General Teaching Council Northern Ireland

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Call for 'rich and poor mix' in schools


22/05/2008 :: Northern Ireland :: The Irish News

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) annual lecture will hear that a balanced intake could raise standards for the "most, middle and the least able".

The union said education minister Caitriona Ruane must promote so-cially balanced school admissions in her proposed post-primary reforms.

Under Ms Ruane's plan, grammar schools would be able to admit only half of first year pupils in 2010 using a new test to be drawn up by the north's exams board, the CCEA.

However, in the following two years this would be reduced to 30 per cent and then 20 per cent. All other pupils would be selected using non-academic criteria.

These include catchment areas, nearest suitable schools, feeder primaries and new 'socially disadvantaged criteria' under which schools may admit a dedicated number of children entitled to free meals.

This final criterion could see schools with a traditionally low number of children receiving free meals admitting more pupils from areas of high social disadvantage.

Dr Mary Bousted, ATL general secretary, said many of the minister's reforms - including a skills-based curriculum, entitlement to a wider range of courses, and an end in sight to high-stakes testing at 10 or 11 - were welcome .

"We are concerned that admissions criteria based on family, community and geography may increase social segregation in some areas and schools," she said.

"Decades of research evidence demonstrates that the one key factor in raising performance at school for the most, the middle and the least able, is a mixed intake of pupils.

"In schools with mixed intakes pupils learn about each other. They see different dispositions to learning. They recognise each others' skills and those pupils who suffer the most deprivation and exclusion see that education can provide them with the skills and knowledge to make a different life for themselves."

Dr Bousted said that for the most disadvantaged young people the most important role model was someone who looked like them, was their age but who had different attitudes to learning and different aspirations for life.

"If we are really to make a difference, if standards really are to rise for all, we need schools which are socially mixed, in which peer group pressure can be used effectively to open minds, change outlooks and raise aspirations," she said.

"Schools which do not have this mix always struggle."



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