Supporters of academic excellence must speak out

Morning View
Morning View

The article in this newspaper by the former headmaster of Belfast Royal Academy (BRA) makes disturbing reading.

No single element of Billy Young’s comment piece is new, but he brings together various educational developments that he rightly implies are part of a “broad front” to undermine excellence.

Mr Young poses ten questions, which he does not address to anyone, but uses as a rhetorical device. But his article raises overall issues that need to be addressed by specific groups.

First, MLAs who do not share Sinn Fein’s zealous opposition to grammar schools need to explain what they are doing to withstand John O’Dowd’s multi-faceted attack not merely on academic selection, but on things such as GCSE rankings.

Second, answers are needed about the silence of a tier of professional and business life in defence of the outstanding schools that have served them and Northern Ireland so well, and an education system that has avoided the disaster of Great Britain, where comprehensives have boosted private education and made the nation less socially mobile.

Third, there are questions to be answered by grammar schools themselves, from whom barely a squeak is heard (until they find they are about to be closed, as Lurgan and Portadown Colleges did and as others will). The situation is too serious for them to adopt a position of diplomatic silence. They face an existential threat and they and their governors must speak clearly, backed by cross-party MLAs.

Mr O’Dowd will struggle simply to shut grammars, but he is using other methods to undermine their excellence.

Sinn Fein wants to maintain tribal division (bolstering Irish language schools that have minimal demand) while turning people against academically outstanding schools (some of which, such as BRA, have an integrated pupil make-up).

The News Letter will unequivocally defend Northern Ireland’s education excellence, but many more organisations and individuals should join this crucial battle.