Eileen Bell MLA, Alliance Assembly spokesperson on education outline vision for education

“Every child deserves the best possible opportunity in his or education – but unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case in Northern Ireland under the 11-plus transfer system.”

“The current transfer procedures were devised in 1947, in a post-war scenario, and while there have been some changes to the system since then, the basis of the system hasn’t altered much. So I’m glad the school bell has rung for the 11-plus at last.”

“My colleague Colm Cavanagh, who was part of the team which drew up Alliance’s proposals, recently gave me a great example of why selection has nothing to do with ability.”

“Colm went to a grammar school after passing his 11-plus. But his three children all went to an integrated primary school, only one did the 11-plus, and all three went to an all-ability integrated college.”

“Guess what? All three got much better exam results than Colm did, achieving excellent grades at both GCSE and A-level. I think that at least partly demonstrates the high educational value of all-ability schools, and shows that they are most definitely not academically inferior to grammars.”

“Some young people in Northern Ireland leave school with qualifications far better than children in the rest of the UK and Ireland. However, the system also produces an unacceptably high number of young people leaving school with few or no qualifications or skills. We need to address underachievement and enhance the educational experience for all pupils. The challenge is to ensure that the potential for academic excellence is undiminished.”

“Alliance broadly welcomes the Report of the Post-Primary Review Body. However, we have serious concerns about some of the Burns Report proposals.”

“Alliance calls for the ending of the current system of transfer testing (the 11-plus). Integrated schools don’t use academic selection, and Alliance believes that integrated schools provide a practical model of how students can be educated together. Issues surrounding how pupils are managed and placed internally – such as streaming – should be left to the discretion of individual schools.”

“Alliance supports the concept of a Pupil Profile as an extension of good practice. Pupil Profiles should provide an assessment of pupils’ skills, abilities and interests throughout their entire educational career. It is a vehicle for emphasising the concept of life-long learning.”

“Post-primary schools should not be allowed to use the Pupil Profile, or any test, to decide who gets a place. Pupil Profiles should be used as a tool for pupils and parents, in consultation with teachers, to select the right post-primary schools. In later stages, it can guide pupils in their choice of courses.”

“Alliance favours retaining the transition age from primary to post-primary education at age 11. However, we don’t believe that this is the right age to make major decisions that will restrict later choices. Alliance believes that the best time for students to choose their own particular educational route is at age 14.”

“To enable this, Alliance believes that all children should progress to study a common, middle-school curriculum for the first three years of post-primary education. Very importantly, existing schools could provide middle-school education.”

“When this has finished, at age 14, education in upper schools would proceed on a differentiated basis. This means distinct technical, vocational and academic choices would be offered under school partnerships. Pupils would be free to ‘mix and match’ vocational and academic subjects, or to follow one of these routes.”

“These two aspects, a common middle-school curriculum and differentiated education at age 14, distinguish our policy from any other party’s.”

“Neither the Burns Report nor Alliance call for the abolition of grammar schools. Middle-school education can be provided by existing schools, including grammar schools.”

“Alliance does not believe that the quality of grammar school education would be lessened if they lost their unique status of academic selection. But we recognise the benefits of retaining their ethos and identity as part of a greater network of partnerships. Alliance, instead of calling for the abolition of any school sector, wants to have all schools play an instrumental role in education reform.”

“Parental preference should be the priority for admission to post-primary schools, as recommended in the Burns Report. However, particular schools will continue to be oversubscribed. This is the sad legacy of selection, and its impact upon the popularity of different schools is likely to continue to influence enrolment patterns for a considerable period. Alliance insists that any criteria used to determine places must be socially and economically neutral.”

“Regarding the Burns Report’s proposed list of criteria:

·Parental preference should be used as the main admission criterion. In addition, parents should have the right to apply to schools outside their local collegiate/partnership.

·Alliance supports giving preference to those who already have a brother or sister at a school, or who are the oldest child in the family.

·Alliance opposes giving preference to the children of school employees. This is because it discriminates against children on the basis of their parents’ employment.

·In certain circumstances, Alliance believes that there may well be admission cases which deserve special attention. However, this must be carefully regulated directly by the Department of Education.

·Alliance opposes using how close someone lives to a school to determine whether they get a place or not, as this could discriminate against those from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

“We also propose also using random selection, which is transparent, fair and doesn’t discriminate against any pupils’ background.”

“In principle, Alliance supports the formation of collegiates. However, we feel that the proposed system in the Burns Report is too rigid, inflexible, and presents a top-heavy level of bureaucracy. Instead, we want to see a partnership-based approach.”

“In addition, local collegiates should:

·Replace area boards

·Be based on smaller geographical areas

·Be arranged to avoid duplication; and

·Be tested before widespread introduction”

“In summary, I believe that Alliance’s proposed system has the potential to preserve the best of the current system while giving all our young people the best possible educational opportunities.”

“It provides a coherent and cohesive system of education, with smooth transition through each stage in a supportive and motivating framework. Real choices, of equally valued routes, are offered to students, who gain ownership of their education. Teachers are directly involved in the decision-making processes, where their knowledge of the pupil and their professional expertise are of vital importance.”

“The opportunity to develop and broaden the curriculum, maintain and increase flexibility and mobility, and to enhance the range of experiences and opportunities available to every pupil are the major benefits of our proposed system, and can only have a positive impact upon pupils and society as a whole.”

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