[Sinn Fein]

4th March 2003

Education Change must not be slowed by suspension

Speaking ahead of meeting direct rule Education Minister Jane Kennedy on Wednesday, Sinn Fein Chairperson, Foyle MLA Mitchel McLaughlin said:

``My party welcomes the opportunity to discuss our views with the Minister. We are proud of the work done by our party colleague Martin McGuinness as Minister of Education, and we hope that the changes he set in train are not being unnecessarily slowed down by the suspension of the institutions.

``As a party we have consistently called for an end to academic selection and the setting up of 11-18 all-ability post-primary schools. We believe that these offer the best opportunity for all children to develop at their own pace and receive a broad and balanced education.

``Our position stems from:

. Our commitment to equality: selective and differentiated education systems discriminate against poorer children, foster social segregation and hinder the delivery of equal educational opportunities to all children, which is a basic human right.

. Research on schools in England and Wales which shows that comprehensives usually do better than, occasionally the same as, grammars in progressing pupils through the various Key Stages; and research which shows that most of the education systems which perform best around the world, are non-selective systems.

. Observation of demographic trends in the Six Counties, which point to a sharp decrease in the school population over the next ten years: with continued competition between schools, our grammar schools would become `comprehensive' in all but name, leaving outside their doors a minority of pupils in a number of `second-class' schools with multiple disadvantage.

``We welcome the recent findings of the Life And Times Survey which show a clear desire for change. We note the overwhelming opposition to academic selection at 11, and while we are concerned by the support for selection at age 14 - which we believe would only repeat the same problem as the Eleven Plus three years later - we find encouraging the fact that a majority of respondents - 57% - favour 11-16 all ability schools, with academic and vocational streaming afterwards. Given the adverse publicity directed at all-ability schools, this surely is a heartening result.

``Finally, we agree with Burns that the education system must become more cooperative and collegial, as opposed to the competition which has existed between schools up to now. However, we believe that the Collegiates as proposed will not work. We advocate instead a more localised partnership between a post-primary school (or a small number of post-primary schools working as one unit) and its feeder primary schools, together with all other education stakeholders in that area.

``We call for the setting up of Learning Neighbourhoods, as learning partnerships based in a particular area and including all education providers from early years to post primary, the local FHE providers, parents, community groups, and with the participation of relevant bodies (e.g. health and social services, Libraries.). Such partnerships should enable all educational resources to be focused on the learners in a particular area, and in particular target those people and groups who are disadvantaged.''

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