Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland schools need action, not words

By Stephen Elliott

The Parental Alliance for Choice in Education welcomes Arlene Foster's statement on education if it is a vow of commitment to her vision and not simply a soundbite.

Her comments suggested she would lead a revolution. It says something about the effects of 15 years of Sinn Fein misrule that proposals to return to the traditional values that made our education system admired worldwide seem revolutionary.

The promise of positive change at this stage is perhaps necessarily vague. Given Mrs Foster's appreciation for our education system, perhaps we can look forward to concrete proposals for protecting the heritage under threat from Education Minister John O'Dowd, and that she will commit her party to retaining the long-established parity between Northern Ireland's public examinations and those in England.

Why didn't she give a cast iron guarantee to underprivileged children to remove the Revised Curriculum with its "learning-to-learn" philosophy, proven to be damaging to the achievement of children living in poverty?

Readers may recall that the CCEA-designed curriculum proposed to raise the reading standards of those children deemed to be not "developmentally ready" by delaying the formal teaching of reading by up to two years!

If Arlene Foster were to abandon this ill-conceived curriculum her party could claim to have removed a significant number of poor children from the left-behind category.

It currently seems that Arlene Foster doesn't intend to sweep away John O'Dowd's legacy. This leaves schools under threat, a curriculum in place which leaves the underprivileged child behind and the standards demanded by CCEA examinations (for the first time ever) perceived to be inferior to those in England, breaking parity.

Will the DUP advocate the American approach to no child is left behind? For all its focus on tests, the real emphasis in the American model is teaching. It is a requirement of the policy that instruction be research-based. That would mean the inevitable abandonment of the Revised Curriculum and a return to traditional teaching in Northern Ireland.

  • Stephen Elliott is chair of the Parental Alliance for Choice in Education

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