SECURING A GRAMMAR SCHOOL PLACE:
THE MOST ABLE OR THE MOST MONEY?

The modern world of securing a grammar school place has become a process of stress, anxiety, private tutoring and increasing competition. As thousands of children await their results, Pamela Yeh considers whether minority ethnic children are caught in the vacuum of school transfers in Northern Ireland

By Pamela Yeh

This November in Northern Ireland, thousands of anxious 11 year olds spent their Saturdays, closet- ed in schools sitting a variety of timed English and Maths tests. Tests which determine which secondary level schools they will go to. It’s an extremely stressful time for both parents and children.

If you’re a parent to a 10 or 11 year old, new to life in Northern Ireland, chances are you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

Between dealing with the differences in culture, helping your children adjust to life in a different country, trying to understand how healthcare works, you’ve probably had to try and navigate the com- plexities of the education system and the various types of tests used by different schools to determine admission.

Northern Ireland is one of several areas in the UK where a grammar school system is still in place. Grammar schools are schools which admit students on the basis of test scores. There are other sec- ondary schools which are not selective and do not require children to sit tests for admission.

However, many parents are aware that the top performing schools here tend to be grammars. So it’s no real surprise that parents continue to register their children for these tests.

The Northern Ireland Education Department how- ever, does not recognise or support the use of these tests and has a policy preventing primary schools from preparing children for these tests during core teaching hours.

In the absence of formal support from schools, many parents in Northern Ireland have turned to private tutors, paying upwards of £15 an hour to ensure their children are prepared for these tests. It may

be anecdotal but my child told me that she was the only child in her class who wasn’t being tutored and certainly, from speaking to other parents, it would appear she is right.

The tragedy of this current situation is that many minority ethnic children are being failed by the lack of a coherent decision and strategy. According to a Joseph Rowntree Foundation report on Poverty and Ethnicity in Northern Ireland, people from minority ethnic groups appear to be over-represented in pre- carious low-grade, low-paid jobs.

This means a high percentage of minority ethnic parents are probably less able to afford private tutoring and have to rely on schools to prepare their children for these tests. Yet primary schools have been told by the Education Department NOT to prepare children for these tests and a few have even been sent letters warning them about coaching pupils during schools hours.

Without coaching and support from primary schools, few children would make the grade for these tests. For some children from low income households, this will only serve to perpetuate the cycle of poverty, lack of skills and under-employment which is already a large problem within numerous communities in Northern Ireland. The Equality Commission has also pointed to concerns about the difficulties faced by children from minority ethnic communities in accessing grammar schools in Northern Ireland in its 2008 Strategy for Intervention.

It’s been said that state education in Northern Ireland is of a very high standard. Comparison of results with schools in England and Wales often show Northern Ireland students faring better. However, the current vacuum created by Department of Education’s attempt to end selection and its policy preventing primary schools from preparing children for these tests seems to be resulting in greater than ever inequalities.

EDUCATION

The modern world of securing a grammar school place has become a process of stress, anxiety, private tutoring and increasing competition. 

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OVERVIEW

  • Many minority ethnic children are being failed by the lack of a coherent decision and strategy

 

  • The Equality Commission has concerns about the difficulties faced by children from minority ethnic communities in accessing grammar schools in Northern Ireland

 

  • Policy preventing primary schools from preparing children results in greater than ever inequalities

EDUCATION

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Northern Ireland: #GrammarEducation
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