Letters to the Editor

Parental choice in education has always been a disaster

According to a report in The Irish News ( November 16) Strangford College, which is an Integrated school, is taking the unprecedented step of seeking to introduce 11-plus type tests. They want to roll out ‘selection by academic ability’ from next year. It’s difficult to see how they can claim integrated status while at the same time proposing to use a test which is known to segregate children on the grounds of social class. The college distributed questionnaires to parents and two-thirds expressed support for using the tests. Unfortunately, for all its merits parental choice in education has been a disaster anywhere in the world where it has been used to guide policy.

In 1989 in New Zealand the government introduced a revolutionary programme ‘Tomorrow’s Schools’ which allowed parents to send their children to any school. The trouble was that the more knowledgeable and wealthy parents took advantage of the options open to them to fill up the seats in the best schools. With nowhere to go, other students were forced to return to their previous schools, which became far more polarised along racial and socioeconomic lines. The programme was quietly abandoned. All it demonstrated was that educational choice usually benefits a small group who have the time, knowledge and money to use the system to their advantage.

A recent report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (Equity in Education 2018 ) criticises the promotion of choice and academic selection as a way of improving educational equality – ‘Most empirical evidence in countries as diverse as Chile, New Zealand, Sweden the UK and the US suggests that reforms introducing greater school choice also tend to increase academic and socioeconomic sorting because more advantaged highly educated families are more likely to make better informed choices’.

Finland is a country which excels at education, educating not just an elitist group but educating all its children to the highest level. Since 2000 Finland has been in the top three countries in the world on the OECD Progress In Student Assessment Tests. There are no private schools in Finland, choice is almost non-existent, the vast majority of children  go to their local school.
Finland’s dream was to provide a good public education for every child regardless of where they went to school or what kind of family they came from.

Finland’s experience shows that it is possible to achieve excellence by focusing not on competition but on cooperation and not on choice
but equity.

Downpatrick, Co Down


DUP’s intransigence being used by hard Brexiteers

Tom Kelly’s article – ‘Unionists may find better friends in Dublin than Westminster’ (November 26) – is very interesting. 

The Brexit deal  secured by Theresa May seems a very useful one for business in Northern Ireland, where regulatory differences already exist between NI and mainland Britain.
The DUP’s intransigence however is being used by hard  Brexiteers to the latter’s advantage. Little will be gained for NI if WTO rules are applied. The facts are that  NI is costing British taxpayers a lot of money.  Unionists want to be British and that is understandable. Although the British have caused trouble world-wide during the days of Empire, some  of the countries colonised still cling to the Union. Some southern Irish people too, seem to value British honours.

In reality unionists in NI have more in common with the Scots than with either the English or Irish. 

There is still amongst NI and Scots unionists divisive  sectarianism and bitterness towards people from the south of Ireland. 

Even Edward Carson had antipathy towards the NI unionists. He felt that they were rooted in the past with little imagination going forward. 
The sectarianism and bitterness will take many centuries to change. 
Money, however, wherever it comes from, can change attitudes.  
The DUP should reflect and empower NI to take any business opportunity offered. They should respect and be loyal to Theresa May.
With a strong economy north and south of the border, the different traditions may eventually respect  and constructively interact with one another.

Arklow, Co Wicklow


So much waste

The recent suggestions by Boris Johnson and DUP and others to build a cross channel bridge to Scotland are nonsensical. Our ‘leaders’ can’t even sort out the more pressing M1 motorway/York Street junction, never mind the improvements of A5, A6.
Is Belfast the only city in the world with traffic lights on a motorway?

This bridge notion is as well thought out as Boris Johnson’s notions of Brexit or the DUP’s suggested ‘third way’. We have not seen any serious plans or financial estimates. How many successes have these people had other than get themselves elected? How many successes have they produced for the benefit of Northern Ireland as a whole?

It is current practice to justify projects by the financial return from an investment. What we haven’t done is work out the cost of our failures. What is the cost to the taxpayers here and in GB of the failure to deliver proper effective government?

We need to know this. Bad or non-existent government in Northern Ireland has cost us how many billions?

Don’t forget we get about £10bn a year from GB, and the cost of separation in the community was calculated at more than £1bn per year

Belfast, BT6


Health care privatisation harsh reality

The continued privatisation of health care has now become a harsh reality within the environment of Clondalkin Village. Here in the Monastery area a private nursing home is being built to accommodate our people of a certain age and meanwhile another nursing home planning application has been made in the grounds of the Catholic Church. Our more senior people who have given a lifetime of work to the state and a voluntary commitment to community affairs, not only here in Clondalkin, but all across the state are now being pushed aside out of hospitals into private nursing institutions, whereby if you have money then you might just get by.  The commodification of health care brought on by our alignment into the EU where everything must be privatised and pushed with a zeal by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil governments, with Sinn Féin waiting in the wings to assist when their turn comes.

Clondalkin, Dublin 22


Glowing appraisal of arch narcissist

Having read an excellent article by Lynette Fay (November 24) about social media use, I then unfortunately read Jake O’Kane’s glowing appraisal of loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson. According to Jake it is essential he is heard (on Nolan) as he represents a sizeable section of the loyalist society who would otherwise be silent – would that be the 167 who voted for him?
Has he never heard loyalists Jim Wilson or George from the Shankill who are regulars on the show? He praises his intellectual ability yet this is the same Jamie who had to rely on Dáithí McKay, the former Sinn Féin MLA,  on what to say at  the RHI inquiry and spoke about the Munster province flag. No doubt Jamie, the arch narcissist, is delighted with Jake’s account of him.

Belfast BT11

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