03/04/2002

McGuinness slams NI's "world-class education myth"

The Education Minister Martin McGuinness launched a stinging criticism of the 11+ testing procedure in a speech to the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) in Limerick.

The minister, in an address on the Review of Post-Primary Education, told the conference that the belief that Northern Ireland had a "world-class education system" was based on a "myth".

He added: "The facts do not support the myths of a world-class education system; of grammar schools as an essential route for entry to higher education and university or of academic selection as a ladder to success for working class children. In fact, it is working-class Protestant children who are most disadvantaged by our current system, and who consequently are most in need of change."

The Education Minister said that only eight per cent of pupils in grammar schools are from low-income families and around 50 per cent of students at the University of Ulster come from non A-level routes.

Mr McGuinness said that the best way for him to clarify his feelings on the selection procedure was to refer to Save The Children Fund research which had surveyed 140 pupils at the selection stage. He quoted the experience of two children involved in the research.

One child said: "I felt so nervous on the morning of the 11 plus I was nearly sick. I barely got to sleep the night before and when I did, I woke up at 3.00 am to find myself sleepwalking".

Another said: "If you’re smart you go to a grammar school but if you’re stupid you go to a secondary school and that’s where I’m going, to a secondary school because …I’m stupid."

Mr McGuinness continued: "I cannot, and will not, accept an education system which makes children physically sick with nerves, which makes children feel stupid, or which determines the future of children on the basis of two hours of their life. No society has the right to tell any child at age 10 or 11 that he or she is a failure."

Referring to academic selection, the minister said: "There is a clear need for change, but the 11+ is a symptom of the present system, which is academic selection and academic rejection. That is what the debate must be about and I welcome the growing concentration on this key issue in public discussions."

The research into children’s attitudes to the transfer procedure tests was commissioned by Save the Children Fund and undertaken by the School of Sociology and Social Policy at Queen’s University, Belfast. The Department of Education funded the costs of employing the Research Assistant which amounted to about £25,000.

(GMcG)

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