What does John O’Dowd know about education?


Is John O’Dowd a successful Minister of Education?  It depends on who you ask. If you ask the DUP, for instance, you’ll be told he’s useless. They’ll wonder aloud how Mr O’Dowd, who has few if any academic qualifications, whom some unionist commentators refer to as ‘the former baker’ – how can such a man be put in charge of education? 

Which shows what the DUP know about the link between career success and academic success. Those who are most gifted academically have a habit of winding up as academics; those who are less gifted academically are forced to find other routes to making a living. Is the academic smarter than the butcher, the baker, the candlestick man?  It depends on which b, b or c m ( No, Virginia, Perkin Warbeck didn’t invent this initials thing – P G Wodehouse did; although of course Perkin uses it better than any living writer)…Where was I? Oh yes.  It depends on who you’re talking to about the ministerial quality of those with few academic qualifications.

Take Martin McGuinness. He has few if any academic qualifications, but as Education Minister he went straight to the issue that has scared off his predecessors, the 11+, took it by the throat and rattled it very, very hard. There is effectively still an 11+  –  both Catholic and Protestant grammar schools have built their own defensive wall to keep out the hoi polloi – but the days of deciding a child’s academic future by a stupid examination at the age of 11 are on the way out. Beyond education, few nationalists/republicans  and perhaps few unionists would deny that McGuinness has been more than effective as Deputy First Minister.  The SDLP’s Sean Farren, when he was Minister of Finance, had no background in the world of numbers – his was an arts background. But it didn’t make him incapable of doing the job. The fact is,  how well a Minister discharges his/her duties in a post depends on the quality of the man or woman.

And you only have to watch and listen to John O’Dowd for five minutes to realise that here is a man with a very firm grip on his brief. Like the historian Diarmaid Ferriter,  O’Dowd resembles a street fighter; but like Ferriter he is a highly effective performer in his field and an able debater. In fact,  since Mitchel McLaughlin took something of a back seat in our local politics, I can’t think of a more able debater than O’Dowd. I know there’s a view that says Gerry Adams’s successor should be from the South and I can see why  it is said; but if the new leader is to be elected solely on  ability and leadership qualities, O’Dowd would be a  strong contender.

Maybe that’s why he’s been the focus of  attack from within political unionism recently. The old dictum catches it well : it’s when they start ignoring you that you should worry, not when they vilify you.

33 Responses to What does John O’Dowd know about education?

  1. John Patton August 25, 2014 at 9:19 am #

    I agree that academic achievement is not the sole or only indicator of intelligence and capable performance. Indeed, in my experience, there is frequently a distinct lack of technical and ‘people’ skills among those whom society regards as significantly intelligent. The most creative force that I met when growing up in Derry was a joiner. He founded credit union in the City, organised the defence of his neighbourhood against a marauding RUC and rebuilt the inner city as CEO of the City Trust . When I started teaching, the Minister of Education in the Six Counties was a plumber.At that time the job was a sinecure, since the Unionists didn’t place any great emphasis on education and their supporters have paid the price for that neglect. I know little of John O Dowd but I respect your judgement that he’s the man for the job

  2. Norma wilson August 25, 2014 at 9:45 am #

    I cringe when I hear him speak, luck and tuck for look and took? My first grand daughter, was born in Craigavon hospital, her accent was awful, she used to say Nana I lick you, for love.
    In the end I bribed her, no goodies or rewards, unless you speak properly, her parents paid for her to attend prep school, she passed her eleven plus and now attends Hunter House, were should she ever get to meet the Queen, I know she will deliver, and
    execute her accent perfectly.
    Have you ever heard a real belfast accent, horrible, horrible?

    • Jude Collins August 25, 2014 at 10:30 am #

      Good to hear you in full flow again, Norma. Now I’ll disagree with you. Accent is a WONDERFUL thing. When I taught in Canada, I told my students that the way people spoke in Ireland varied from county to county – sometimes within counties, a matter of a few miles. They couldn’t believe it. It’s an old imperial trick to get the natives to despise that which comes from themselves – it’s called cultural cringe. I love to hear different accents – Ballymena, South Armagh, Derry, Coleraine, Fermanagh – as the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins ( a Jesuit as you probably know) said? ‘Glory be to God for dappled things’. The way the Windsors speak is simply another dialect that we’ve been taught is ‘proper’ speech. Listen to old newsreel or TV reports – the voice of the commentator is more hilarious than ‘proper’. I blame the Beatles…

      • Cal August 25, 2014 at 11:24 am #

        Ah the Windsors ! Proof positive that academic success is not necessary to forge a successful career.

      • paddykool August 25, 2014 at 12:26 pm #

        Hi Jude..
        If you actually listen to the individual Beatles speaking….case in point here…they each have a different Liverpool accent , emphasising their varied Liverpool areas of upbringing ..As a frequent visitor to that vibrant town, I have become very aware of the fantastic range of accents within that city. I’m glad you blame the Beatles , of course .They helped blow the pomposity of language out of the water.That north /south divide that marked out territory like dogs’ pissings on lamp posts…. Listen too, to how the Queen’s accent has changed between the 1940’s/1950’s and now…It’s amazing to watch these things evolve….Evolution in front of your ears!!

        Even in a small town the accent can change from one place to another. …from one side of town to another..,,from one school to another.It’s quite a study really.

        As for grammar in speech …well I hear so many on the radio and TV getting their grammar wrong all the time. I find it jarring when someone of influence , like a politician or a radio presenter… get it really wrong.It’s a bit like the wild apostrophe in the greengrocer’s shop we talked about earlier or the misuse of “were”, “where” or “their” and “there” or “chose” and “choose” or “too”, “two” or “to”…which I immediately pick up on all the time …especially when written in newspapers. You expect a good editor or typesetter to sort that out.

        . It’s one of those little things that constantly jar and jump out .. Tricks .like “i” before “e” except after “c”…which stand by you for life from the days at primary school never let you down.
        As for John O’Dowd…Well I only know what i see on TV or hear on radio. He’s seems able to muster a debate. He can extemporise without a lot of notes too but you’d never get into that game without that basic skill …Well you shouldn’t , should you?

        You might ask what qualifies any of them to be “experts” in anything though . Peter Robinson as First Minister, anyone? He was an estate agent , wasn’t he? From selling houses to running the country? There was a time , of course , that to be a good politician , you probably had to be university educated and possibly have studied law. That’s not the case nowadays though.In any case I’ve known a few lawyers in my time, whose expertise ended at the office door.Not to put a fine tooth on it , they could barely tie their shoes outside of their daily working remit. There were no other worldly skills on view….I know of many educated people who are virtually helpless in every practical way and rely on others to do every little task for them …from cooking their food to making sure they are dressed properly …don’t even talk about fixing a fuse or putting up a shelf….! .

        • Jude Collins August 25, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

          I’m with you too, PK. I flinch when I meet a greengrocer’s apostrophe or when I hear ‘done’ instead of ‘did’. But in the end it’s all grammatical and punctuational(??) snobbery. If we know what a person means ( btw, Norma, if you’re listening, I agree that when you can’t understand an accent, that’s bad – but it doesn’t happen that much), it’s a bit angels-dancing-on-a-pin to get hot and bothered about spelling/punctuation. I suppose you can take the man out of teaching but it’s more difficult to take teaching out of the man – or woman, of course, sorry, sorry, Norma – or woman…

          • paddykool August 25, 2014 at 3:20 pm #

            Ah you know ..Jude , I really don’t get that upset when “regular” folks have their Mrs Malaprop moments. My late mother- in- law had a wonderful time with her own unique take on the english language and we all loved her dearly for her wonderful linguistic inventions …and expected them as part of the weft and weave of her personality..I draw the line at politicians though.I expect that if the head is popped above the parapet and becomes public property , then there are certain standards and skills of communication expected…..unless they are appearing in Sheridan’s play…maybe….

      • Paddy everton August 25, 2014 at 1:26 pm #

        Jude, I’m sure we all know individuals that we grew up with and after they left home for a few months, came back with hybrid accents sounding as if they were tourists. I’ve spent quite a few years on the road myself and recall meeting elderly members of the London Irish community who had been in England thirty or forty years and sounded as if they just got off the plane from Cork. For some, how they sound is important as they want to project an impression of themselves. For others retaining their roots is more important. If we all started to speak exactly the same i fear conversation would become one long drone!

        • Jude Collins August 25, 2014 at 2:36 pm #

          With you all the way, Paddy. Just one addition: sometimes people develop an accent because they are a little fearful – they want to blend in with the new situation/country in which they find themselves. They don’t do it consciously but the change is driven by a desire not to seem odd or weird or even stupid. It’s a misguided attitude but it’s one that I feel we should include. Change in accent isn’t necessarily people trying to show how posh they’ve become…

          • paddykool August 25, 2014 at 5:11 pm #

            I remember well the first time many years ago ,I went away to college in Leeds in good old Yorkshire and I loved how some of the lads and especially older characters, spoke in almost old fashioned biblical tones .There was lots of “thee” and “thou” in common speech and i thought that was very interesting. I soon discovered that I had to slow my speech down too to be properly understood .As you know we speak at quite a rattle here. The thing is though, when you slow down our Irish accents we begin to sound like Americans….The minute we get amongst people from the old country or go back home, we get back up to speed…….now ask yourself where that John Wayne or Burt Lancaster accent came from in the first place……eh?

  3. Pointis August 25, 2014 at 10:44 am #

    John O’Dowd is a deep thinking and reasoned politician and a formidable minister for education. To be the captain of a ship where half the crew have determined that the voyage is to be sabotaged before the boat leaves port is an unenviable position to be in.

    Unionists determined at the outset that the proposed unitary education authority ESA, which was designed to cut out duplication in the 5 existing education and library boards was going to be sabotaged because of Sinn Fein’s position on academic selection. Because preparatory plans for the implementation of ESA were extensive this has disadvantaged the whole education system while unionist politicians snigger and gaffaw at the struggling working classes.

    To challenge the academic selection system here is to challenge a critical tenet of the system of hierarchy and privilege upon which the unionist system of politics and power is based. The unionist political machine has managed for generations to keep it’s working class uneducated and subservient to its own right wing, conservative agenda.

  4. Norma wilson August 25, 2014 at 11:12 am #

    I love the Derry accent, and the Fermanagh accent, the Cork accent, makes my heart race, I need to be geared up for it. My favourite accent is the dirtiest Dublin accent you can get. But at the end of the day if people cannot understand you, what is the point.
    By the way although I am Belfast born and bread, I have never spoke with that dialect.
    But I love my accent, it is my pride and joy! I told you once before standing in Long Market St, Pietermaritzburg in South Africa getting money out of the ATM, when I heard this voice saying ” Is that a Northern Ireland accent”,?
    I used to go to Loughall when I was quite young, and the lady of the house would say
    ” Do you hear that wine, clouse the dour”!
    But I suppose your right it is our signature tune.
    ATB Norma

  5. Am Ghobsmacht August 25, 2014 at 11:17 am #

    I agree with the idea that qualifications alone are not the basis of an authority or effective management skills.
    Some of the most able and far sighted people I’ve met are/were farmers with just the basic education of their day.
    A degree is all well and good but by no means elevates a person to a position where they are undoubtedly ‘superior’ to everyone else (and I have an engineering degree, in terms of being aloof we’re not far behind law students and medics…).

    As for what the DUP say about him, well, you’re 100% on the money, it’s if they ignore him that the alarm bells should be ringing.

    Thing is though, I watched Alex Maskey try to ‘sell’ the idea of a UI to Arlene Foster and unionist people in general (not easy when she’s sitting there rolling her eyes all over the place and tutting like an old headmaster) but one of his main ‘selling points’ was the ‘reduction of duplication of services’.

    A fine point and one that serves the UI argument well.

    Until you realise that SF head a department that has an abundance of duplicated if not TRIPLICATED services.

    So, Maskey puts up a good fight but then SF’s (ergo O’Dowd’s too) religious apartheid endorsement pulls the rug from under his feet.

    O’Dowd got a pummelling for not helping with the proposed Irish medium school in Maghera and thon transport kerfuffle for another Irish medium.

    Neither of which would be a problem if we just mixed a few schools, sold off the excess (and I MEAN excess, no scrimping) assets.

    So, an effective minister he may be, but I suppose it depends by which standard you measure him with e.g. Poots, when measured by the standard of ‘the Earth is 5000 years old’ crowd is doing a grand job, but not so well when other standards are applied…

    Put it like this, I measure him by the standard of efficiency of services, funds and removing unnecessary sectarian obstacles within the education system in mixed areas, as such I find him wanting. As usual with NI, each to their own….

  6. Freddy Mallins August 25, 2014 at 11:26 am #

    Totally agree Jude. This aping the Anglo accent makes me cringe. People from the North pronouncing ‘taking’and ‘place’, as ‘tayking’and playce.’Protestant Middle class schools emasculate local accents. They abhor anything remotely Irish sounding and eschew diversity. I know a guy who went to the Royal school in Strabane and was raised on a farm, but he talks like he’s from the Malone road, which I find all a bit disappointing. Surely we should champion the music of accents, wherever they are from.

  7. John Patton August 25, 2014 at 12:58 pm #

    Norma has learned to use her loaf.

    • Pointis August 25, 2014 at 3:08 pm #

      Ha ha John, it was a recipe that was handed down!

  8. Perkin Warbeck August 25, 2014 at 1:08 pm #

    Not sure why the DUP diss John O’Dowd as a ‘baker’. According to Google JOD is/was a ‘chef’, a different kettle of f. altogether. Not better, not worse, just different. Indeed, with the DUP’s devotion to the dough (half crowns etc) their dissing is difficult to divine. All the d’s. As in LSD.

    Anytime I’ve seen JOD on the box I’ve been not unimpressed by the cut of his gib. Indeed, he reminds one not a little of another O’Dowd, a Meath footballer of yore, who was never behind the ditch when the going got rough, and whose nickname was ‘Rowdly’. Tough but tactical.

    Not as debonair or as polished perhaps as Mitchel McLaughlin who was/still is(?) the best debater on the box bar none. Even when, especially when, Michael McDowell got the ‘better’ of him on one legendary occasion. He did and his whole grain bread. Mitch had Mike up against the ropes and hanging on for dear l., when the latter pulled a dirty cannibalistic trick another Mike had patented. Of course, the kept media of the Free Southern Stateen stood, whooped and applauded this ‘victory’. But then in the land of the McDowell the one-eyed goy is king.

    Speaking of Kings there would be nothing at all untoward with JOD the chef becoming to Sinn Fein what BOD is to the Egg-and-Wooden-Spoon Chasers. After all, is there not already a King Henry called Shef the reigning stickfighter in the island of Ireland? And BOD’s very own favourite sportsman to boot, to all-weather boot.

    One would indeed look forward to the day when a toque-wearing Taoiseach took over. After all there is, is there not, but a small ‘i’ in the differ between a chef and a chief? Certainly, no better qualified person to choose his own, erm, kitchen cabinet.

    The original toque was designated a Dodin Bouffant and its 101 ripples represented the 101 different ways that a chef could prepare an egg. No better man, one suspects, than JOD to break an uppity egg-head or hundred during his tenure as Minister of Education.

    Which broaches the question: is Henry V still the Shakespeare play of choice in the curriculum north of the frontier?

    One asks that question in all curiosity. For no drama by The Great Shakes seems to have had such a major effect on Nordies. There was Famous Seamus H. who was besotted with the only Irish character to appear in the 37 plays: Captain McMorris: ‘Of my nation ! What ish my nation? Ish a villain, and a bastard, and knave, and a rascal. What ish my nation? Who talks of my nation?’.

    And it is difficult to escape the conclusion that fellow Derryman Brian Friel’s famous ‘bilingual’ love scene between Lieutenant Yolland and Maire the colleen in ‘Translations’ was not prompted by the bilingual l. scene between Henry V and this French floozy, Catherine.

    The inverted commas are not unimportant here: if BF’s love scene had actually been bilingual it would not have found such favour with his BFF’s in TUT. While there was ‘witchcraft in the (bilingual) lips’ of Catherine, nothing of that sort could be leveled at the lips of Maire. The TUT doesn’t have any truck with that sort of Leprehcauny stuff no more.

    Whatever you bay, bay buttons.

    Indeed, the love scene in Henry V was prefaced by the French King’s reference to a ‘maiden city’ whose ‘maidenly walls’ had yet to be, erm, ‘breached’.

    And then there was that cute Colonel Tim Collins, of course, and his inspirational improvement on Shakespeare in the sandy surrounds of Iraq. (Which is known in Leprechaun as: Iraic, ri ra agus ruille buille). One was saddened to read Esteemed Blogmeister’s recent distancing of himself from the charismatic CTC.

    This was certainly a different reaction from the one made manifest among the Memsahibs of the Moral High Ground in Government Buildings, Dublin at the time as they mumbled his gorgeous name during their water cooler moments. If one says that nether garments were moist it was possibly not because of tilted Styrofoam cups. The same Memsahibs who had hatched a plan to drape the Union Jill (oops, one almost said, the Butcher’s Apron) as the Great Untouchable was about to enter GB for the first time. Alas, it remained unhatched. (See eggs, above).

    Arising out of Henry V, one wonders too about the sporting curriculum in schools in the Wee Six Counties. For in that play, tennis balls played a part. As when the French Dauphin taunted Henry’s youth by sending him a ‘treasury’ of tennis balls.

    One is prompted to raise this topic by a typical tut, tut article in today’s TUT. For there is scarcely any subject more political in the education field than that of….sport.

    This is the subheading: ‘The mixed feeling our greatest sporting talent engenders is a rejoinder to patriotic Gaeldom’s difficulty in acknowledging the impact of partition’.


    The tut-tuter here is one, Brian O’Connor (which, for some funny, unfathomable reason puts PW in mind of Conor C. O’Brien) and the g.s.t. is of course, Rory Mac. And a certain (perceived) lethargy on Gaeldom’s part in applauding their fellow Irishman.

    The following bockety line from BOC is: ‘ an impact blindingly obvious to everyone not pedaling an agenda’.

    Eh? (2)

    Can this, perchance, be the same BOC , the hor. cor. in trilby and brown brogues, who with his BIC in one hand and his furled umbrella in the other not so long ago berated a Brolly called Joe for having the temerity – the very temerity, no less – for defending Gaeldom’s club naming policy as evidenced in such as – ugh! – the Kevin Lynch Hurling Club in Dungiven, not to mention Newtownmountkennedy Henry Joy McCracken’s itself.

    TUT cors would, ca va sans dire, rather be seen in a tutu than in a hidden agenda,

    Now, young Roars is a well known funder of the down at heel rugga goys in rags in Ravenhill Road and recently displayed the Claret Jug in Old Trafford, the home from home of Merchandise Utd. If Roars sees fit to sing mum that his uncle Mickey McDonald was a star forward on the Armagh bogball team downed by Down in the 1983 League final, that’s Roar’s prerorogative.

    While it might not be PW’s way, PW is happy to recognize that preror of Rory’s. One does not have to be too long in Perkie’s company before he regales you with the momentous mo in world sport when his uncle Wilberforce Warbeck came on as a sub for Warwickshire Gaels in the moribund moments to score the winning point in the Mainland Junior Bogball Championship B Final, 1936.

    But, whither, pray, the Silence of the media on this matter?

    Lurgan is the common hometown of both John O’Dowd and Mickey McDonald.

    But I’m sure JOD knows only too well that there are some things even the most streamlined of education systems can never teach.

  9. Norma wilson August 25, 2014 at 1:17 pm #

    Yeah Frederick
    We all remember the man from Strabane,talking about unemployment in the area.????
    Protestant middle class, are you serious, are we to be judged on how we speak??
    So for an example: feck aff makes you more Irish, as opposed to one who says Fuck off!!!
    Please, as they say in the Sandy Row/Donegall Rd “Do one”??


  10. michael c August 25, 2014 at 1:21 pm #

    O’Dowd is more than a match for that oaf Nolan anyway and has put him in his box on more than one occasion.

  11. Iolar August 25, 2014 at 5:04 pm #

    Martin Buber, a Jewish philosopher said, “I knew nothing of books when I came forth from the womb of my mother, and I shall die without books… .” He argued that dialogue is a key component in education. Dialogue with political opponents is the only way to resuscitate the current political paralysis and stagnation that exists in the body politic. Recent shootings simply articulate the lack of dialogue and current political vacuum in the Assembly. Politicians irrespective of their backgrounds have obtained electoral mandates. Enough time has been wasted by politicians since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. If toleration and respect are not on display in the halls of power, the gangsters will prevail in the back streets.

  12. Argenta August 25, 2014 at 8:54 pm #

    I think John O Dowds biggest advantage when he became Minister of Education was that he wasn’t Caitriona Ruane!! He seems more pragmatic and less dogmatic than his predecessor and presumably this was one of the reasons Sinn Fein nominated him. Incidentally I note on the B B C website this evening that the D C. A L minister is under fire from Philip Hammond a former Arts Council member.It’s alleged that she’s not fully in tune with the Arts and Culture side of her brief.

  13. michael c August 25, 2014 at 10:43 pm #

    John O Dowd’s education policy is exactly the same as Catriona’s.

    • Argenta August 26, 2014 at 6:38 pm #

      As a Sinn Fein supporter ,you may well be right,but many people(including dare I say some S F members) were turned off by Caitrionas tone and delivery.John O’Dowd may well espouse the same party policy but comes across as a person more in touch with the real world.

  14. Virginia August 26, 2014 at 2:37 am #

    Economically Relevant Question Time. … is he going to have learning Java and Python (programming languages) mandated as a course of study for all children of every creed? No, seriously ask him. This languages study is a guarantee of future employability and performance, which we all hope is the future for our children.

  15. George June 4, 2015 at 3:05 pm #

    I don’t care that he was a baker, I only care that he is fair. He isn’t. He punishes those schools that operate a policy of academic selection and does not approve their development plans – it is death by a thousand cuts. He is out to get them. Should we have expected any less?

    • Jude Collins June 4, 2015 at 4:50 pm #

      Academic selection at 11 is based on a false premise: that people have a given amount of mental ability that can be measured.End of. As someone who’s spent a lifetime in education, I can tell you definitively that young people flourish or wilt, develop or decline in school dependent on a lot of things, major among which is the belief that they can succeed. The 11+ (or its more recent incarnations) is a way of telling the majority they can’t.

      • George June 5, 2015 at 9:16 am #

        Jude, whilst I acknowledge your many years experience in education, with respect, I was not making a point about the rights and wrongs of the transfer test. Your original article was about the abilities of the Minister for Education and I was commenting on whether or not he acts fairly and impartially. My view is that he does not.

        You make a point on the ideology of academic selection based on “ability” at age 11. Let me tell you that parents putting their children through the NI education system over the past 6 years do not have the luxury of taking an ideological stance against the transfer test. My personal view is that it is a heinous instrument of torture that affects parents and children alike. But I live in the hear and now and have to deal with the system that we are presented with.

        All any parent wants is to provide their children with the best education possible. It is not about keeping out the “Hoi Poloi” as you put it – in fact, I am one of them. Nor is it about telling the majority that they can’t succeed – that is just a puerile statement.

        My main point is that I believe the Minister’s decisions deliberately punish schools that do not adhere to the DENI dictat of “no more transfer tests” (which happens to be all of the grammar schools) and I do not think he has any right to do that.

        For example, the Minister yesterday refused to give Ballymena Academy the go ahead to increase its intake by a further 30 pupils in year 8 because he was “concerned that the school is not accessible to all the young people in the area, as a result of its admissions policy and charging of fees”. So here is a school trying to widen it’s intake and provide more kids with the opportunity of a quality education and they are being refused because the Minister is punishing them for continuing to operate the transfer test. Where is the logic or fairness in that? It can only be a decision based on ideology.

        If he wants to focus on the real reasons that our children are held back in this society, let him abolish segregated education based on religion. That is the real problem, – not academic selection.

        • Jude Collins June 5, 2015 at 9:52 am #

          “Nor is it about telling the majority that they can’t succeed – that is just a puerile statement”: George, I’m flattered you’d associate me with boyish things; but the statement also happens to be true. The segregated education system on grounds of religion is another argument entirely: I’m talking here purely in terms of people being allowed to develop intellectually and academically. And I repeat: a lifetime as an educator has shown me again and again that selecting people for a school on the grounds of ‘academic ability’ is a nonsense and one that hobbles tens of thousands of youngsters. No school should be encouraged to continue doing that.

          • George June 5, 2015 at 11:07 am #

            You do know that just saying something is “true” Jude, doesn’t actually make it true – right?

            How, exactly, is wanting to make more spaces available for children to attend the school, encouraging the continuation of the transfer test? There is no linkage there. That is the twisted logic that John O’Dowd is applying to his decision and it is simply not fair that he denies more children access to this school and impinges the school’s development.

            What does his decision mean anyway? Does it mean that any school that continues with the transfer test will receive no further funding from DENI? Is that what you are advocating Jude? Is providing funding for their development plans “encouraging” them? And if they do abolish the test, will the dosh then be forthcoming?

            You are not seriously telling me that Ballymena Academy’s objective in operating the transfer test is purely some kind of means set up by the “ruling classes” of keeping the “majority” in their place and letting them know that they are not good enough? You don’t really believe that do you?

            Call me naïve but I thought they have a test (like all other NI grammars) because it is a “good” school, more parents want their kids to go there than there are spaces available and it is one way of finding a cut off line and the method that the schools (experienced educators too) want to continue with.

            So they run an academic test. Perish the thought that a secondary school might be interested in finding out if kids can read, write and add up before they go there. No, far better that they take pot luck and admit pupils on the basis that they live around the corner, have a sibling currently at the school, are entitled to free school meals and have a couple of parents who went to the school 20 years ago. What’s fair about that?

            You have me at a disadvantage Jude in that you do, as you remind me, have a “lifetime” of experience in education so I have to be mindful that you do know what you are talking about.

            However, in my, “no experience of education” view, abolishing academic selection, whilst far from being an ideal system, is a race to the bottom. It will, indeed, provide equality in educational standards but it will do so by bringing standards down rather than pulling them up.

          • Jude Collins June 5, 2015 at 11:39 am #

            George – I feel scorched by the withering force of your first sentence. “How, exactly, is wanting to make more spaces available for children to attend the school, encouraging the continuation of the transfer test?” Simple: if the school operates a transfer test of academic ability, and uses that with more children, it’s adding to the number of children selected by ‘academic ability’ – in itself a nonsense in terms of 11-year-olds.
            I know if I were Minister for Education (they had their chance…) I wouldn’t be putting further money into schools that are in defiance of Department policy. It’s the Department’s job to monitor how effectively schools are educating our children. By implementing a transfer test, they’re not acting in the best interests of the children and are defying Department recommendations.

            If you think it’s unfair to admit children on the grounds that they live round the corner, etc, you must be pretty cheesed off with primary schools because that’s exactly what they do – and you know, if it wasn’t for the dumb tests at the end of primary school, which warp teaching for some two years, they’d be in general highly successful. They’re even doing pretty well as it is. Amazing, eh? And no academic test used for entrance. Wow.
            You’re entitled to your view, George, of course. I completely accept that. But I’m entitled to disagree completely with it. Schools are about giving ALL children the best possible chance for development (key word, that). Stamping them ‘Good’ and ‘Not So Good’ at 11 is damaging and a nonsense.

          • George June 5, 2015 at 1:40 pm #

            OK Jude – I’m going to bow to your superior educational knowledge at this point. I have a 10 year old going into P7 next year. Do I put her through the transfer test or not? What would you do? Wait for your educational level playing field to kick in (which I think is scheduled for the 12th of Never) or try and send her to a school that is clearly not going to get any more development funding even if she gets there?

          • Jude Collins June 5, 2015 at 1:58 pm #

            Oh, I’d find no trouble in resolving that if it were me. The school in question can survive without more funding and your daughter will get, all things considered, a better academic education in the selective school. You have to play the cards you’re given. My point is that the cards shouldn’t be given in the way they are. There are those who believe it’s therefore necessary to sacrifice your child on the altar of your convictions. I can imagine cases where that is true but I don’t think the present educational system is one of them. It’s natural you’d want the best for your child academically. She’s more likely to get it in the selective school. QED. I think competition is wonderful for the winners; it’s just that it’s so shitty for the losers (in this case two-thirds of the population).

          • George June 5, 2015 at 2:56 pm #

            Gosh that threw me a bit Jude. And here I was thinking that you were a pure lofty ideologist. Turns out that you are a pragmatist too! An enjoyable exchange of views.