The Last 11 Plus


I’ve got a dictionary with an inscription on the inside cover… It says: “Congratulations David on passing the last ever 11 plus”
It was given to me by one of my brothers, I won’t tell you how long ago… But it wasn’t yesterday…
What did happen yesterday was that children all over Northern Ireland got their results from, what Catriona Ruane says will be the last ever 11 plus… Except it won’t be…
Because of political gamesmanship in which the lives of children are pawns, next year there will be a whole swathe of different 11 pluses being offered by different schools as entrance exams… And a completely chaotic system of transfer from primary to secondary schools. Unless a deal can be done quickly.
I did well out of the 11 plus… Because I passed it I was able to get an education that was second to none, opening all sorts of options to me, that were not open to the majority of my primary school pals. The sad thing is that the options that were open to them, which were mainly the Shipyard and the Aircraft factory, are severely curtailed these days… As someone pointed out at the consultation I was on with the LINC Resource Centre a couple of weeks ago, that was in the day when the rows and rows of terraced streets of inner East Belfast were like halls of residence for the University of Life that was the Harland and Wolff Shipyard... But that particular university is all but closed now, and while the Housing Executive may have recognised that, in building many fewer houses than had once stood shoulder to shoulder along streets long gone, the education system, and the social ethos around it has not really taken that into account.

We have a society that has not valued education as highly as it should (particularly for Protestants who in the good old bigoted past were more likely to get jobs in heavy industry because of who you know being more important thatn what you know). As a result we have an education system that was aimed at giving a few kids a really good academic grounding… which not everyone is capable of… But sadly it also fails far too many other young people, with more kids leaving education with no qualifications than in any other area in the UK.
We are not all the same, and the same type of education will not suit everyone… We also cannot wrap children up in cotton wool and protect them from the nasty, cut throat, competitive nature of the world forever… But a system where so many children feel like failures at the age of 11 is not good.
The God who made us, knows all the potential that he built into each of us… He knows when we fail him… Which is far too frequently… But he still loves us all, and wants us to become all that we were created to be.

It is my belief that we best do that through following Christ and knowing the strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

And it’s my prayer that all the children who got their results yesterday may know God’s spirit guiding them in the days to come, whatever their results might be…
But also that the same Spirit may guide our political representatives to abandon reactionary electoral politics and inflexible party dogma to find a better system that serves all our children…

This was originally broadcast, in an abbreviated form, on Downtown Radio, as a Dawn Reflections Review of the Week, of Sunday 8th February, 2009

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