Transfer test figures provide valuable guidance
Throughout the years of the Troubles our schools, primary and post-primary, proved themselves heroic.
They provided stability and security in times of instability and danger, and continued without diversion to do what schools do best: inspiring learning, handing on civilised values when those values were most challenged.
Our educational system continues, even in times of political perplexity and budgetary restriction, to inspire the confidence of parents, and schools remain proudly state schools, open to all children.
That confidence, those qualities, are, in my view, reflected in the statistics and figures published by the Belfast Telegraph today. They demonstrate the quality of provision in the primary schools and the popularity of the selective grammar schools. The arguments surrounding selection continue, but there is little doubt, on the basis of any survey undertaken thus far, that the majority of the population supports academic selection and the continuation of grammar schools.
This may manifest a belief that academic selection is fairer than other selective but more random criteria, such as the ability to pay high fees or where one lives.
Until such time as a public desire for change, however unlikely that may be, is expressed through a democratically elected Assembly, grammar schools will continue to provide a service of excellence and parents will continue to want their children to be pupils in them.
It is of course unfortunate that two testing platforms facilitating admission to grammar schools, (please forgive the jargon) exist in the forms of AQE and PPTC/GL. My best guess, based on what meagre information I have, is that something in the region of 2,500 children choose to sit assessments in both systems, taking up four Saturday mornings and two further familiarisation sessions.
Our grammar schools manage their tests with consummate humanity and care, but it can be an exhausting process for both children and parents.
AQE and PPTC are together anxious to move towards one testing system, allowing all children access to all schools, and are engaged in constructive discussions.
It will not be easy to find a common solution since the two systems are very different from one other, but there is good will and a common desire for progress towards a test which exhibits the same rigour, consistency and fairness presently provided.
The Belfast Telegraph is performing a necessary service in the publication of the schools' admissions figures today. They provide helpful guidance as the post-primary schools admissions process begins, but it should be stressed that they relate to last year's process and are not, therefore, predictions of the admissions pattern this year. What can be predicted with confidence is that the quality of our schools guarantees a high quality of education for all, regardless of choice or selection.
Stephen Connolly is the joint chief executive of the Association of Quality Education (AQE)