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Dickson holds key to debate on 11-plus

I have been finally convinced from Victor Gordon's article (Belfast Telegraph, May 1) that the solution to the academic selection issue lies in the Dickson Plan which has been operational in the Craigavon area for some 40 years.

Although I am not familiar with the scheme, its success is largely evident from the fact that the area has not been subsumed into the mainstream system over the years.

It is largely a home-grown process that seeks to blend the pre-1948 principles of of an elementary education with the post- 1965 comprehensive ethos while recognising the need to have some selection on an academic basis.

Education Minister Caitriona Ruane does appear to advocate transfer at the age of 14, which is a more realistic age than 11.

This scheme should allow grammar schools to set their standards as they see fit. Those that are confident of strong demand can ask for top grades in an examination taken at the end of year 10 (perhaps not unlike the old Junior certificate) while those whose catchment area may not be so reliable can (as with the present system) be more discretionary.

The alternative schools (secondary, community or whatever) can, according to demand, offer a range of academic and vocational subjects.

Students in these establishments who gain sufficient grades at GCSE can still transfer to the grammar sector for A-level. Under such a modified version of the Dickson Plan, this practice would gel better into the overall ethos.

Such an approach would undoubtedly require more drastic changes to the current infrastructure and would impact more heavily on the primary sector than a situation that was focused solely upon creating an all-ability or comprehensive ethos in the post-primary sector.

It would be effort and money well spent if it were to lead to a fairer and acceptable system with selection finally laid to rest. Then we would be free to address the real issues affecting education such as tackling literacy and numeracy and making a real contribution to economic development through promoting innovation and creating worthwhile employment for those who do achieve.



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