Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Scaling an Everest of incompetence

We have established that Caitriona Ruane makes a disastrous Minister for Education and that she should either resign or be sacked as soon as possible. We are however not yet fully aware just how staggeringly gargantuan the scale of Cat’s uselessness will turn out to be. Already she has proved herself an intrepid Sherpa of stupidity, navigating remote passes, and peaks of Himalayan ineptitude whilst other ministers shuffle around the foothills or potter about their tents pitched at base camp.

And just yesterday another sheer wall of ice and rock proved no obstacle for Ruane, as she ascended yet further the heights of incompetence. The issue is academic selection once again and what might replace it. The latest answer appears to be – academic selection. Or rather partial academic selection, for those who want it. Which is rather similar to the status quo, whereby parents can either enter their child for 11 plus exams or not.

The quirk which our asinine mountaineer has seen fit to add is that grammar schools may draw only 50% of their intake from this academic test, thus compelling them to make up the other places by considering other criteria, such as a child’s post-code or presumably whether their father knows a member of the board of governors. Very egalitarian.

This piecemeal approach to selection is the work of an addled mind. Ruane claims that only a minority of children will transfer next year by means of academic selection, but what if a higher proportion of pupils are entered for the test? Some children will be assessed by academic criteria and some will be selected on an entirely different basis. Who will make the decision which children should be selected by which criteria if more than 50% take the new test? The new transfer exam will take place in grammar schools and will be set and marked by the CCEA. Apparently it will encompass a wider area of testing than the current 11 plus. Who will teach this test? If teaching in primary schools does not reflect the needs of the new test, will parents feel compelled to secure their children extra tuition?

Rather than enshrining fairness, Ruane is intent on instigating a system whereby education will be allocated by post-code, whereby two tiers of children will be established with no regard to ability – those who take the test and those who do not, whereby parents may feel compelled to secure extra expensive tuition for their children in order to prepare for a test which is not properly covered under the primary school curriculum, whereby the pressure put on children is magnified by taking a test in a strange environment.

This arrangement is initially to span the next three years and during this time Ruane intends to phase out selection. So for three years children will be asked to pass through a system which is neither fish nor fowl, simply because this woman has not got her act together and produced a coherent plan to replace academic selection with an alternative means of post-primary transfer. Rather than actually get down to work and produce proposals which might sort this mess out, Ruane has produced a plan which both the UUP and SDLP have identified as ‘cobbled together’ Meanwhile the minister hopes to have three more years in which to decide exactly how she envisages children’s transition to post primary education unfolding.

If the minister makes it through three years in her current job, it will be something akin to a miracle.

1 comment:

O'Neill said...

Ruane has the mentality of a NGO activist and anyone who has ever had dealings with that particular sector knows what that means; a complete unshakeable belief that they and they alone know the right path and those who would challenge *the truth* simply are either:

1) reactionary or
2) too stupid to understand the argument.

Coupled with that is generally a complete lack of common-sense, people skills, attention to detail and time management.

For most NGOs all that isn't such a big problem, there are usually some technocrats hoovering up the damage behind the idealists, but Ruane hasn't realised she is no longer campaigning for the rights of Bolivian basket-weavers but is instead got argunably the most important portfolio after finance.

Like Ruane, I believe the selection system should change. Unlike Ruane however, I realise that we are dealing with children and parents here and not some abstract educational theory, arguments have to be made and more importantly listened to. Unlike Ruane I realise that this is the most important issue she has to deal with, everything else should be, if not dropped then at least put on the backburner.