Posts Tagged Primary School

An Education – our Primary Focus (Part 4)

Feeling almost hopeful today after reading The Guardian piece on Frank Field (former Labour minister, now the Coalition’s “Poverty Advisor”)) preparing review on ‘how to prevent poor children becoming poor adults’.

Apparently, Field said he said he was disturbed by research showing how accurate a prediction can be made as to where a child will be in their 20s, by looking at their ability at 22 months and just before five years. Narrowing divisions in children’s readiness for school at five was central to tackling divisions in later life, he said.

He is right to be disturbed. But he shouldn’t be surprised.

Certainly this has been known to the wonderful Sutton Trust Charity for some time and even an uninformed observer such as myself has been bemoaning the lack of interest in and commitment to progress interventions aimed at supporting the development of disadvantaged children in their most formative years. My three previous posts over the past year on the subject: herehere and here.

This has been a particular concern of mine in Northern Ireland where most of last year was spent arguing on post Primary education when the real prize is – as the Sutton Trust continually point out – closing the cognitive and associated aspirational gap among children way way before we start to concern ourselves with means of post primary selection.

Anyway, maybe Field is starting to listen and will follow through on the plans outlined in the article. If so that’s commendable but I also hope this is only the start.

In Northern Ireland I hope @conallmcd and NI Minister for Education, Caitríona Ruane take notice. Closer to home I hope that @cllrstevereed and @chukaumunna pick this up and recognise it is for this very reason that local residents are so concerned about plans for an extension of the Ofsted rated Outstanding Sudbourne Road Primary School (and nursery).

What I wrote in March of this year seems still to be relevant today. Shame. But saves me re-typing:

“Consistently on this blog I have maintained that while some form of streaming or selection is a must in any mature and inclusive education system, our real focus should be on primary education; on ensuring our administration of that education is innovative and inclusive enough to support pupils from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds and encouraging an ethos of and commitment to  ”concerted cultivation” of our young children among parents and local communities.  We are currently failing our young people during their most formative years”.

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Embarassed, NI

Young people interacting within society.
Image via Wikipedia



“Out of Ireland have we come.
Great hatred, little room,
Maimed us at the start.”  

WB Yeats (1865 – 1939)



Thanks to Conall McDevitt for bringing to my attention the unfortunate and unsavoury actions of a few mindless NI Facebookers.

This sort of story makes me so ashamed of my otherwise proud Northern Irish (and Irish) heritage. But it isn’t a surprise – I sadly am convinced that too many of our population still bear many of the insular and xenophobic attributes of a people inhabiting a small island on the western fringes of Europe that has for many years been a cauldron for national, racial, religious and community suspicion/conflict.

The events of the summer involving the South Belfast Romany community echoes throughout this latest news piece. But it does not end there. Sadly I have seen, first hand, how racist some members of our society can be as a consequence of tree or four separate instances directed at either my Eritrean born Canadian wife or myself as her partner.  You’ll forgive me if I spare you the details and expletives.  Instances that mean she will never now acquiesce to my long held dream to move back home and raise a family. And I can’t really blame her.

As always of course – and I do recognise this – much of this is the work and views of a (albeit a potentially significant) minority – most of my fellow countrymen and women recognise that we know as much as any nation about the challenges of settling in foreign lands or the hospitality afforded to our people by foreign governments as a consequence of our own diaspora throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries. We are, in the main, a warm and hospitable people who recognise the obligation on us to provide refuge to those who cannot find it elsewhere but also the merits of managed and facilitated immigration.

However at a time when, as a small island economy trying to get off our knees, we need all the friends (tourists, investors, advocates) we can make, we should never underestimate – particularly in the age of social media – how stories like this play out across the globe and influence perception of us as a people and a place.

I’m tempted to take this on a tangent related to the reform of the education system in NI and in particular the importance of the Primary School system in preparing our children not just for further education but to be well rounded, informed and considered members of civic society – true ambassadors for our corner of the world, but it’s late. But those who brought shame on NI with their Facebook vitriol are evidence that something – however isolated the powers that be may claim – isn’t working in how we prepare our young people to prosper in a multi-cultural society and that needs to be addressed (at home, at school and in local communities).  That is  definitely one of my aspirations for our work at the Washington Ireland Program for Service and Leadership.

There is plenty to joke about in this sad day and age without spouting “ironic” vitriol at the expense of some of our society’s most vulnerable members.  Let’s close on this one from Dave Barry – I couldn’t think of a ‘joke’ more apt right now:

“Ireland is a medium-sized rural island that is slowly but steadily being consumed by sheep”.


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