We need to rethink the idea of privilege... wherever it applies

For once this week an important issue slipped past Brexit to attract the media’s attention - even if it was Ian Paisley’s ill-conceived indignation that fired it up the ratings.

Saturday, 2nd March 2019, 5:00 am
Education is the key to the future of Northern Irelands wealth and fulfilment

Though it may be taking a back seat at present, education is more important than Brexit because, regardless of what happens there, the world is going to continue to change and our system needs to be able to adapt to suit those needs and make sure our children have the best start they can get. All of them.

In the same week that we have renewed warnings about the threat of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the potential impact on unskilled jobs in particular, it could be argued that we need a few more “exam factories” but that’s not really the issue.

The point is - and this applies to both communities - is that parental pressure and the urge for our kids to ‘get on’ drives this need to get a fistful hand of A stars. In areas of high achievement that drive can become intense.

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At the same time there is historic non-achievment. The late PUP leader David Ervine pointed out 20 years that there were urban primary schools where no child had passed the 11+ as it was then.

As NI Children’s Commissioner Koulla Yiasouma put it: “If Northern Ireland is to have a shared future we need to educate Protestant and Catholic children and our increasingly diverse community together and we need to educate our boys and girls together, but for me the greatest injustice is what we do to our children from socially disadvantaged areas,.

“It’s not a fair education system.”

It is understandable that those who have been fortunate to achieve should want to secure the best opportunities for their children, but that cannot come at the expense of others.

If, as it seems, both sides are comfortable with the grammar system, then resources have to be found to make certain children who have not already had a flying start in term of access to books, daytrips and other privileges that money brings have the facilities in place to address the “long tail of underachievement,” referred to by Sir Robert Salisbury.

It should be that phrase and not his mention of exam factories that triggered Mr Paisley’s unease.