Letters to the Editor

Long tail of underachievement is not really being tackled

Ulster Teachers’ Union general secretary Jacquie White has urged  a rethink to the attitude around children’s transition to post-primary education and she has made it clear that a single transfer test is not the answer (June 14). She describes the present transfer test as  ‘an iniquitous test which traumatises some children’. She’s right but it’s worse than that, it traumatises the vast majority of children, their parents, siblings and even those children who don’t sit the test but are left feeling worthless on the sidelines. Summer holidays are non-existent for P6 pupils who are about to sit the test. As one P7 girl told her younger P5 sister, “have a good summer holiday this year because you won’t have one next year”.
One mother told me of an incident last year in one of the 11-plus test centre schools where an 11-year-old girl began crying hysterically, clung on to her mother and wouldn’t go into the hall. One of the teachers who witnessed the whole sorry incident described it as ‘awful’. Is this the sort of experience we want for our young children?

Sixty per cent of the children who sit the test will fail to get a grammar school place. All these children are being told that they are failures and that they’re not good enough to attend the school of their choice – schools which are paid for by the taxpayer. Imagine if the same thing happened in our hospitals. Five children are sitting in Accident and Emergency with suspected broken arms and three are sent away because   there’s no room for them.

And what’s it all in aid of? Certainly not a world-class education system that serves all our young people. Sir Bob Salisbury gave evidence earlier this year to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee which was examining education funding here and he said that it was  ‘an enduring myth that Northern Ireland had one of the best education systems in Europe. It has a long tail of underachievement and that long tail of underachievement is still there and it’s stubbornly there and it’s really not being tackled.
The school system, the success of it should be measured on how it treats the least able youngsters in its society not how it treats the most able’.

In countries like Finland, Japan and Canada, which are world leaders in education, there is a belief that with the right support and help  all children can achieve, as one Finnish teacher said: “In Finland we like to give possibility to everybody.”

Downpatrick, Co Down


Up to parents to use judgment when leaving kids home alone

The end of the school summer term is on the horizon  and while most children will be overjoyed, many parents with work or other commitments will have to decide whether their child is ready to be left home alone for part of the long holiday. It can be a tricky decision and it is made even more difficult by the fact there is no legal minimum age for children to be left alone so it is up to parents and carers to use their judgment.

It is vitally important that parents get this decision right – in some cases parents and carers are prosecuted for neglect if it is judged that they placed a child at risk by leaving them at a property by themselves.

To help make this decision, NSPCC Northern Ireland has some key advice and tips.

We recommend that babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone under any circumstances.

Children under the age of 12 are rarely mature enough to cope in an emergency and should not be left at home alone for a long period of time while youngsters under the age of 16 should not be left alone overnight.

It’s important to remember that a child should never be left at home alone if they do not feel comfortable with this, regardless of their age.

Also bear in mind if a child has additional needs, these should be considered when leaving them at home alone or with an older sibling.

And remember when leaving a younger child with an older sibling think about what may happen if they were to have a falling out – would they both be safe?

There’s further advice for parents on our website www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/keeping-children-safe/leaving-child-home-alone/

NSPCC, Northern Ireland


Ireland has become a vassal state

A Sinn Féin banner for the recent European elections read ‘a united Ireland in Europe’. Sinn Féin have quietly abandoned Irish nationalism and assumed the mantle of ‘European unionists’. Ireland has become a vassal state subject to the peremptory instructions of European imperialists and is sinking in indebtedness with the highest debt per capita in the Euro zone. This is a national embarrassment. It is time to insist that Ireland regains its sovereign independence free from the shackles of Europe. It is time for an Irexit. Padraig Pearse had a clear vision for an Ireland independent and free –  ‘national independence involves national sovereignty.  It implies the sovereignty of the nation over all its parts, over all men and things within the nation; and it implies the sovereignty of the nation as against all other nations’.

Crossgar, Co Down


rise in animal abuse



The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which it’s animals are treated – Gandhi


Over the last few months we have seen a disturbing rise in cases involving animal abuse. We have had cases where a 12-week-old puppy was beaten to death with a hammer and its remains dumped in a bin. We had a dog who had to be put down because of injuries caused by having acid thrown in its face. Just last week a family pet was stolen, tied to a cement block and thrown into the Coalisland canal.

A quick check on the punishment for such crimes usually brings up one phrase “suspended sentence” but more worryingly in my research I have discovered that there is nothing stopping those convicted of horrendous crimes simply skipping across the border to buy another animal and repeating the crime all over again. There is also no system in place for re-homing charities to check those that come in to get a pet and simply won’t know if that person has a history of animal abuse.
What we need is a cross-border Animal Abuse Register.

We are all happy to condemn violence against animals, it’s past time we started doing something to prevent it happening.



SDLP, Coalisland, Co Tyrone

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