Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Outlining a nightmare of an education system

I've just been reading the Education Minister's tedious and self-congratulatory statement on how she is going to truly transform our system into a world class system fit for the 21st century (download PDF).

One new policy is to abolish academic selection, and replace it with selection by parental income. Those who can afford houses near the good schools will get in. Those who can't, won't. Unless a tiny few of them win a special lottery that she's thinking of setting up.

I'm struggling to see how selection by wealth and postcode will improve social mobility and reduce division, or how a lottery for places will lead to a fairer society. Especially as the existing sectarian split will still remain, entire and unaffected.

But I was forgetting - she has another new policy. These income-based divisions won't be a problem, because henceforth every school will be good.

Unfortunately it's hard to tell how she's going to do that, because every few paragraphs she lapses into some other language. My linguistic abilities aren't enough to tell whether she's repeating in Serbo Croat what she just said, or saying the same thing first in Kiswahili, or adding some essential detail, perhaps in Irish, that somehow makes sense of the entire statement. I'm pretty sure it's not the last one though.

You'd think an Education Minister could remember what language she was supposed to be communicating in, and stick to it. It's hardly very inclusive to issue a report that only one religious community has been taught to read. Especially when she proclaims that equality is her watchword - Equality of access!

Her other big idea is to do selection at 14, instead of at 11 - but even this is hopelessly confused. She simply lists all possible permutations, and calls it a policy! Shift kids from half-way up one 11-19 age school to the middle of another one at age 14, or keep them where they are the whole time, or get them to take a few classes at a different school, or make every child in an area change schools at 14.

To those who say this will be disruptive, she says changes are needed due to falling rolls - so clearly these are the changes we need!

And to those who don't understand Irish, she says: Tosóidh muid anois ar an obair tábhachtach, whatever one of those is.

At least she gets one thing right: "My proposals... require further work!"

A good place to start would be where the real problem lies - in Belfast's ghetto primary schools from which 98% of students fail the current selection test, and in too many cases can barely read and write. By the time these kids get to secondary schools the damage has already been done!

(cartoons by xkcd.com)

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