the parents who betrayed their nerves more openly than the kids. After it was all over, Dylan's mum put it best when she said, "thank frig".

Whether they could afford private tutors (surely an admission they have no faith in the education system they want to put their kids through?) or trusted in basic schooling to see them through, there was little to separate them.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the education spectrum, the cast of Six Degrees graduated. Jayne Wisener and the rest flung their caps in the air and bowed out with a montage that would have caused any graduate working in a call centre to double-take. Law graduate Eva became a top lawyer, the wee guy she bonked at a party got a job in the BBC, and the kooky English one who went travelling came back and "did a course". Hope then for those of us with competent HNDs and or patchy passes from the university of life.

King of the chat Nolan is as good as any to avoid a moral crusade

It’s seldom I’d struggle out of the armchair — let alone leap — to defend Stephen Nolan. I did think though that it was a shame that he felt the need to apologise for his religious belief or lack thereof on his show this week.

Our old friend ‘Stephen from Dungannon’ called Nolan to remind him that he’d said he didn’t believe in God during an interview with Tyrone missionary Maud Kells. Dungannon Steve then questioned Nolan’s ability to chair neutrally on Christian issues, based on his personal unbelief. Straight off, it’s deeply unfair to suggest Nolan brings any great personal moral principle to bear on his show.

He’s a consummate broadcaster, whose real deity is “the chat”. Besides, Mr so-called Stephen from Dungannon, everybody believes or doesn’t believe in something.

Good luck finding an actually neutral human being. I’d prefer to rely on the professionalism of skilled broadcasters myself. Unless you’re suggesting that in such debates the ideal chair would be a log or a bottle of Ballygowan water? Unblessed, naturally.

Switch On:

Farewell then “quirky” BBC comedy Inside Number 9. Funny, spooky, clever and on way too late to be widely seen. You were nevertheless, over six episodes, exhilarating viewing. Which is more than I can say for the new Peter Kay “vehicle”.

Switch Off:

“The Union!” “Trojan Horse!” “Kingmaker!” Not the ramblings of a drooling idiot, but the most used words by the party hacks in UTV’s great election debate. There was more political illumination from my old Spitting Image lamp. Chair Mark Mallet’s most used phrase was, “We’re going to have to park that”. It was uttered almost every time one of them made noise come out of their mouths. Although the bit where they all spoke at the same time was quite impressive.

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