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Our grammar schools face a new threat

In recent years, the education of the young people who have chosen to attend the province's grammar schools has been undermined by politics and tribalism.

The campaign against grammars started before the turn of the century with the Burns report, closely followed by the Costello report and the decision by the then minister of education, Martin McGuinness to cease the provision by the Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) of the transfer test.

After a long campaign by parents and educationalists, the threat was removed and the legal position of grammars to adopt academic selection was reaffirmed.

The Reform of Public Administration is now a threat to grammar schools, the leadership role of principals and the ability of schools to govern themselves.

The proposed establishment of the Education and Skills Authority (ESA) to replace the five education and library boards will create the largest education authority in Europe. The enhanced power at the centre of education runs the risk of creating a bureaucracy which will adversely affect the share of the education budget directly allocated to schools. The current minister states that "no school will be able to plan on its own in terms of its future".

The voluntary grammar schools were founded by philanthropists; they have been effectively managed by boards of governors.

There is no recognition in ESA for voluntary grammars, in spite of claims that ESA is to be representative of all educational stakeholders. The priority for governments must be to maximise delegated budgets and authority to schools, with outstanding back-up and support.

The challenge is to achieve the direction of travel which enables all educational stakeholders to be represented, valued and trusted.

This challenge is not being addressed, or met, by ESA.


Principal, Royal Belfast Academical Institution

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