Tuesday, December 04, 2007

One size fits awl

So Caitríona Ruane, a minister for education whose accent isn't even Northern Irish (although she sends her kids across the border to our schools here), reckons all kids should go to grammar schools. Or to "secondary moderns". Whatever. Main thing is: everybody's the same in Sinn Féin's Leninist world, so we should be putting tomorrow's master cabinetmakers in the same classrooms as budding astrophysicists and cardinals: one type of post-primary school only. But what type? And how? She published a 7-page wonder today, but it's handsomely devoid of specifics.

I'm shocked but not surprised. For decades Ruane and Sinn Féin have had the luxury of not having to create anything, just shoot it down. She and her party colleagues in the Exec are going to have it tough now because it's no longer enough just to moan, they have to get on and create something. And that something has to be better than what we've got. Sure it can be improved on, but if she wants to bin everything and start from a clean sheet of paper she's got her work cut out, and in my mind this paper shows she's nowhere near up to the job.

Whatever kind of school she went to isn't the kind she should be advocating for the rest of us. She's written seven pages of rhetoric with transfixing helium like "My intention is to mobilise and co-ordinate the resources at my disposal to build a modern and flexible education system" and the prize-winning non-statement "I am an advocate for dynamic and effective change" Goodness, what a wonderful person you think you are! And, by the way, it's an advocate of, Caitríona, not "for". Get some English lessons.

A propos, she seems to have a great penchant for an Gaeilge though. Loves rubbing in it. Get this (one of several token nods): "Tá an Dréacht Clár Rialtais soiléir sa mhéid seo i ndearbhú go mbeidh na focail 'cothroime' 'cuimsiú' agus 'comhionannas' mar focail in ag an fheidhmeannas i solathrú polasaithe agus clár an fheidhmeannas". I, a mere subhuman Protestant, get the odd word, but they're bullshit words as well. Can any of my Gaeltacht readers tell me if this statement contains any specifics of which she's deliberately starving the English-speaking majority? (By which I mean people who can speak proper English, had she but deigned to use such).

She goes on to decry "an unequal two-tier system that was borne sixty years ago". Good Lord. Where? Whither was it so carried? To where was it thus transported? BORN, Caitríona. Like children. Gimme strength.

It goes on. "We now have an opportunity to truly transform our system into a world class system fit for the 21st century". Oh dear, Caitríona. A split infinitive and a missing hyphen all in one sentence. I could laugh, but it'd be cruel.

Knock me for being a pedantic fart if you will, but - my - she's easy meat. Laugh and mock, but it still leaves us with a hot-air, post-modernist PR merchant at the head of our education system who managed to dominate today's news with no news at all.

Some Minister for Education. Some advertisement for unitary schooling. Some class.

17 Comments:

At 3:08 a.m., Anonymous bill said...

God BLESS that lady!!! For specifics, you can look at almost any educational system in the developed world, as I'm sure she has, and find a better alternative to the neanderthal system of 11+. Perhaps, she regrets not having the opportunity herself to improve on her spelling and grammar. The system, currently in effect, has kept enough people, in both communities, as uneducated mindless cretins, for the puposes of manipulation, far too long. It's about bloody time the people of Northern Ireland (ALL the people of Northern Ireland) had a chance at decent post primary education. Putting the onerous burden of that exam on 10/11 year olds is not only wrong, it's criminal. Sorry for the rant, but I feel very strongly about the harm that I have seen that do, not only to the kids, but to us as a people and a society.

 
At 5:04 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

A more egalitarian education system will now emerge with opportunities for more kids to benefit. Thank you, Minister Ruane!

 
At 11:15 a.m., Blogger B.U. said...

Egalitarian is good. Dumbing-down is not.

 
At 11:19 a.m., Anonymous beano said...

What's egalitarian about having mummy and daddy pay for a place in top schools instead of earning it on academic merit?

"For specifics, you can look at almost any educational system in the developed world"

OK, let's look across the water. We send more pupils from less privileged backgrounds to university than anywhere else in the UK, despite a cap on the number of places at the 2 local universities that doesn't exist for those on the mainland.

The amount of emotive crap spouted in favour of abolition of grammar schools greatly overshadows the legitimate complaints. By all means discuss improvements to the education system, but leave the hyperbole to minister's who are clearly unable to deal in substance.

beano

 
At 1:34 p.m., Anonymous beano said...

I finally got my directionless anger condensed into something that resembles a blog post.

It was only after I'd posted I realised that my headline "Ruane Confirms Grammar Abolition Plan could make it sound like she's abolishing grammar altogether which, judging from your analysis, could well be her long term goal!

 
At 11:00 a.m., Anonymous Reg said...

"What's egalitarian about having mummy and daddy pay for a place in top schools instead of earning it on academic merit?"

That's the danger, Beano.

As horribly unfair as the 11+ is on children, it could be replaced by something much worse - an educational league table based on how much Ma & Da earn.

 
At 1:25 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's penchant for "an Gaeilge" with an "an" and it's Gaeltacht with an "l" . Apart from your cut and paste you only attempted a couple of words of Irish and you fucked them up.

When did the minister say that post-14 there would be no specialisation between vocational and academic learning? Your own invention. She referred to Finland which has a very explicit (post 16 admittedly) separation between the upper secondary (matriculation) stage and the vocational.
Bringing this separation down to 14 should be enough even for your academic snobbery.

Remember that the current situation pushes all kids through the same GCSE's, partly in order to try to counter the potential injustices of the 10+ separation (and most kids are only 10 when they take the exam).

Deferring this separation to 14 will justify a greater academic / vacational split, not reduce it.

The lack of rigour in your argument is no great testament to your vaunted Grammar School education.

You pudding.

 
At 11:29 a.m., Anonymous kensei said...

Only pedants believe the ability to spell has anything significant to do with education. And for all your moaning about a lack of substance, there is no real substance to your argument here.

It might be added that Ruane now has the distinction of being one of the few ministers that have actually made any kind of difficult decision.

Also, other people using Irish does not make you subhuman. It's in the Agreement and everything. Deal with it.

Worst post EVAR BU.

beano

"What's egalitarian about having mummy and daddy pay for a place in top schools instead of earning it on academic merit?"

Yeah, because parents being able to afford being coached isn't going to have any effect on the ability to do the transfer test whatsoever. No siree, that's crazy talk.

The motivation for Unionist support for this is for precisely the opposite reason. Imagine, you might have loyalists from the Village and the Donegall Road running about Methody.

"OK, let's look across the water. We send more pupils from less privileged backgrounds to university than anywhere else in the UK, despite a cap on the number of places at the 2 local universities that doesn't exist for those on the mainland."

How much more? Are you comparing us with the entire of England, because I really doubt that'd be a fair comparison. Where do we fit in on a more regional basis? Can you prove that difference is due to the 11+ and not differences in attitude excetra? Is enough to make it worthwhile to shit on everyone else - we're also near the top of the table for people with no qualifications.

"The amount of emotive crap spouted in favour of abolition of grammar schools greatly overshadows the legitimate complaints. By all means discuss improvements to the education system, but leave the hyperbole to minister's who are clearly unable to deal in substance."

That isn't a complaint that can be solely level at advocates of abolishing them, beano.

"Best education system in the world"? Ha ha ha ha ha

 
At 11:36 a.m., Anonymous jaffa said...

Well said Kenzei,

That was my anonymous post earlier BTW.

Jaffa

 
At 1:05 p.m., Anonymous kensei said...

Oh, and beano -

What percentage of the population of NI is considered to be underprivileged and how does that compare with Engerland.

 
At 1:13 p.m., Blogger B.U. said...

Jaffa: It's penchant for "an Gaeilge" with an "an" and it's Gaeltacht with an "l" . Apart from your cut and paste you only attempted a couple of words of Irish and you fucked them up.
Steady, pal. If you're a regular you'll know I have respect for Gaelic and its speakers, despite never having been taught it. I've corrected these spellings. And BTW, less of the "Irish": my ancestors were speaking Pictish in Ulster long before the Gaels invaded. And whether you're speaking Gaelic or English I'll thank you to mind your language.
When did the minister say that post-14 there would be no specialisation between vocational and academic learning?
Not at all. She mentioned no specifics. That's just it. But "one size fits all" is certainly the smell of the hot air she's breathing at us.
You pudding.
LOL. Probably something in that!

Kensei: Also, other people using Irish does not make you subhuman. It's in the Agreement and everything. Deal with it.
I have no problem with people speaking Gaelic, in fact I hope to be able to do it myself some day. But these token nods SF politicians keep doing seem so cynically designed to (a) alienate non-Gaelic speakers by intimating they're less Irish and (b) play to the gallery of their hardcore hardcore supporters. It's just so false. So much better, if they want, to publish an English document and a full Gaelic translation.
Worst post EVAR BU
OK, I'll accept that if you take my points on boards too - just for what they're worth. It's about feelings, and I don't claim to be perfect.

Sl�n, BU.

 
At 1:43 p.m., Anonymous kensei said...

"I have no problem with people speaking Gaelic, in fact I hope to be able to do it myself some day. But these token nods SF politicians keep doing seem so cynically designed to (a) alienate non-Gaelic speakers by intimating they're less Irish and (b) play to the gallery of their hardcore hardcore supporters. It's just so false."

Or, maybe you aren't even in their motivations.

"So much better, if they want, to publish an English document and a full Gaelic translation."

Yes. But that isn't a matter for SF. It's a matter for the Assembly to sort out instantaneous translation for MLAs and dual translation for the record.

"OK, I'll accept that if you take my points on boards too - just for what they're worth. It's about feelings, and I don't claim to be perfect."

I disagree on the 11+ but you haven't given me anything to engage with. It is simply a rant.

 
At 1:54 p.m., Anonymous jaffa said...

Thanks for your response BU.

Apologies for my the Anglo-Saxon.

Another question re Grammar schools.

The allocation of 11+ grades is designed to separate children into populations of relative intelligence, not absolute. So 25% get A's, 10% B's (5% each B+ and B-), 10% C's and 55% D's.

As spare capacity has grown in the Grammar school system these schools have been permitted to allow entry to an increasing number of children so that North Down Grammars are now accepting kids with C's (including Sullivan - see their admissions pages).

If you believe that Grammars should offer a distinctly different education to the most gifted then would you argue that they should be permitted to accept only those with A's and would you accept the consequent closure of "redundant" Grammars and the concentration of super-academic schools in centralized hot-houses?

If, on the other hand, you believe that Grammars should accept an increasing number of the lower quartiles then do you also accept that they need to offer a diversity of education within them so as not to apply a "one size fits all" solution to the children they take in.

In other words you either close Grammars or you force them to offer vocational courses to some streams. Once you've done that you may as well allow the Grammars to adopt Secondary Moderns or open their own internal technical schools / departments. I see no threat in Bangor Grammar opening a technical school or St Columbanus (catholic high) a Grammar School, perhaps in their own blocks. The presence of a choice of facilites within the oen school seems the most sensible way to deal with demographic change and local Grammar School education provision without having to resort to what you call a "one size fits all" approach.

I'll make this yet easier. We can buy our qualification in from the international best. I would recommend the BTEC inspired new English Diplomas in the Technolgy School and the International Baccalaurate in the Grammar School.

Those are the choices I wish I'd had.

 
At 7:33 p.m., Blogger B.U. said...

Kensei, I disagree on the 11+ but you haven't given me anything to engage with. It is simply a rant.
If Ms Ruane was doing her job she'd have given us both something to engage with.

 
At 7:35 p.m., Blogger B.U. said...

Jaffa, I believe kids should have the right schooling for their skills and their aspirations. Having tomorrow's cardinals and cabinetmakers in one room doing the same stuff is hardly going to promote that. Maybe the 11+ was a one-dimensional way to stream people at too early an age - I don't know because I'm not an expert, but I'm hacked off that Ms Ruane hasn't got the best minds together and figure it out by now.

 
At 11:12 p.m., Blogger O'Neill said...

I'm an ex grammar-school boy and also from a working-class background and I can tell you there were very few of *my sort* (class not religion-wise) in my school.

My parents made immense sacrifices to push both me and my brother and sisters through the system and I'm grateful for that, but let's not pretend that the system is serving all sections of our society equally. Plenty of kids who were my equal at primary school level didn't have the same parental push and as a result haven't reached their full potential through no fault of their own.

A very interesting comparison would be to compare the results of top 20% (academically) of the English comprehensives with our much vaunted grammar schools.

Overall (as these week's PISA results have proven) there is very little difference between the standards being achieved (as a whole) in England, Scotland and N.Ireland (poor Wales seems to be struggling for some unaccountable reason).The ROI is trumping the Uk in most disclipines- does it run selection at 11?

Where Ruane has got it disasterously wrong is not coming up with viable alternatives (and there are plenty) thus handing the initiative to the grammar school lobby.

And just a final point, it's really disappointing that this issue still divides the parties amongst the old traditional faultlines. There are conservative catholics who want the grammar schools to survive, there are protestants (see the Newsletters interview in E Belfast) who can see the inequities of the presents system...yet still, by and large we argue along the same old lines

 
At 4:25 a.m., Anonymous bill said...

Poiticians are all about grandstanding and hot air. Cut the lady some slack, "Render unto Caesar..."

How's this? Mandatory public schooling until the age of 16. All funded and paid for publicly. Posh, private schools available paid for by the attendees with no public funding. Universities set standards for enrolment based on your final year averages. Everybody gets a crack at it.

Fortunately, Churchill and Montgomery were still able to shine in spite of being lousy students.

 

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