Archive for January, 2009

Select this!

The Catholic church in Northern Ireland defends the expensive need for a separate education system on the grounds that Catholics are believers who need faith schools in which their catholic ethos is affirmed.
Think again.

It is painful to say it and it is not what I wanted, but the case against academic selection in our schools is lost.
Catholic schools, which were opposed to the 11 plus have changed their minds.
Not all of them have declared openly yet the decisions that they have taken. But dozens have, and many more in the coming weeks will.
This is a development which has astonished and disheartened many who are close to it. The nice bright middle-class children are to have the benefit of something like a private educational sector, without having to pay for it.
Catholic middle-class greed has trumped the equality argument.
The Catholic bishops were opposed to selection. The Catholic teacher training college, St Mary’s, was opposed to selection. The religious orders which founded many of the Catholic schools were opposed to selection.
The arguments made against a selection procedure for children of 11 were many and strong. They said that preparation for a test was damaging primary education for all because resources were going into cramming children — which is not the same as teaching.
And success or failure in that test told the child that he or she was a success or failure in life. Further, the tilting of resources towards grammar schools was depriving the nonacademic schools.
But where parents who value education see the opportunity of getting their children into a nice school which will section them off from the broad rabble, they will take that opportunity.
And the bishops can say what they like.
I asked a Catholic grammar school headmaster last week if his school would be introducing a selection procedure. He conceded only that it was still thinking seriously about it, but much more fascinating was his explanation. He said, if we don’t provide a grammar sector for Catholic children, they will go to state schools or private Protestant schools that do.
He was saying, in effect, that selection means more to middle-class Catholics than Catholicism does.
It is not only Catholicism that is damaged by the rush to selection.
During the peace process, middle-class Catholics put their weight behind Sinn Fein, to urge the party to complete a power-sharing deal with unionism. Sinn Fein abolished the 11 plus and fought a long campaign against academic selection. In the furtherance of that campaign, it still perhaps speaks for for the working-class kids who are sidlined into secondary schools and get poor results. But Sinn Fein is now fighting the middle-class Catholics as well as the DUP on this and surely cannot win.
Indeed, this issue has the potential to deliver Catholic votes to the DUP.
We wanted an end to sectarianism: selection at 11 has provided us with an issue which overrides all sectarian instincts. It would be charming to imagine that some political genius in the DUP foresaw this, but I think many simply jumped one way because Martin McGuinness had jumped the other.
In the midst of this we see the political party which hopes to represent the Catholic community, the SDLP, floundering for an issue on which it might ride back to prominence. Perhaps it is not as cynical as the other political parties, and that is to its credit, and cannot do what, say, Fianna Fail would do with a gift like this, and grab it with both hands.
But now that the case against selection is lost, bar the long painful battle – perhaps through the courts – the primary concern of all parties must be to ensure that standards and resources for schools which do not select, are defended.
I think you could call what we are facing in to — a class war.

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