‘Don’t blame schools for failing system’ says former principal

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The system - not schools – is failing, a former Larne principal has claimed.

Audrey Stewart, former head of Olderfleet Primary School and an officer with the Ulster Teachers’ Union, was responding to recent headlines showing a concerning number of pupils here are failing to gain A-C grades at GCSE compared with their English counterparts.

“If ever the pro-selection lobby needed proof that their concept is flawed then this surely must be it,” she said.

“Yet again with the results of the 2011 selection tests, we have seen thousands of pupils told that in essence they aren’t good enough to attend certain schools - and let’s not forget that it is a child of just 10-years-old who is at the heart of this.

“You have to wonder if those supporting this selective system have forgotten that in their pursuance of politics and self-interest.

“The pro-selection lobby suggests that those children who don’t attend a grammar school are ‘better suited’ to a secondary school education. But what does that mean and does the pro 11-plus lobby have the children’s and parents’ best interests at heart after all.

“We have all heard the arguments from the pro-selection lobby rehearsed time and again – that parents want a choice but surely that choice should not include the possibility that their child could achieve among the lowest GCSE grades in the UK.

“Our members from secondary schools in Northern Ireland will tell you that they spend the first couple of years trying to re-build youngsters’ self-esteem and confidence after the selection system has often all but demolished it.

“It would take a superhuman strength of character to embrace and engage in learning if, at just 10-years-old, a child is told they’re ‘not good enough’. There is little incentive, a feeling of rejection, a ‘what’s the point’ attitude. And who can blame them.

“Is this then what the pro-selection lobby is endorsing because it is the reality and it would be interesting to hear their attempt to justify this reality. I’m sure the thousands of parents across Northern Ireland who are now faced with trying to re-build their children’s self-esteem following the results of the selection tests would welcome it too.”