Grammars’ resistance to change hindering non-selective education

May 27, 2013

Ahead of his retirement next month as Principal of St. Joseph’s High School in Crossmaglen, Mr Kevin Scally has voiced his concern about the perceived delays in moving towards a non-selective education system.  He says calls from Catholic bishops for grammar schools to end academic selection are going largely unheeded and has expressed a wish that the leading Churchmen be more outspoken over the lack of progress.

As registration for the unofficial 11+ tests opened recently, every grammar school that runs the exams is planning to continue using them, despite last summer’s statement from senior Church figures instructing schools to scrap transfer testing.  Grammar schools were given two years to reduce admission by entrances exams by 25 per cent, however, to date, there has been little progress.

St. Joseph’s is a successful, all-abilities secondary that has seen enrolment increase and exam results improve significantly during Kevin Scally’s eleven years as headmaster.

He is a prominent member of the Catholic Principals’ Association, which advocates a network of high-performing, non-selective and inclusive Catholic schools.  The group claims the continued use of unregulated testing is seriously undermining the unity, ethos and integrity of the sector.

Praising those bishops who have spoken out against the grammars’ continued use of academic selection, Mr Scally says those who have so far remained silent on the issue are hindering development

“It has been damaging in our desire to see all-ability education, a system of education which is fair, which is educationally sound.  I think if some of the bishops were more outspoken, we could move along the road they appear to want us to,” he said.

“Around about 2008/9 when the northern bishops issued their statement calling for all-ability education, there were many people within the primary and non-selective secondary sectors who were really optimistic about change and did believe that change was about to happen.

“I think the grammar schools resisted that change at the time and their allies resisted the change and since then, gradually, those of us in the secondary and primary sector have felt that the opportunity seems to have drifted away.  I don’t think there has been any change in the desire of the grammar schools to resist amalgamations.  There is much talk about it but very little action.”

Mr Scally says the debate around ending academic selection will carry on as other school leaders continue the campaign.

“That debate hasn’t gone away and won’t go away because there’s a very strong sense inside the non-selective schools that there should be a fairer system of education.”