Bishop Donal McKeown was on Sunday Politics with Mark Carruthers yesterday, talking about the transfer tests. He used to be the president of St Malachy’s College, but he told Mark that he was no longer an educationalist, “just a bishop”. Mmm. Ever so slightly fake modesty there.
But that aside, the bishop said some things that really got to the kernel of the question. The transfer tests, he said, were not intelligence tests, they were attainment tests. He quoted someone who said if they had an intelligent monkey, they could coach it to pass the test. That was overstating it, he added, but that coaching went on and was considered worth paying for was indisputable. Bang on the nail, Bishop. You can’t coach people to become more intelligent; you can coach them to pass exams and tests.
The Bishop went further. He noted that the AQE tests, used very largely by state schools, required a £50+ fee in order to take them, and might expect to receive half a million from hopeful parents. If the amount of money parents also spent on having their little dears coached was added, it became clear that the AQE test was, among other things, a money matter.
Best of all, he said that he favoured abolition of any tests that set young people aged eleven on different paths for life. There was no ambiguity in what he said: he was completely opposed to selection (Yes indeed, Virginia – aka the Eleven Plus), which favoured a minority and penalised the majority.
Afterwards, as is common in B(ritish)BC programmes with Mark, we went from the Bishop to Sam McBride of The Newsletter, so we could have what we’d heard explained. Sam noted that the reason for the present mess was that Martin McGuinness had abolished the Eleven Plus and put nothing in its place. Sam old son, anything or nothing is preferable to the Transfer Tests. We don’t have tests for entering primary school; why then would we need tests for entering secondary school?
Most of us knew, I think, that the Catholic bishops are opposed to this latter-day Eleven Plus. But to hear the message conveyed clearly and with no hint of ambiguity was totally refreshing. Take a bow, Dónal. Chalk one up to the good guys.
By the way: have you heard the DUP’s argument for retaining a latter-day Eleven Plus? Me neither.