Exploiting kids in an ideological ding-dong

This morning I listened to an interview with the Northern Ireland’s Education Minister John O’Dowd on the topic of academic selection on Good Morning Ulster. The same topic comes up every year around this time (well, for the past 7 years it has!) because the AQE/GL transfer tests happen in the month of November in the vacuum created by the axing of the 11+.

The interview this morning utterly, utterly maddened me. Not only did Minister O’Dowd take the usual politician’s stance of reiterating what he wanted to say rather than answering the points/questions being put to him, but he must have used the word ‘evidence’ at least 30 times and cited various international bodies who seemingly back up the ideology of selection being a bad thing. Apparently, many countries throughout the world do much better than ours does because ‘evidence’. Seemingly, the ‘evidence’ simply says it’s bad. At least, that’s what Minister O’Dowd would have us believe. He didn’t actually share any of the evidence — none, zilch, nada — just said, over and over and over again, that it was there.

Do you know something? I don’t wish to dispute the evidence. Truthfully, I don’t know what the evidence is, what it says, why selection is bad, or why Minister O’Dowd and his Sinn Fein predecessors before him seem socially and ideologically opposed to the idea.

My point is simply this… there isn’t, as yet, any viable, workable alternative available for use within the constraints of the Northern Ireland education system that has grown and existed over the decades. If selection is so terribly, terribly bad, give us something better. Start identifying what needs to change, where it needs to change, how it needs to change and propose a plan for making the changes. And tell us your ideas, Minister O’Dowd and co.

Over the past 7 years — since the 11+ was abandoned — I haven’t seen nor heard anything that can adequately, in my mind, assess the capability of students to transition from primary to secondary level education. Maybe I’m missing the blindingly obvious — and happy to be told if I am — but how else do we figure out how best to teach such a wide range of children with a massively diverse set of skills (which is to be totally celebrated, not stymied by trying to make everyone the same!)

In the meantime, support our primary schools in preparing for the next level of education as it currently is — not how you want it to be. Stop threatening them over their desire to minimise the stress young pupils will face regardless of whether you want them to or not — there are more pupils sitting the tests this year than last, so they’re clearly wanted/needed. Minister O’Dowd, you can’t just hold your hands up and wail that “I’m not getting my way!” as you arrogantly and dogmatically refuse to recognise the realities of the system we have today, and instead pretend we’re operating with the system you wish we had.

Here’s a link to the programme and you can judge for yourself if I’m being unfair or overreacting — interview starts at 1h 7m in…