Attack on `entitlement framework' could re-entrench barriers, teachers warn

Avril Hall Callaghan, UTU general secretary
Avril Hall Callaghan, UTU general secretary Avril Hall Callaghan, UTU general secretary

TEACHERS have warned that reducing the number of exam subjects will limit opportunities for schools from different sectors to work together.

The Ulster Teachers' Union (UTU) said an "attack" on the `entitlement framework' could re-entrench barriers.

The entitlement framework was designed to ensure every child, regardless of background or school, could access the same curriculum.

The idea was that all post-primary schools would, by law, offer access to 27 subjects at A-level and 24 at GCSE - but some small schools fell way short by offering just six.

As many would be unable to reach the targets alone, the plan was that schools would form partnerships.

Now, education minister Peter Weir has said schools only have to offer 21 subjects at GCSE and A-level.

Mr Weir said reducing the specified number should provide flexibility and enable schools to manage their resources better in challenging times.

Teachers are unhappy, however.

UTU general secretary Avril Hall Callaghan said she feared it was "an erosion of the very positive precepts which helped offer our children a shared future".

"This attack undermines the basics of the entitlement framework which blurred the lines between selective and non-selective schools and between controlled and maintained schools," she said.

"As not all schools individually were able to offer this range, it meant the development of learning networks in some areas so all children could benefit from the best teaching and facilities regardless of which school they attended.

"We have seen similar sharing of learning and experience between children from controlled and maintained schools. The result is that not only have children had access to a wide range of subjects, but barriers have been broken down. Without this shared experience we risk re-entrenching sectarianism within the system."

Ms Hall Callaghan added that the planned Strule campus in Omagh would ultimately bring together schools from various sectors on a unified site.

"However, as not all towns can provide this, the entitlement framework offering children a larger range of subjects ensured that schools maximised their potential by sharing resources and expertise," she said.

"It would be a retrograde step if this element of the framework was lost or undermined at this stage when so much has already been achieved."

The changes will take effect from September 2017 ensuring schools have sufficient time to plan for the next academic year.

Mr Weir said that the entitlement framework remained a key part of the statutory curriculum "which has brought significant benefits to young people".