This blog has taken an interest in the ongoing debate over the replacement of the Eleven Plus (click on the education category on the right hand side if you are interested). And now we have the, ahem, definitive statement from Caitríona Ruane to the Assembly, and the issuing of the new transfer guidelines.
But wait. These guidelines are in fact not definitive. They are for consultation until April 27th 2009. So what do they actually say? Apparently their aims are to ensure that each child can fulfil his/her potential; that the arrangements for admissions are clear and understood; and that decisions on admissions to post-primary schools are robust and accurate. Robust and accurate decisions? I suspect the clear element of the aim is already in danger of failing on page 2. The first recommended criterion is that the proportion of applicants from those entitled to free school meals admitted is the same as the proportion that applied. The other recommended criteria are a sibling, eldest child, attendance at a feeder/named primary school, parish, catchment area, nearest suitable school, and finally random selection as a tie-breaker. The guidelines do not give full information as to how the first criterion should be applied, another example of the ill-thought-through nature of this whole debaclé.
Academic admissions criteria – i.e. an unfair test system that privileges the children of the bourgeoisie – are not prohibited. And, in fact, the Department of Education can only “particularly” urge grammar schools to adopt the first recommended criterion of matching the proportion of applicants entitled to free school meals as the proportion accepted. Even that basic and fundamental plank of Department policy cannot be enforced.
Or, to put that another way, Caitríona Ruane, Martin McGuiness, and the entire PSF leadership – hang your heads in shame. You had a golden opportunity to transform the lives of all the children of NI, especially those of the working class. And you blew it. Blew it due to your own incompetence, arrogance, lack of preparation, and pursuit of party political advantage at the expense of your professed principles and the interests of our children. Still, will help you keep those recently-acquired middle class votes, and won’t hurt you that much in the working class areas either if you can produce a suitably timed outburst of anti-unionist hostility. Could be worse, eh?
As for the left. It has long been realised and argued by The WP that local democracy would expose the reactionary nature of both unionism and nationalism, and that a space for progressive politics would open as a consequence. Here is such an issue. Let’s hope the truth begins to dawn on people.