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Transfer to secondary schools: LUNN
Speech by Trevor LUNN on motion at Alliance Party Conference
21 March 2009

I don’t think I need to go over the events of the last two years which have led to the persistent impasse in our education system. Caitriona Ruane has led from the front, determined to implement Sinn Féin policy ably assisted more recently by John O’Dowd and the immoveable object of the DUP has stood in their way, mainly in the person of Mervyn Storey, although the real blockade is at Executive level. Personally, I believe that O’Dowd, Mervyn Storey and myself could sort it out but we won’t get the chance. Read More

Commenting on the UUP’s intention to debate the 11+ and other Educational matters at Westminster next week, Eileen Bell, Alliance Deputy Leader and member of the Assembly Education Committee, said that she was concerned that the UUP were attempting to bring back the widely discredited 11+ to Northern Ireland.

“While the outgoing Education Minister, Martin McGuinness, was totally irresponsible in starting the removal of the 11+ without first introducing an alternative form of transfer procedure, that does NOT justify trying to reinstate the status quo.

“The current NIO Education Minister, Jane Kennedy, was quite right in reminding Roy Beggs MP that the province suffers from a sizeable number of pupils leaving school with few or no qualifications at all, and these children must be catered for every bit as much as the high number leaving with excellent results!

“It would be unfortunate if the Unionists were to use the suspension of the Assembly as a means to try, once again, to reinforce the 11+, a move which can only be justified by a total concentration on its benefits for those pupils on the grammar school track!”

Speaking in the Assembly debate on the Gallagher Report, Eileen Bell said:

“This resolution is timely, insofar that we should state, LOUD AND CLEAR, that consultation on this important issue should be as wide, as comprehensive and, of course, as effective as possible.

“We must ensure that all interested parties, from teachers to parent, will be adequately consulted, so that, as far as possible, the most satisfactory outcome is achieved for the good of all the pupils that it will affect.

“Again, I have to say, Mr Speaker, that I find this resolution extremely timely, because of the Press Release which outlined the first stages of the consultation process. The meetings so far planned are to be by invitation only, for school principals and representatives of educational and other related organisations in the field.

“We are told that public meetings will be held by the Review Body when they set up their programme. I await the details of these meetings with great interest, and I trust that they will be both many and widespread, and that they will be held in the very near future !

“There are a great number of parents, with 7, 8 and 9 year- old children, who are fervently hoping that they, and theirs, will not have to deal with the stresses currently endured by P5 and P6 pupils and their families. These parents not only want to attend the meetings, but are entitled to have their say, to have their questions answered and to have their heart-felt concerns met. These are the people who need to be listened to, and to be reassured that, whatever option is finally chosen, it is the best way forward for their children, and indeed, all the children of Northern Ireland.

“We, in the Alliance party, will be looking closely at the record of all-ability integrated schools, as they will show us how a modern comprehensive system might look.

“I am sure that all sections of our community will approach this in a constructive way, because it must be clearly seen to be an all-inclusive real consultation, that is not predetermined at any stage by ‘ experts ‘, but will ensure that we get the education system that our society, our economy, but, most of all, our children deserve.

“Finally, Mr Speaker, it goes without saying that our current system, which brands a large number of our future citizens FAILURES when they have lived, at most, 1/6th of their lives must be radically changed, but it also must be said that we do not want change for the sake of change, but change for the sake of improvement.“

The Party Organiser of the Alliance Party, Stephen Farry, has welcomed the opening of an integrated school in Dungannon by the Secretary of State but has pointed out that there are three integrated schools that are still awaiting a Government decision to grant them public funding.

Stephen Farry stated:

“The Alliance Party welcomes the opening of an integrated school in Dungannon. Its opening by the Secretary of State is highly symbolic. Hopefully, it signifies a renewed commitment by the Government to integrated schooling.

“However, there are three integrated schools currently operating in Northern Ireland without public funds: Strangford, Ullidia, and Oakwood. These schools have met the criteria for funding laid down by the Government. Alliance looks forward to a positive decision from the Department of Education to fund these schools, in the very near future.

“Integrated education has the potential to further understanding across the community. Opinion polls show a very high demand among parents for access to this type of schooling, yet today only 3% of Northern Ireland school chlidren attend such schools. It is a major public policy deficiency when public funds are used to bolster segregated education but don’t address integrated needs.”

North Down Alliance Councillor, Stephen Farry, has expressed his regret over the decision of the Department of Education to turn Strangford Integrated College for funding for a third time but called for the campaign to continue.

Stephen Farry said:

“This decision by the Department of Education is triply disappointing. First, this is now a school that is now in operation fighting to secure its future. Second, it is somewhat ironic given that the Prime Minister so publicly endorsed integrated education on his recent visit to Northern Ireland. Third, it is a blow coming so close to Christmas.

“Opinion polls show that parents throughout Northern Ireland want the option of integrated education – yet, only 2% of children attend such schools. No integrated school has failed so far.

“The choice of integrated education should be a right for parents. There is no yet sufficient provision in this area. The implication of DENI’s rejection of Strangford is that integrated schools are only going to a privilege in certain areas not the norm.

“The successful opening of Strangford College shows that there is sufficient demand for it in the greater North Down and Ards area, notwithstanding the decision of other local schools to transform to integrated status. The local population is sufficiently diverse; according to the 1991 census is about 70% Protestant, 10% Catholic & 20% others/none/refused.

“The Government will not be able to withstand a public campaign forever. I hope that the campaign does not cease, but in fact intensifies. I myself will do anything I can to help.”

Peninsula Councillor, Kieran McCarthy has criticised the decision of the SEELB to do away with summer facilities for children with learning difficulties.

Cllr McCarthy who is the Alliance Party Spokesman on Disability and the parent of a disabled daughter said:

“The withdrawal of this scheme will be a severe blow to both the parents and the child. It is important that the continuous physical and educational needs of the child is kept going during the long summer school holidays and of course it is also important that parents and carers of these youngsters get sufficient help and respite opportunities.

“I realise the problems faced by the Education Board and indeed pay tribute to them for the work and effort which they have put into Summer Schemes over the past number of years, but by withdrawing the schemes they would leave a vacuum for all concerned and I suggest that perhaps the local Health Trusts might consult with the Education Boards and hopefully come up with something that would satisfy the needs for summer activity for youngsters with a learning difficulty and their parents.”