MARTIN McGUINNESS LAUNCHES SELECTION RESEARCH REPORT
By Ned Kelly
Six County Education Minister, Martin McGuinness, this week
launched a major research report into the effects of the
selective system of secondary education in the Six Counties and
announced the setting up of an independent Review Body, to
consider future arrangements for post-primary education.
The chairman of the Review Body is Gerry Burns, the former
Speaking at the launch of the report at Stormont, McGuinness
said: ``After 50 years of the current selective education
arrangements, during which time the world has changed
significantly, and as we start a new century with a locally
elected Assembly and Executive, the time is right for the issues
raised by this report to be examined. It is time for everyone to
have their say in the type of education system we want for our
children. In launching this report today, I am therefore also
launching a public debate on the future arrangements for
The Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator acknowledged that the issue of
selection is controversial and that the public debate would be
intense, passionate and wide-ranging.
A feature of the selective system which is of great concern...is
the sense of failure and the huge blow to self-esteem felt by
those who do not obtain a grammar school place, a group which
constitutes the majority of our children
``It is important that we have an informed debate and I urge
everyone to read the report carefully and consider other
information and points of view, before making up their minds on
this complex issue,'' he said.
McGuinness said the four key issues raised by the report were
``Firstly, the existence of a long tail of low achieving schools
alongside our many high achieving schools. The research suggests
that this polarity in achievement may be an inevitable
consequence of the selective system.
``Secondly, the significant boost to attainment, resulting from
attendance at a grammar school and the under-representation of
children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds in grammar
``Thirdly, the detrimental impact which preparation for the
Transfer Test has on primary schools, which is most evident in
the narrowing of the Key Stage 2 curriculum.
``Fourthly, a feature of the selective system which is of great
concern to me and, I believe, to most parents - and that is the
sense of failure and the huge blow to self-esteem felt by those
who do not obtain a grammar school place, a group which
constitutes the majority of our children.''
Explaining how the debate would be progressed, McGuinness
announced the setting up of an independent Review Body of up to 9
members, under the Chairmanship of Mr Gerry Burns, the former
Ombudsman, to consider and make recommendations on the most
appropriate future arrangements for post-primary education.
``I am anxious that there should be public confidence in the
objectivity and fairness of the review process and to promote
this I have decided to establish an independent Review Body, to
examine the future arrangements for post-primary education,''
``The Review Body will have wide ranging terms of reference and
will undertake extensive consultation. It will report to me by
the end of May 2001.
``I have consulted the Executive on the composition of the Body
and will consult also with the Education Committee before
finalising the membership. The Review Body will be established by
the end of October. It will be supported by a Panel of Education
Advisers, one each from Scotland, England and the 26 Counties,
along with a local adviser. This will be Professor Tony Gallagher
who led the selection research team.
``In addition, an Education Consultative Forum will be
established. This will comprise the main education interests and
will assist the Review Body, by acting as a source of advice and
a sounding board for ideas.''
Emphasising the importance of a review body to the education
system, McGuinness added that ``everyone with a view on this issue
must be given the opportunity to express it. I am determined
therefore, to ensure that the debate is structured in a way that
enables views to be received, opinion and evidence to be
presented and analysed, and proposals for change to be
He highlighted what he termed as a unique opportunity to create
an education system compatible with the needs of the 21st
century. He stressed the importance of focusing on education
outcomes rather than structures and urged everyone to participate
positively in the forthcoming discussions on future education
``Education matters to us all. I would therefore urge all
interests to approach this issue in a constructive manner and
submit views to the Review Body for consideration. Only if
everyone contributes to the debate in a positive way can we
ensure that we get the education system that our society and
economy need and our children deserve.''
McGuinness concluded by thanking Professor Tony Gallagher and
Professor Alan Smith and their team for the ``enormous amount of
work that they have done since commencing the project in
September 1998''. He praised all the schools, teachers, pupils,
parents and others, who willingly participated in the research
and provided much of the material for analysis and study.