A television documentary on children’s journeys through academic selection as they compete for grammar school places has been described as ‘nothing short of harrowing,’ according to a Killyleagh teacher.
Carney Cumper, President of the Ulster Teachers’ Union, was speaking as BBC2 broadcasts the final part this week of Who Will Get In? following the lives of children in England as they make the transition to secondary school through academic selection.
Its airing comes at the Westminster Education Secretary has announced millions of pounds in England for the development of grammar schools.
“I think harrowingly brutal isn’t too strong in describing the scene in the first episode when a child has to be repeatedly told they have ‘failed’ to get a grammar school place. They just can’t take it in – that child just felt stakes were so high,” said Mrs Cumper, vice-principal at Killyleagh Integrated Primary.
“It’s such an emotional and emotive scene yet it’s a scene which is all too familiar in households across Northern Ireland when results of selection tests are published every year and it is surely an experience that says everything you need to know about the sheer brutality of a system which effectively labels children ‘failures’ because they don’t pass a test aged 11.
“Everybody pays for education so why should there be a two-tier system? Why should parents want children to attend ‘grammar’ schools? We want all our schools to be good schools.
“If parents are not happy with exam results, then a selective system won’t ultimately change that. Schools and teachers need resources and support –that’s the first thing which will improve outcomes but we can’t have that when we don’t even have a functioning government here.
“Education is paid for by the taxpayer and so should therefore be uniformly excellent in all schools and as technology improves, this uniformity will become increasingly achievable. The shared education model in Northern Ireland will also go a long way towards this end as schools share resources.”
The pro-grammar school debate is becoming increasingly specious believes Mrs Cimper as more children who in previous years would not have scored highly enough to secure a place are now gaining admission.
She added: “This is because, as the birth rate falls it leaves grammar schools with desks to fill in order to secure funding – so they admit children with lower scores than in previous years.
“In fifth year, all our children sit exactly the same exams, which is an improvement on the bygone era when secondary schools could only offer CSEs, and you only have to look at exam league tables to see the success of non-grammar schools to wonder at the basis of the pro-grammar lobby’s arguments for retaining this divisive system.
“Of course, the announcement of funding for grammars in England is pandering to a certain section of Tory voters but if the decision-makers there – and here – have any humanity they should learn from the wisdom of some of the children in the BBC2 documentary.
“All children deserve the best education if we truly believe that all options should be open to everyone.”