The School Report, screened last night on BBC Northern Ireland (DoubleBand Films), was an excellent treatment of an issue that is top of our minds – as children prepare for the new testing procedures being set for admission to grammar schools. The film was obviously made prior to the grammar schools making public their intention to set their own tests – outside the control of the Department of Education.
Fiona Millar, education journalist and a passionate believer in the comprehensive school system, and Chris Woodhead, former Chief Inspector of Schools, who is firmly pro-selection, featured in the film.
While it was made clear in the film that Fiona Millar was a “friend of Cherie Blair” what was not mentioned was that she is also the partner of Alastair Campbell, former Head of Communications for Tony Blair.
As a result, in the segment where she and Woodhead met Catriona Ruane, it came across very clearly that both Millar and Ruane were both ideologically driven. Both are driven by dogma and both are deaf to the argument that the failure in our education system – children leaving school without basic literacy and numeracy – is more the fault of the primary system that the secondary system. This point was made repeatedly in the film and ignored by both Millar and Ruane. They also ignored the fact that our current system produces better results at GCSE and A Level than any other part of the UK.
Woodhead was right to warn parents not to entrust Northern Ireland’s education system to the Assembly. Thankfully, since the film was made, parents and principals have managed to achieve some level of self-control outside the system. Primary schools are ignoring the advice of the Department and preparing children for the grammar school admission tests. While the arrangements are not perfect they have a feeling of solidity about them.
Over time, I’d hope, that all grammar schools would use a common and standardised entrance assessment. However people power has triumphed in the face of the Department of Education’s incompetence. That is to be applauded.