The Ulster Teachers’ Union has welcomed the Education Minister’s reaffirmation of the non-selective post-primary school system.
“It is around now, at the start of the last term in P6, that many schools feel under pressure to start preparing these pupils for the long drag to the selection tests they will sit in November, so it is timely that the Minister should release his statement as schools return after the Easter break,” said Coleraine teacher Jacquie Reid, an officer with the UTU.
“We agree with the Minister that selection is a barrier to addressing underachievement in disadvantaged communities,” said the former Millburn Primary teacher.
“Whilst we have some of the best performing students in the world, we also have one of the biggest attainment gaps between our best and worst performing pupils and much of the reason for this I believe lies in the perception here that secondary schools – as opposed to grammar schools – are inferior.
“As a result, from just 11-years-old, children feel they are second best and playing catch-up – hardly the ideal footing from which to succeed academically.
“Academic selection at 11 has been discredited elsewhere and is an out-moded and out-dated system. Children develop at different rates, particularly in those early adolescent years. We need to offer them all the same range of opportunities for each to grasp, when they are ready, in schools which are all equally respected.
“And those opportunities must not be driven by what’s been a perceived gold standard of academic achievement. Applied subjects must be respected in their own right and not as a second choice.
“Children who want to pursue this direction should be able to do so from much earlier in their schooling as opposed to being locked into academic subjects which hold no interest or future for them with all the attendant problems that can cause, for both them and the teacher.
“We only have to look at the education systems in the economically buoyant BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China - at the minute to see that this more vocational approach in schools plays a key part in their success.”