Fears Education Bill could kill off local grammar schools

Danny Kinahan MLA
Danny Kinahan MLA

ULSTER Unionist MLA Danny Kinahan has made a plea to parents who would like to see their children have the opportunity to attend a grammar school in the future to lobby their local MLAs to oppose the Education and Skills Authority (ESA) Bill when it comes before them at Stormont.

Mr Kinahan, who represents the South Antrim constituency, issued a stark warning this week that the ESA Bill could spell the end for grammar schools such as Ballyclare High and Belfast High.

“The Education Bill gives Sinn Fein total control to do anything they like, which if you follow various debates that have gone through it’s clear that he (the Education Minister) wants to get rid of grammar schools.

“Despite the department saying ‘No, no, no they would never do that’, this bill gives them the power to and that’s what frightens us,” he told the Times.

“Somewhere like Ballyclare High could be manipulated over the next 10 to 15 years so that it ends up not being a grammar school, and that would be the same for Belfast High, RBAI, Larne Grammar and everyone else.

“It’s our job to make sure that legislation is good, and so we can’t allow this bill to go through. It takes away the one bit of choice that parents have, that they can choose to send their child to a grammar school.”

Mr Kinahan stressed that his party, the UUP, is totally opposed to the bill, which is due to complete through Stormont by the end of the summer. And he said that Ulster Unionist MLAs won’t be able to stop it from going through unless they get support from DUP members and others.

“We need parents to lobby their MLAs to get them to oppose the bill, or a least get changes to the bill - a lot of amendments to make it better - that would be better than nothing.

“If parents don’t lobby their MLAs now and get them to oppose this then it will go through by the end of the summer and we will be stuck with this bill for the next 30, 40 or 50 years,” he warned.

The UUP man claims that replacing the existing Education Boards with one large Education and Skills Authority will create an enormous quango run by a Board of politicians and clergymen that will employ around 60,000 people. And he’s convinced that such a move is unlikely to deliver the efficiencies it’s designed to achieve.

“We want the grammar sector recognised in the bill and the proposed make-up of the ESA Board changed so that it reflects society better. We also want to see governors or trustees maintain their power in the running of schools.

“Sinn Fein want their type of schooling for everybody and an end to what they see as an elitist system, but we feel it would be far better to have consultation with the schools and for all parties to sit down and agree a way forward that works for everyone,” he added.