The Lagan Valley MLA stated: “Ulster Unionists are now arguing unapologetically for ‘other factors’ to be taken into account just for the sake of saving all grammar schools. In short, they are quite prepared to see all grammar schools become effectively comprehensive, while secondary schools go to the wall.
“No wonder their Leader is threatening to withdraw from dialogue on reform of the education system – his own party’s policy amounts to social selection at the expense of academic selection, a position which is indefensible.
“The Alliance Party believes in a system which promotes excellence in all schools and promotes choice for parents. Given the reducing number of children in the education system and the need to rationalise the school estate, we can see the logic of other parties’ proposals to reduce the number of schools catering for the specifically academic route as the only way to maintain a genuinely academically selective system, even though our own emphasis would differ. We can also see the logic in those arguing for the educational route to be chosen at an age later than 10 or 11, even though we are keenly aware of the practical difficulties that would bring. We are determined to engage with all those prepared to tackle the reality of declining numbers and increasing wastage in the schools system to deliver managed change fit for industries of the 21st century, not the 19th.
“Ulster Unionists are obviously now not to be counted among those seeking managed change and much needed reform to the system. They remain determined merely to defend one educational sector at the expense of all others. That will merely mean a continuance of a situation where lower and lower grades become acceptable for entrance into so-called ‘grammar’ schools, and therefore a system divided not by academic ability but by social class.
“If one party wishes to act totally irresponsibly and ignore the current debate, they will lose their influence on it. We will be happy to continue to engage with other parties to deliver excellence right across the educational system.”