Republican News · Thursday 5 October 1999

[An Phoblacht]


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 Ombudsman.

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 education here.''

A feature of the selective system which is of great 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
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.

``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 particularly significant.

``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 schools.

``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,'' McGuinness said.

``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 developed.''

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 arrangements.

``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.

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