Ulster offers no hope either;The selection debate;News;News amp; Opinion

5th November 1999 at 00:00
NORTHERN Ireland's impressive exam results do not prove that grammar schools are successful, a former head told the conference, writes Nicolas Barnard.

Ulster's secondary schools have been split between grammars and secondary moderns for 50 years, but there are other reasons why GCSE scores outstrip those in England, said Dr Niall McCafferty.

The Campaign for State Education organised the conference in London to examine the evidence for comprehensive education. It is supporting campaigns to hold ballots on selection in six authorities where grammar schools still exist.

Dr McCafferty, former head of St Joseph's secondary school in Derry and co-ordinator of the campaign group Reform 21, said that scrutiny of Ulster's GCSE results revealed a wide disparity.

In some grammars, as few as 78 per cent of these highly-able pupils got five passes at A*-C. "By no stretch of the imagination could you say that was world-beating," he said.

Its five local authorities were all beaten by councils in England with comprehensive schools. "There are endless factors that affect educational outcomes. The system is only one of many," Dr McCafferty said.

Northern Ireland's "schools do not have to contend with anything like the size and intensity of psychological, social, ethnic, first language and economic problems with which schools in England have to struggle," he said.

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