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Minister Ruane outlines education reforms

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Education Minister Caitríona Ruane has outlined her proposals to reform the education system.

The Minister addressed MLAs in the Assembly where she said: “With a local Executive in place, we have an opportunity now to transform our education system into a world class system, fit for the 21st century.

“As I proceed with the reform of our education system, equality will be at the centre of everything I do. I plan to lay down a foundation that will ensure educational excellence and greater participation in the future, where everyone will have equality of access and opportunity.

“Central to our current 60 year old system is the 11 plus transfer test, which Martin McGuinness announced the ending of in 2002. The last 11 plus test will take place next year and my proposals will apply to children entering post primary schools in September 2010.

“The reformed post-primary system I am outlining will have to take account of the full reform agenda, including the phasing in of the Revised Curriculum; the Entitlement Framework, which expands the range of subjects for our young people; the establishment of the Education and Skills Authority and the development of Area Based Planning.

“My proposals will mould the educational system around the interests of the child, rather than matching the child to the interests of any particular educational institution.

“Children and parents must be able to have the confidence that their local post primary schools will offer the quality and depth of educational provision they want, need and deserve. That is why I have brought forward my revised School Improvement Policy, to ensure every school is a good school.

“We will move away from the outdated 1947 education model, which has divided children into just two school types, either grammar or non-grammar. We do have academic successes to be proud of, but too many of our young people are failed by the current system.”

The Minister then set out her vision for the transformed education system. She said: “My proposals are not for a one size fits all system. I am advocating an education system whereby all children enjoy equal access to a range of high quality choices at the critical junction points in their educational development, the most significant of which is at age 14.

“This will involve building a system which will sustain a range of different types of schools and provision which values all of them equally. I want to retain everything that is good about our current system, including academic excellence, and to improve performance of the system so it caters for the needs of all our young people.

“Making fundamental educational determinations for children at 11 is wrong as such decisions can become irreversible. By moving the transition point to 14 and by introducing more flexibility and agility into structures, we make it possible for the transformed educational system to facilitate the needs of all children.

“The key point is not simply that academic selection is unjust, but that it is unnecessary and unjust.

“In my vision, young people will enjoy equal access to their post-14 educational pathway in a number of ways – as determined by the planning of education in their local areas. The options include:  

  • Access within an 11-19 school
  • Transfer to an alternative 11-19 school
  • Access through an 11-19 school or a post 14 school which offers the Entitlement Framework in collaboration with other schools or in a learning community.
  • A local area may offer general provision in 11-14 schools, followed by specialism and diversity in 14 plus provision.

“An academic pathway will remain, accessed by intelligent, well-informed and mature election and available through modern organisational flexibility.

“Testing is not the best way to inform key decisions at 14 about a young person's future educational and career pathway. Such decisions should be based on a process of formal, structured election. It will take account of the outcomes of three years of post– primary education, teacher and parental guidance, in addition to careers education, information, advice and guidance resulting in the matching of children to suitable provision.

“Though the Entitlement Framework, academic courses can be well integrated with challenging professional / technical courses, providing a much better base for many future third level entrants and more properly tailored to the requirements of a modern economy.

“This framework will also ensure the capacity to deliver high quality professional / technical pathways, again accessed by choice and available through modern organisational flexibility, and above all enjoying parity of esteem.

“The fact is that structural change will be required - regardless of my approach to the issue of post primary education. After 10 years of dramatically falling pupil numbers, we have an increasing problem around school sustainability and surplus places resulting in 50,000 empty school desks and that this will increase over the coming years. Far from a question of unnecessary structural change, it is a matter of embracing the massive potential which this opportunity offers us to modernise our service provision and education system.

“And of course, structural change need not mean vast amounts of new capacity. By re–organising the existing capacity within the framework of my vision for education, I intend to deliver - not only effective education - but efficient education. For example, expanded access to professional/technical and general/academic courses could be achieved through the process of school and FE collaborations and the careful management of the schools estate at a time of falling pupil numbers.

“Following a period of consultation, I intend to bring forward regulations governing the operation of post-primary transfer for 2010, and for the subsequent interim period before the implementation of a 14+ system of election.

“There will be no 11+ Transfer Test in the 2009/10 school year.

“Pupils transferring to post-primary school in September 2010 will do so overwhelmingly on the basis of their preferences for schools - in much the same way that they choose their primary schools and pre-schools now. From 2010 the criteria will include:

  • Community, Geographical and Family criteria

“Many grammar schools have been admitting a wide ability range for some years now and will receive all their pupils in September 2010 without regard to academic assessment.

“Some grammar schools may need some time and assistance to adjust to the new system outlined today. In my forthcoming discussions with them I hope to be able to reach an agreed way forward to facilitate the transition.

“I would hope that all grammar schools would see a positive future for academic education in my vision for education. If any school, however, chooses to operate independent admissions arrangements that lie outside the new system of transfer, I want to make it clear that there is no obligation on my department to assist with funding.

“It is important that the transfer from primary to post-primary education is as seamless as possible. I am confident that we can find the best way forward to meet the needs of all our children, based on a vision that places quality educational outcomes and equality of educational opportunities for each and every child at its epicenter.

“Next year will be the last year of the 11-plus. There will be no 11-plus in 2009.

“Children in Year 5, their parents and their teachers can now be allowed to focus on the job in hand - educating our young people and concentrating on the revised curriculum in a way that allows each and every child the equal opportunity to fulfill their full potential as citizens in the future.

“Principals and teachers have a critical role to play in implementing my proposals and I know that we will work together in the best interests of our children and young people.

“Today I have outlined how we are to proceed in the years ahead. Let the construction of a new education system now begin. This is no longer a debate about the merits of academic selection. My focus is now on delivering a world class education system for all of our children. It is my belief that these proposals offer us the roadmap to get there.”

Notes to Editors:

  1. Media queries, contact the Department of Education Press Office on 028 9127 9701.
  2. Outside office hours, please contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 07699 715 440 and your call will be returned.