Vested interests in retaining selection and grammar system

In her inaugural statement on children’s rights in Northern Ireland, the Commissioner for Children and Young People, Koulla Yiasouma, comments: ‘We are failing to have the honest and open conversations that set aside vested interests and put all our young people at the centre of decision making.’

There’s a huge and powerful vested interest in retaining selection and a Grammar system that caters for an elite section of the population but fails too many already deprived and disadvantaged young people.

Sir Robert Salisbury in an address to the Policy Forum for Northern Ireland in 2015 cited examples of where the achievement gap for Northern Ireland was the widest in Europe. He reported that no schools in England had such poor achievement as the lowest achieving schools in Northern Ireland.

Grammar schools mean that we operate a two-tier system where middle-class children go to one type of school and disadvantaged children go to another type. According to the OECD schools in Northern Ireland are the most socially segregated in the developed world.

Where do disadvantaged children perform best academically? Is it in schools full of other disadvantaged children that receive extra financial support, longer school days, smaller class sizes, intensive teacher development programmes, one to one support for strugglers or do they perform better in schools where the majority of children come from affluent families and the types of advantages usually associated with these schools, such as positive role models, good discipline, active parental support, strong teachers but without the extra resources? This question was answered in Montgomery County, Maryland outside Washington DC where the research was carried out by Heather Schwartz of the Rand Corporation and published in 2010.

The results were unmistakable – disadvantaged students attending more affluent elementary [primary]schools significantly outperformed disadvantaged students who attended high poverty schools with all the extra resources and educational interventions. The schools that received the extra resources also made significant improvements but couldn’t match the improvements made by the disadvantaged students who attended the more affluent schools.

Calls to end to the present system of academic selection have fallen on the deaf ears of the UUP and more especially the DUP who have a vested interest in keeping things the way they are.   


Downpatrick, Co Down

Blessed with a climate that has adequate rainfall

Many people have expressed incredulity at the imposition of a hosepipe ban for Northern Ireland, a place that normally gets more than its fair share of rain and April showers. How else is it possible to gain the title ‘Emerald Isle’ without sufficient water to render the landscape green and verdant, a thing many other drier countries can only dream about. 

When I lived in Israel as a foreign worker I was struck by the dryness of the climate, with up to 10 months of the year being completely dry and all the rainfall in one short abundant wet season with hopefully enough rain to last another year. The contrast on how rain was perceived there compared to here in the British Isles was extreme. Coming closer to the winter rains the Israeli weather forecasts on television would daily state “hopefully tomorrow we will have some rain”. Then I would switch over to BBC World Service where the weather forecaster would be saying “hopefully tomorrow there will be no rain”. One culture welcomed the rain, where another resented it – usually calling a day with rain as an ‘awful day’ or ‘terrible weather,’ whereas the Israelis were dancing on the rooftops when the rain finally came.

In the Bible periods of drought were perceived as a punishment from God and rain was always seen as a blessing, not the other way round. We are very blessed in our climate to have adequate rainfall yet so many people only complain about it. As the old church hymn points out “there shall be showers of blessing” yet we view it with disdain. Now we face a hosepipe ban that could extend all across the British Isles if this dry weather continues. Will we like the Israelites of old seek the Almighty to provide rain or do we prefer to be sun-worshippers getting a tan?

Rain is a blessing and we should never complain when the Creator provides it.


Bangor, Co Down

Undermining of dedicated, undervalued  priests

I consider the headline and content of the article ‘Minister says Mass after cleric no-show’ (June 26) to be a classic example of misinformation. 

Just to set the record straight, the Consecration is the central point of the Mass, without it, no Mass is celebrated. What happened in Mount Merrion was a prayer service. Unusual as this situation is, it is not unheard of as a shortage of priests makes it inevitable that in cases of sudden personal illness, emergency calls from police, hospitals, parishioners etc., a priest may not be able to celebrate a Mass as expected.  Parishioners elsewhere  have stepped in to lead a prayer service on such occasions without drawing headline attention from the media.

I won’t comment on the choice of the words ‘clerical no-show’ to describe the situation but I will say that the constant undermining of the overworked, undervalued majority of dedicated priests of Ireland by what appears to be a very hostile section of the Media is a serious cause for concern.


Dunmurry, Co Antrim

Cause of war is the love of money

In reply to Antán Ó Dála an Rí – ‘One thing that monotheism does well is start religious wars’ (June 20) – take a look at the history or warfare and you will find that the cause of war is the love of money. The Egyptians fought the Hittites to gain control over the city of Kadesh and dominate the trade routes. Cato did not continually argue for the destruction of Carthage because of religious differences but because of its riches. In our modern secular world we justify our wars by claiming that we are fighting for freedom and democracy. East Timor, a democratic state that granted rights to all its citizens, was over-run by its more powerful neighbour, while Kuwait, an autocracy that did not grant women rights, was also invaded by a more powerful neighbour. One of these states had oil and the other didn’t so guess which one we went to war over.

As for the Romans being tolerant of other religions, check what happened to the Druids in Gaul and on Anglesey.


Belfast BT7

Majority not against special measures

Tom Cooper (June 26) bemoans the fact that our Republic still retains the jury-less ‘Special Criminal Court’. In some cases when it is deemed it could be extremely dangerous for jury members and witnesses to appear in public it makes perfect sense.

The vast majority of citizens are not against special measures for the most callous of criminals who stop at nothing to intimidate the innocent.

No, our courts are fine with an added and required extension to deal with threats to State and jurors when certain cases are tried. There is no reason in our democratic society, to believe all the leopards have scrubbed out their spots of slightly differing hues.


Bantry, Co Cork