BALLYCLARE teacher Stephen McCord - the newly elected president of the Ulster Teachers’ Union - has welcomed the Education Minister’s re-affirmation of a non-selective post-primary school system.
Responding to last week’s statement made by the Minister addressing the issue of academic selection in his response to the launch of ‘Education Reform - A Human Rights Review’, Mr McCord said: “It is around now, at the start of the last term in P6, that many schools feel under pressure to start preparing pupils for the long drag to the selection tests they will sit in November, so it is timely that the Minister should release his statement as schools return after the Easter break.
“We agree with the Minister that selection is a barrier to addressing underachievement in disadvantaged communities.
“Whilst we have some of the best performing students in the world, we also have one of the biggest attainment gaps between our best and worst performing pupils and much of the reason for this, I believe, lies in the perception here that secondary schools - as opposed to grammar schools - are inferior. As a result, from just 11 years old, children feel they are second best and playing catch-up - hardly the ideal footing from which to succeed academically.”
Mr McCord, who teaches at Glastry College in Newtownards, added: “Academic selection at 11 has been discredited elsewhere and is an out-moded and out-dated system. Children develop at different rates, particularly in those early adolescent years. We need to offer them all the same range of opportunities for each to grasp, when they are ready, in schools which are all equally respected.
“And those opportunities must not be driven by what’s been a perceived gold standard of academic achievement. Applied subjects must be respected in their own right and not as a second choice.
“Children who want to pursue this direction should be able to do so from much earlier in their schooling as opposed to being locked into academic subjects which hold no interest or future for them with all the attendant problems that can cause, for both them and the teacher.
“We only have to look at the education systems in the economically buoyant BRIC countries - Brazil, Russia, India and China - at the minute to see that this more vocational approach in schools plays a key part in their success.
“We are competing now with these nations and we must give our young people the tools to succeed in a rapidly-changing world.
“The key is in strengthening the links between the world of commerce and business and education, and the best way to do that is by supplying employers with suitably trained and qualified workers.”