The man behind radical plans to reshape Catholic post-primary schools in Derry has branded academic selection as “outmoded and outdated.”
Monsignor Eamon Martin says the transfer test “distorts” the entire learning and teaching programme in both the primary and post-primary sectors.
He also believes that schools can continue to have “a very strong academic ethos” without selection.
Mons. Martin, Derry’s Diocesan Administrator, was speaking after attending a public meeting in the city on Wednesday evening, which was attended by several hundred people.
The meeting was organised by a group calling itself the Derry Grammar Schools’ Parents’ Association.
The meeting was convened to discuss Mons. Martin’s proposals which signal the end of academic selection, single sex schools, and the creation of two new sixth-form colleges in Derry.
Mons. Martin acknowledged that “a lot of fear and concern” had been expressed at the meeting.
“There appears to be a fear out there that, if we take away the transfer test and academic selection, we will, in some way, destroy Catholic grammar schools.
“My response to this is: does the identity and ethos of these schools hinge solely on a test?
“Is this what we truly mean by grammar schools? Surely education is about much, much more than one day in the life of a child.”
Mon. Martin says there is “much mythology” surrounding the issue of grammar schools.
“For instance, there is the myth that the Northern Ireland education system is wonderful. It is very good but it doesn’t compare well with some non-selective systems elsewhere.
“Likewise, it’s suggested that the Northern Ireland system is so good because of grammar schools. Some people, however, fail to mention the high quality of teaching or the high value placed by the Catholic Church on education.
“Then there is the myth that, somehow, grammar schools help to emancipate children from disadvantaged backgrounds and that it is somehow a form of social mobility. The figures don’t support this.
“Indeed, the opposite would appear to be the case. For example, just over 5% of children at Lumen Christi College are on free school meals whereas at a secondary school not too far away you can have up to 80% of students on free school meals.
“The existence of grammar schools is compounding not causing social disadvantage.”
Mons. Martin says he now plans to take a number of months to read all the responses to his ‘Together Towards Tomorrow’ proposals before compiling an analysis of the feedback and reflecting it back to the education community.