Letters to the Editor

Education needs to change to meet the needs of all our children

Professor Siobhan O’Neill, who is the north’s mental health champion, has requested the Independent Review of Education, as a matter of urgency, to end academic selection using transfer tests (‘Review must show way for transfer tests change’).

“Tests are stressful, and studies consistently show a deterioration in pupil’s mental health during exam periods. Teachers agree; in a 2018 survey, 92 per cent of teachers described transfer tests as having a significant mental health impact. These tests also discriminate against neurodiverse and disabled children,” she says.

Unfortunately, Professor O’Neill’s calls may fall on deaf ears.

Unionism, and the DUP in particular, love the grammar sector because it gives them an edge, maintains the status quo and keeps the poor in their place. On average there are now three times as many students on the free school meals register attending secondary schools as attend grammar schools.

Despite the pandemic, and the devastating impact on our most disadvantaged children, the transfer test train rolls on, as if all is back to some sort of normality.

A total of 57 of our grammar schools have signed up to run a single transfer test from 2023 and this is something we are told we should welcome. While I understand the relief felt by many parents that their children will avoid the stress of having to sit multiple tests, the end result will still be the same, a segregated system of education based on social class and one that continues to disadvantage the poor  even further, as if the pandemic hadn’t done enough damage.

At 11 we label 60 per cent of our children as failures. As Dr Mary Bousted, co-head of the National Education Union, has said, “To destroy children’s hope is wicked” and in Northern Ireland we do that ‘destroying’ on a grand scale. The educational establishment and the politicians who support them should hang their heads in shame. The pandemic has brought about enormous change with no adult or child untouched. Society will need to change and education here will need to change to meet the needs of all our children rather than cater for a privileged few. There can be no return to the status quo.

Downpatrick, Co Down                                                                                                                 


Words matter

In an Irish News article (June 18) under the banner ‘Israeli troops kill three Palestinians in West Bank gunfight’, it is stated that “the Israeli military has been carrying out near-daily raids in the occupied West Bank since a string of attacks earlier this year killed 19 people in Israel”.

This is an incomplete and, I fear, a deliberately misleading statement, aimed at creating the impression that the “near-daily raids” are a response from the Israeli military forces to “a string of attacks earlier this year (that) killed 19 people in Israel”.

What the article fails to mention is that a further 60 people – all Palestinians – were killed in the same period at the hands of the Israeli military and that these “near-daily” raids are not a response to Palestinian activity but are part of an ongoing aggressive military campaign by the occupying Israeli authorities against the indigenous Palestinian people.

The article goes on to try to legitimise the actions of the Israeli military by stating that it “raided locations in search of weapons” and that “troops confiscated rifles”.

“Raiding locations”, “searching for”, and “confiscating” weapons aren’t the actions of rogue players or terrorist states, are they?

No mention that these troops are an occupying force and that the weapons they ‘confiscate’ are from Palestinian resistance to this forced occupation.

The response of the Palestinian people is then framed as a threat: “Hundreds of angry residents gathered… chanting… calling for revenge”.

Be in no doubt as to the savagery of this occupation – in May 2021 Israel launched an 11-day assault on the besieged Gaza Strip.

Israeli air and artillery attacks killed 253 Palestinians, including 66 children, and left more than 1,900 people wounded.

This all funded by the American government to the tune of US $3.8bn annually.

I invite readers to compare reporting of the illegal occupation of Palestine by Israeli military forces with the illegal occupation of Ukraine by Russian military forces. Words matter.

Newry, Co Down


Principled maxim

During the parliamentary introduction of the Bill of Rights Bill last Wednesday MPs Stephen Farry and Alistair Carmichael enquired if the government had considered the legislation’s consequences for the Good Friday Agreement.  Although the Human Rights Act’s repeal, which the Bill proposes, would not infringe the agreement, the agreement’s explicit emphasis on both UK and Irish governments respecting ‘equality requirements’, within the European Convention on Human Rights, could be undermined and risk amplifying the region’s political sensitivities over the Protocol and Anglo-Irish relations. Thus, under the GFA, the government would be prevented, as a matter of international law, from going further to withdraw from the ECHR. Judging from the sentiments expressed in parliament by MPs from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the legislation is unlikely to garner consent for the Bill’s advancement given that human rights protections are also built into the three devolved settlements from 1998. This newly unleashed dilemma emphasises that this legislation will have effects far beyond the parochial parlours of middle England.  Dominic Raab states that the Bill reaffirms an ancient maxim of equity; that being that all who pursue the law must come to it with clean hands. With a catalogue of recent government scandals, should that principled maxim not equally apply to the government and be foremost in their minds?

Killinchy, Co Down



Ignoring historical facts

True to form, Peter McEvoy – ‘Without justice there can never be peace’ (June 22) – continues to ignore historical facts. He claims that “the British, with Jewish help, seized all of Palestine after ethnically cleansing it over a 30-year period”. Britain was given the responsibility of the mandate for Palestine by the League of Nations.

However, Britain’s first act was to syphon off two-thirds of the territory and give it to the Hashemites to create the kingdom of Jordan, effectively a Palestinian state. It did nothing to facilitate the creation of a Jewish state, which was one of the conditions laid down by the League of Nations.

As far as a people identifying as ‘Palestinian’ pre-1948, the Jews did just that, not the Arabs. One only has to look at the creation of the English language newspaper The Palestine Post, the precursor of today’s Jerusalem Post. The national soccer team was called ‘Palestine’ – both essentially Jewish creations and boycotted by the Arabs.

It was not until the early 1960s under leadership of an Egyptian, Yasser Arafat, that any sort of coherent ownership of the labels ‘Palestine’ and ‘Palestinian’ by the Arabs came into being.

However, I believe none of this will have any influence with Peter McEvoy. Instead he prefers to rely on emotive accusations such as “Apartheid Israel” and “ethnic cleansing” to make his ill-judged point.

Belfast BT10

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Letters to the Editor