The ongoing bid by O’Dowd to destroy grammar schools

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

Once again, grammar schools and their supporters across Northern Ireland need to be alert to what is happening in a part of the Province.

This time their focus should be on Fermanagh, and the proposal to merge Enniskillen Collegiate and Portora Royal.

Last year it was the plan to merge Portadown and Lurgan College into a non-selective school (a proposal that was ostensibly derailed by community support for the two grammars, but which in fact is still alive via yet another consultation).

On the surface, the Fermanagh plan seems reasonable: two grammar schools merged in a bid to pool resources, and a brand new replacement secondary school. But if you scratch the surface, the education minister John O’Dowd’s determination to abolish grammars is at the heart of this plan.

It is welcome that the current Portora head Neill Morton says the replacement grammar will have academic selection, but this belief is not enough.

The WELB’s failure to say that academic selection will be part of the new school is significant. It keeps open the possibility of Mr O’Dowd’s absurd notion of the ‘non-selective grammar’.

Mr O’Dowd and other grammar school opponents are impervious to the evidence from England that abolishing grammar schools has been a disaster.

An imperfect system in which there was some social mobility, in which bright kids from modest backgrounds could get an education appropriate to their abilities and went on to the best universities and to rise up in the professions, has been replaced with a wicked system in which there is no such mobility.

Now in England, the most academically able are denied a fitting state education unless they fluke it by living in the small number of areas that have a first-rate comprehensive school, or live in one of the tiny number of places that still have grammars, such as Kent.

Otherwise, only bright children whose parents can afford private school fees get the education they need (and which society needs its brightest people to get).

This system is coming to Northern Ireland, and fast, unless the community keeps rising up against Mr O’Dowd’s plan to bring about comprehensivisation by picking off schools, region by region.