Saturday, November 14, 2009

Education Chaos created by Education Minister

As an Ulster Unionist representative on North Down Borough Council, I have quite clearly stated, that the onset of a new school year has been marred by the continuing chaos inflicted upon schools and parents.

Children who have just entered P7 have only two months to settle in before being faced with an unregulated transfer test. This is an unnecessary and unwanted burden to put on children, parents and teachers.

Parents within our community tell me they feel that they have been cut adrift and betrayed by the Minister.

Teachers are in the same boat – facing yet another year with no clear way forward, thanks to the Education Minister’s refusal to acknowledge the need for a workable replacement for – rather than abolition of – the 11 Plus.

The Minister is deluded if she thinks she has created a less stressful environment for children approaching transfer. No one knows what’s going on. Teachers and governors have also been abandoned by the Minister, who has no interest in supporting them in these very trying circumstances, she appears to be governed by a dogma or mantra of self righteous denial on the stress and confusion her blinkered actions which are hers alone are creating within to our education system.

Local primary schools deserve better than to be abandoned by the Education Minister. She warned that the Sinn Fein Minister’s threat against teachers and governors who took the responsible decision of assisting and supporting children who will be sitting the transfer tests was “shameful bullying”.

I for one am proud of our education system. We consistently out-perform other regions across the UK, but the Minister wants to sacrifice that success to pursue for her own divisive agenda.

The Ulster Unionist Party lobbied hard in an effort to prevent this chaos. We recognised the need keep the 11+ in place for a short time, to give certainty to parents, children and teachers, and replace it with streamlined tests that put less pressure on children.

We have a system of which we should be proud, but which we acknowledge needs reform. It is simplistic and false to blame educational underachievement on academic selection – these problems do not begin at 11 plus, but rather start at 11 minus.

Given that a House of Commons Public Accounts Committee Report in 2006 said that ¼ of children in Northern Ireland leave primary school without a firm grounding in the basics of literacy and numeracy, the Minister should be addressing the real problem within our education system.