( I posted this earlier on Bobballs but thought it might be of interest here too. Also check out Jeff Peel’s Diary as he writes knowledgeably on the subject, and his links at the bottom of the piece tell you what to do next if oppose the plans.)
Education Minister Caitriona Ruane is intent on wrecking 16 schools and disrupting to the lives of 2,426 school pupils. Cue public manifestations of uncontainable outrage!!
Well, not really. It’s just the unfashionable, Protestant middle-classes in the firing line. And Protestant middle-classes don’t tend to be a tinderbox for revolutionary spirit.
Anyhoo, what’s the problem?
The schools Ruane wants to destroy are preparatory departments of grammars. It’s another slice into the culture that supports academic selection.
The Minister wants to completely remove funding for preps starting this coming September. Pulling the funding rug from under schools of any sector at such speed can’t be a good idea if the desired outcome is sustainability. On the other hand, if the policy is the destruction of Northern Ireland’s preps then it looks a pretty effective measure.
Under the Common Funding Formula (CFF), the Education Department offers primary schools £2,911 in funding per pupil. The Department offers prep school pupils £808 in funding – and parents pay the balance in fees.
Ruane wants to pull the plug on funding prep places. But before anyone shouts ‘Good on yer Caitriona, that’ll save a few quid for the public purse’, think again.
How many parents will really be able to absorb an additional £800 in annual fees right now? Not very many – in fact, a sizeable proportion would no doubt be forced to remove a child from their school of choice.
If Ruane gets her way and destroys preps, more pupils will go to primaries. Which involves moving lots of children from the £808 funding bracket to the £2,911 bracket. If just a quarter of the prep population switches to primaries then the taxpayer would have to fork out an additional c.£5 million. This at a time when expenditure must be cut by £370 million and the onus is on cuts.
The consultation is still open, but the Department of Education is already issuing budgets to schools based on the assumption that the CFF is changed. So in other words, the consultation which closes on March 04 days is a joke.
So how can she get away with this?
Erm… because she can. NISRA found that more than half of the prep school population last year was Protestant; around 1/3 other religions; and about one-tenth Catholic.
So the people most adversely affected are small in number, Protestant and middle-class. Hardly a strong voting demographic for Sinn Fein. So those affected can hardly hit her where it hurts.
But they can hit Unionist politicians where it hurts for not protecting them. What are they doing while she’s wrecking the place?
The future of academic selection is something that preoccupied the DUP for quite some time. Lots of stuff about saving our grammars. We were told that a central plank of St Andrews was about saving academic selection. This is a pretty comprehensive statement detailing how the DUP did it.
The UUP have said much on the matter too. The Education Minister’s ideological approach is the cause of Executive dysfunctionality, say the UUP. They’ve produced press statements and position papers on post-primary issues.
The DUP has tabled a no-day motion defending the CFF arrangements, but that was only listed on February 18 and hasn’t been scheduled yet. The UUP have named education as part of their price for supporting P&J, but we need to see what this means.
Or in other words, very little has been done on this specific issue.
When Sammy Wilson said this, it looked reassuring. Now, to the 2,500 school children in preps, it looks dreadfully complacent. In fact the funny thing is that the killer blow which greenlighted Ruane’s plans came from the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP), whose Minister is… Sammy Wilson!!
According to paragraph 2.8, page 8:
In summary, the (DFP’s) BCS Report has concluded that there is no obligation on the Department to fund preparatory departments of grammar schools and that the Department should consider the withdrawal of funding to preparatory departments on the basis of the equality of access.
In that News Letter article above, Wilson said this:
The irony is that the minister can rant, rave and rage from her bunker in Rathgael, Connolly House or wherever she locks herself away from the real world, but she is powerless to impose her diktats on the educational world.
And yet here we are.
Ruane is intent on destroying academic selection and she is causing enough chaos to persuade me that she has got the upper hand.
For Sinn Fein, the more she wrecks schooling which Unionist / Protestants value, the better she performs as an Education Minister. How much longer can that perverse scenario be allowed to persist?
The Education Minister is proposing to do something that will limit social mobility, destabilise the grammar sector and place a greater funding pressure on all-sector education provision at a time when the public purse simply cannot bear it. More inequality, and not less, is the likely affect of Ruane’s CFF plan.
What is to be done?
DISCLAIMER: I have two perfectly contented children at a prep and Ruane’s plans will completely disrupt their lives. And for what benefit?