Letters to the Editor

Transfer test facilitates high levels of social segregation in schools

At the assembly, the spotlight has recently been on Kellie Armstrong’s (Alliance) Integrated Education Bill, which has generated heated debate. We have a failed education system where 30 per cent of adults lack basic qualifications.  The educationalist, Sir Robert Salisbury, in an address to the Policy Forum for Northern Ireland reported that no schools in England had such poor achievement as the lowest achieving schools in Northern Ireland. Economist, Professor John Fitzgerald, Trinity College Dublin, warned that the north’s economy needs a devolved government to tackle “the worst educational system of any region in the UK” which he estimates would take up to 30 years to fix. It would be a distraction to blame all our educational ills on an education system that is segregated on the basis of religion. The elephant in the room is the high levels of social segregation in our education system. We have the most socially segregated system of education in western Europe. The OECD’s 2012 benchmark placed us at 34th out of 34 developed countries on that measure. The high levels of social segregation in our schools is facilitated by a transfer test which acts as a filter for social selection - more advantaged children go on to the grammar sector and poor children usually go on to the secondary sector. This has led to high concentrations of poverty in too many of our secondary schools and it is these high concentrations of poverty that are causing a huge tail end of underachievement in our education system.

High-poverty schools consistently fail to provide students an equal opportunity for an adequate education. All students perform substantially worse in high-poverty schools. OECD researchers concluded that the academic success of countries like Finland and Canada appear to be related to their greater degree of socio-economic integration.

Our failed education system, however, benefits an elite group of middle-class parents and their children, shamefully aided and abetted, primarily by the DUP who don’t do equality but prefer to maintain a social hierarchy where poor people know their place.

As Kenny McFarland, chair of the Ulster-Scots community association in the village of Newbuildings, has said: “Our leaders have always taught us working-class people that we need to know our place, and it is at the bottom.”

Downpatrick, Co Down


Music memorial

I was deeply moved and warmly reminded of the wonderful legacy left with me back in the day, on learning of the death and reading the obituary for Baron George Minne.

For many people reviewing their early experiences, there is often one person who stands out from the collective of significant developmental ‘influencers’ they’ve encountered along the way. That person for me is someone whose elegantly persuasive guidance and inspirational demeanour has always resonated and reverberated through all time for me, and continues thus.

George Minne was a Belgian man of supreme honour and delightful decorum who had a wonderfully illustrious life of music-making, music-teaching, organ-mastery, choral direction, pianistic achievement, diligent and dedicated commitment to everything he engaged. George was my piano teacher at St Patrick’s College Armagh, way back in the day, and his very sensitive encouragement allied with delicate insights to nuanced interpretation of music elementals, has lingered strong and true with me throughout the many years since.

He set the potent seeds of yearning to develop a life-long exploration of all things musical which, although initially put to one side for a career in healthcare, eventually transmogrified to a blending of interactive music ‘soundscaping’ with professional health considerations. Thus, I changed trajectory, did a music degree, before training as a music therapist and working in that field for more than 25 years, across the age-range, health-spectrum and diagnostic catalogue. George Minne’s infectious illumination of all things musical underpins anything I’ve done within that sphere, and his ‘kindly-karma’ still weaves a spell. Only the likes of George Minne could have such a lifelong effect on someone. Would that he might put a word in for music-therapy in the great organ-house in the sky.

The short film on his life presented at the 2019 Cork Film Festival was a pure joy to behold, charming and compelling in equal measure. It prompted me to pen a letter to George, reminding him of our ‘ancient’ creative dalliance and the enduring impact he’d had on me. Lo and behold some weeks later I received a beautifully hand-written letter in response from the ‘maestro’ himself, as neat and gracious as ever, with even a gentle jibe included re my error in his house address number.

What a man - a beautiful man, a man with a profound musical pedigree and noble to boot.

May he rest in peaceful comfort at his celestial carillon in the sky.

Lismore, Co Waterford


Bitter little attitude

I was both proud and saddened respectively by a recent article and then a letter by my fellow Fermanagh men. Martin O’Brien (November 19) gave such a balanced analysis of current events and I agree our president should have attended Armagh and not made it a political issue. Martin and I travelled to school on the same CIE bus originating in Cavan, this being a fine example of Ireland working together.

Fr Joe McVeigh (November 24) saddened me with his confused and bitter letter which even sometimes answered his own questions. We can never move on unless we look forward to working together. The driver and conductor on that childhood CIE bus took such an interest in every passenger from north or south, Catholic or Protestant. What mattered were the values of us all to be good neighbours and work in peace. That was justice. For us that was reconciliation.

Belfast BT9



Ignoring the concept of context has consequences

I read Martin O’Brien’s opinion article –  ‘President Higgins made a wrong call on Armagh Church service’ (November 19) – the object of which is summed up in the heading.

I would point out to Mr O’Brien that the advertisement of this service was read by many people. Inferences were drawn, some selling it as an ecumenical service, others seeing it in the context of it being called during a period of celebration in the memory of the establishment of this state.

Mr O’Brien flags up the actual content of the service. He then basically asks: “What’s the problem?”

It is remarkable for one to have to remind a columnist of The Irish News about, rightly or wrongly, the fact that, here in Ireland our perceptions and beliefs are and have been shaped by our reading the context, historical and social of public events.

He compounds this by labelling those who saw this service and as different from him to making a ‘wrong call’. Impertinent, I’ll call that.

Ignoring the concept of context in how we see other’s decision making does, has and will have consequences. Reminding ourselves of it can be a powerful tool in decision making.

Derry City

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Letters to the Editor