Letters to the Editor

Children forced to do transfer test if they want grammar school place

I have every sympathy with Naomi McBurney, campaign organiser, #bringbacktoprimary – ‘Politics needs to be removed from centre of selection debate’ (March 3) – in her attempts to allieviate the huge stress and burden placed on young children and their families who are forced to take a transfer test if they want a place at a grammar school.
In her letter Naomi says: “Reports also confirm that support for the test continues to grow with AQE now using Further Education Colleges as testing centres to meet demand.”

I don’t know of any parents who would willingly put their children through this ordeal if they had any real choice. They don’t. Their children are forced to do the test if they want a grammar school place. All the teaching unions and the overwhelming majority of primary school principals oppose the test.
Of the political parties in the assembly the only two who continue to support this testing, despite all the evidence to the contrary, are the UUP and the DUP.
I have always found this support difficult to understand given the particular problems that working class Protestants have in accessing our education system.

I could understand if the DUP and the UUP were fighting to retain an education system that delivered a degree of excellence but nothing could be further from the truth.
We have more people here with
either basic or no qualifications, 30 per cent of the adult population – far and away the worst of any UK region – and to add insult to injury we have fewer  graduates than any other UK region.

Our education minister Peter Weir has been highly critical of the comprehensive system in England, describing it as selection by wealth and I have to admit he has a point but no matter how bad it is, things are a lot worse here.
In 2015 Sir Robert Salisbury addressing the Policy Forum, reported that no schools in England had such poor achievement as the lowest achieving schools here.

If we’re looking for world-beating systems of comprehensive education that deliver, we would do well to examine the education systems in Finland, Canada, Shanghai or Japan where there is a commitment to educate all their children and not just a chosen few.

Downpatrick, Co Down                                                                 


Raising awareness and impact of CSE and how to spot the signs

Child Sexual Exploitation is a devastating and often hidden form of sexual abuse.
Following Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) Awareness day (March 18), the NSPCC wants to raise awareness of the impact of CSE and how to spot the signs that it might be happening to a young person.

CSE can happen online or offline and can involve a child being given gifts, drugs, or affection in exchange for sexual activities. Children will often not realise that what is happening to them is abuse; they may trust their abuser so can often be tricked into believing they are in a loving and consensual relationship.

Last year alone (2018/19), our Childline service carried out 140 counselling sessions with children from Northern Ireland who have been sexually exploited – a shocking 44% increase on the previous year.

In 60% of counselling sessions young people from Northern Ireland also disclosed they were targeted online – including through social media or video games – often by their peers or people known to them.

Victims of CSE may find it extremely difficult to talk about, often relying on other people to spot the signs. That’s why it’s important that as adults we can recognise these and speak out about any concerns. Indicators can be difficult to spot, but may include a child staying out late or overnight, having an older boyfriend or girlfriend; they may also have sudden changes in mood or act more secretively.

If a child reveals they have been sexually exploited, it’s important to:

n Listen carefully to what they are telling you.

n Ensure them they’re doing the right thing in speaking about what has happened.

n Tell them it isn’t their fault.

n Report what the child has told you as soon as possible.

If anyone has concerns please contact the NSPCC Helpline for free and confidential advice on 0808 800 5000 or visit nspcc.org.uk. Children can contact Childline for free at any time on 0800 1111 or via childline.org.uk

Head for NSPCC, Northern Ireland


When Irish eyes are smarting

A  joint announcement by the First Minister Arlene Foster and the Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill on the latest coronavirus news and Arlene has to start her statement by alluding to the fact that Michelle and herself come from very different backgrounds. Ye don’t say?
It seems the stigma still exists around sharing power with a former party which once advocated the joint strategy of armalite and ballot box in either hand.
And I see that announcements are becoming a little more formal – behind podiums amidst a backdrop which suggests stateliness and the national press having to await the grand entrance. Very similar now to how Boris Johnson does things. Are we heading towards a presidential system? But the Americans do it best. I see that with Arlene and Michelle an old-fashioned fireplace comprised part of the backdrop. Possibly an indication that behind the pomp and ceremony we’re still people and maybe you can take the players out of their culture, but you can’t take their culture out of the players. I preferred it when announcements were made by chance outside meeting rooms or on pavements outside buildings where the heads had talked with the inevitable doughnutting by the party faithful in the background.

Hillsborough, Co Down


Will Irish ever learn?

I was ashamed and disgusted at the bowing and scraping  when a couple of foreigners, William and Kate Windsor, visited the city of Galway.
Will the Irish people ever learn? Will they always have the chip on their shoulders regarding English so-called royalty? Do they know or care that part of their country is still under British rule?

In the so-called free state the awful sight of old and young queuing up to shake hands and kiss those that don’t give a hoot about us is the laughingstock of the world.
Where is your pride? Where is your nationality?

Newry, Co Down


Lesson for Republic’s government

The present crisis clearly shows  how bad our health system is.

Due to 10 years of under investment by governments we have a massive shortage of intensive care units and nurses. One wonders will the Republic’s government learn a lesson?

Clondalkin, Dublin

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Letters to the Editor