Minutes of Evidence: 28 September 2000
Selective System of Post-Primary Education in Northern Ireland
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
(Prof T Gallagher and Prof A Smith)
Thursday 28 September 2000
Mr Kennedy (Chairperson)
Mr S Wilson (Deputy Chairperson)
Mrs E Bell
Mr K Robinson
Prof T Gallagher(Queen's University Belfast)
Prof A Smith(University of Ulster)
I welcome Prof Tony Gallagher and Prof Alan Smith to this public session of the Education Committee and, on behalf of the Committee, I express our appreciation of the work you have undertaken in this important subject. We look forward to your presentation on the main points and a very productive meeting. After that I will open the meeting for questions and hope you will be able to respond accordingly. This is the beginning of a major debate in education, and the Education Committee is keen to play an important part. It may be that there will be other opportunities to sound each other out on many of these important issues. I also welcome the officials and all those in the public galleries. I hope you will be interested in and informed by this presentation, as we seek to make progress on behalf of all the children of Northern Ireland.
I thank the Committee for the invitation to meet with you to talk about the work. We will keep our presentation fairly short, dividing it into three sections. I will begin by saying a little bit about some of the main patterns that have emerged in the quantitative data from the evidence we collected. Then Prof Smith will talk about the themes that emerged from the qualitative data we gathered during our work. At the end I will talk about the conclusions we derived in relation to the different models for the future.
In relation to the quantitative evidence and the patterns that emerged, there are four different areas. They are primary schools; the transition between primary to post-primary education; movement between schools after the initial stage at age 11 and a few points on the data collected in relation to performance at 16 of pupils in grammar and secondary schools. That is the format we will follow.
Regarding primary schools, there has been evidence from previous research into the selective system in Northern Ireland that indicated a difference in social profile of pupils in grammar and secondary schools. Since that evidence was collected the mechanism of transfer has changed from verbal reasoning type tests to attainment tests. Also the degree of flexibility in the system has changed. One of the issues we were interested in looking at was the extent to which the patterns of participation might have changed because of these other changes.
We found that the difference between the profiles of pupils in grammar and in secondary schools was almost identical to that which had been found in the past. The main reason for that appears to be the relationship between performance in the attainment tests that are used - the transfer tests - and social background. Pupils in schools with low levels of social disadvantage are much more likely to get high grades in the transfer tests, and hence get into grammar schools. There had been some discussion about that area of evidence, given the changes that had taken place, but we found similar patterns to those in the past.
We were asked to look at the issue of coaching and preparation for the tests, particularly coaching outside school. That was a key part of the work, and it involved a survey of all primary schools to try to gauge the extent to which coaching is going on. The pattern that emerged was one of quite widespread out-of-school coaching. It is difficult to get an exact handle on what is happening. Although many school principals say that they are aware of it, they are loath to put an exact figure on its extent. However, there were indications that out-of-school coaching costs parents up to £15 per hour. It is an expensive activity, and not everyone is in a position to afford that sort of amount. That is another issue which had been much talked about, but on which little evidence was available.
On the transition from primary to post-primary education we wanted to try to look at some of the factors influencing the movement between these two stages in the system. Our evidence clearly showed that the most important factor in obtaining a grammar school place was having a top grade in the transfer system. Because of the system of open enrolment there has been an increase in the proportion of young people moving into grammar schools - from about 27% of the cohort prior to open enrolment to the current level of about 34%. The grammar schools have essentially filled to capacity because of open enrolment. It looks likely that in the medium term, the overall size of that cohort will decline, and we expect the proportion transferring into grammar schools to increase still further because of that demographic shift.
Another factor was the opening of two new Catholic grammar schools during the 1990s, which increased the number of overall places in the grammar school sector.
Another issue that was much talked about before the research was carried out was the movement of pupils after the first year of post-primary education. Some people claimed that there was quite an amount of pupil movement in and around the system. We managed to get some data from the Department of Education to enable us to look at patterns in that area. We found that the number of pupils moving between schools after that first year was quite small. The predominant pattern of movement was within the school types - from one secondary school to another secondary school, or from one grammar school to another grammar school. Presumably people moving house account for that. Any crossover between secondary and grammar schools tended to be from secondary to grammar schools, but there was much less of that than movement within the sectors.
Before handing over to Alan Smith, I will mention some of the evidence that we looked at in relation to the performance of pupils at age 16. We know that the overall pattern of performance in schools in Northern Ireland has been steadily increasing over a long period. Related to that is the fact that the proportion of young people leaving school with low or no qualifications has been steadily decreasing over time. Both of these are good and important factors.
There is a clear difference in the pattern of the performance of grammar and secondary schools. One would expect such a difference, given the mission and purpose of the schools. However, we tried to examine some of the statistical factors that help to explain the pattern of performance of schools, and there turned out to be a difference between the grammar and the secondary sectors. Our analysis suggested that the most important factor influencing the performance of a grammar school at age 16 was the proportion of pupils with a grade A in the transfer test who had come into the school at the start. The higher the proportion of top-grade pupils going into a grammar school, the higher the performance of the pupils in that grammar school at age 16.
The situation was slightly different in secondary schools, partly because a large proportion of secondary school pupils had opted out of the test and did not have a transfer grade. Our statistical analysis suggested that the key factor was the level of social disadvantage. The higher the level of social disadvantage, as measured by free school meal entitlement, then the lower the performance profile of the school. There is a little bit more to that, which we can perhaps explore later.
There is a strong grammar school effect, which surfaced when we looked at individual pupil level data. This is the value-added benefit that a pupil receives from achieving a grammar school place. Our analysis suggested that this grammar school effect is worth up to 16 GCSE points, which is a substantial value-added dimension. It seems to stem from two factors - on average, pupils in grammar schools tend to take more GCSE examinations than pupils in secondary schools, and they also tend to pass more. It is a culmination of a higher pass rate plus a higher number of subjects taken in the first place.
This partly helps to explain why there are very high levels of attainment by the grammar schools in our system. Allied to that is another point highlighted in the report, and that is the long tail of low-achieving schools, which, on the face of it - particularly in comparison to other systems - appears to be an inevitable consequence of a selective system. Those are a few points that we emphasised in relation to performance at 16 years of age.
I will say something about the findings from the qualitative side of the work, which was based on interviews with teachers and pupils in the system. The research involved 30 study schools at post-primary level. There was also an element of work which involved approximately 50 teachers from the primary school sector.
The context for this evidence and research differs from previous studies in this area due to the 1989 education reforms. There were three key policy areas which changed that context - open enrolment; the statutory common curriculum; and new forms of assessment through the key stage assessment. The qualitative evidence also draws on teacher views and these are not always represented in previous research in this area.
I will highlight some of the key issues that emerged from the qualitative research in relation to primary, secondary and grammar schools. At the primary level there is a "backwash effect"; the fact that the transfer tests exist as a means of selection has a significant effect especially on the final two years of primary school education. This manifests itself in three key ways. First, the area related to the curriculum; how it is affected, and the teaching strategies which are used. The report contains substantial evidence that the majority of primary school teachers identified specific ways in which they felt that the primary school curriculum is distorted in the last two years. This includes a narrowing in the range of teaching strategies that teachers used. They reported that their teaching tends to emphasise test technique, rather than the development of a deeper understanding of educational concepts. There were reports of neglect in some areas of English, for example, creative writing, but an overemphasis on teaching points of grammar and comprehension. In mathematics a significant number of primary school teachers reported that a two-year programme of mathematics was being compressed in order to meet the transfer test deadline.
The approach to teaching mathematics is often "teaching to the best". There are reports that the teaching of science shifts from practical work to being taught through lectures and notes and generally in a more didactic way. A majority of teachers report some neglect of project work in history and geography and that subjects on the statutory curriculum, notably art, music and physical education are often set aside to make way for test preparation. We felt that this represents significant evidence from teachers working in primary schools about curriculum distortion. Professor Gallagher has already mentioned coaching.
Stranmillis research estimated that 98% of all primary schools in Northern Ireland reported that they were doing some form of direct preparation. That obviously has implications for the displacement of other subjects on the curriculum. The Stranmillis work also estimated that almost half, some 47%, of children were being coached outside school.
Teachers were strongly against coaching for two reasons. First, teachers felt that some pupils, who may not be best suited for a grammar school education, were being coached to gain a place only to find that they did not do so well once they got it. Secondly, and more significantly, teachers felt that there was an inherent bias in coaching in that because it costs money, not all parents could afford it. Whilst coaching within school is accessible to all pupils, primary school teachers suggested that coaching outside school further disadvantages those from socially disadvantaged backgrounds.
We were particularly struck by teachers' evidence on classroom management and on the organisation and grouping of pupils. This affects the one-third of the school population which has opted out of the selection procedure. Evidence came from teachers on a range of strategies that were adopted for the management of the education of pupils who had been opted out of the transfer tests in the last two years. This ranged from their being taught in segregated classes to alternative arrangements being made for opted-out children. They might be taken by another teacher or be set different work by a classroom assistant. It was felt that opted-out children often received less attention and that there were lower expectations in terms of the work set for those pupils.
Teachers also reported dilemmas about how they worked with the children. There was evidence that the transfer test shapes how teachers view children in the classroom. Many teachers spoke of mentally grouping together children whom they expected to do well. These children are given appropriate work, and it is anticipated that they will fulfil expectations; they are expected to get a high transfer grade.
Teachers also find themselves in a dilemma when dealing with children whom they regard as "borderline" and how much attention those children should receive. Teachers also report dilemmas about having to work with pupils whom they consider to have little prospect of success in the transfer test. Nevertheless, the parental wish was that they be entered. This presented considerable moral dilemmas for teachers. Many found it demoralising having to prepare pupils for something in which teachers felt they had little chance of success.
Those were the main issues at primary level. If we consider post-primary level there was a significant difference between how secondary school and grammar school teachers perceived their role and the purpose of their work. Among secondary school teachers the prevailing perception was that new pupils came into the school with a strong sense of failure. This then seemed to set the tone for how teachers interact with them. There was an emphasis in the language that teachers used, particularly in the initial years, on recovery programmes to help pupils to rebuild self-esteem. The social and emotional development of young people was the primary concern. From interviews with secondary school teachers, strong feelings came through that there is little appreciation of the range of teaching skills needed in a secondary school environment. Teachers need skills that allow them to work across a broad range of ability and to cope with a range of social and behavioural challenges. There is considerable anger among secondary school teachers both about lack of appreciation within society, and about the low status that they feel has been attributed to secondary schools in our system. When we probed this issue further, much of this perceived low status could be traced to a lack of clarity about the core purpose of secondary schools. Teachers in secondary schools also felt that they were being asked to address a number of issues simultaneously. They were expected to promote academic achievement as well as dealing with a broad range of social and disciplinary issues.
By contrast, grammar school teachers perceived the pupils coming into their school as young people who had achieved something. These pupils were seen as well motivated and could be set on a fairly academic course. A minority of teachers reported that some pupils who entered the grammar school system, having passed the transfer tests, proved difficult to motivate because they felt that they had achieved something and relaxed a little. However, the overall discourse amongst grammar school teachers was of a single-minded mission that they were there to help children achieve their academic best. Grammar school teachers talked about the pressures on them to live up to academic expectations, rather than the diversity of their mission. This was particularly related to the publication of performance tables and examination results. A significant number of grammar school teachers also expressed concern about how they would adapt if there were a structural change to the system in Northern Ireland, which might require them to teach a broader range of ability. They were also worried about adapting to a school environment that had a broader social mix. In qualitative terms this is the picture that came through when considering the different environments in primary and secondary schools.
After the project had started we were asked by the Department to add a comparative dimension by looking at the operation of other types of systems, in order to provide a broader picture of the possibilities. And what we have done on that report on the basis of that comparative information is to identify five possible models which seem to us to represent the main models possible for the future.
The first three models represent the status quo, the system of grammar and secondary schools which we currently operate, and for each of these different models we have tried to identify some of the main strengths and weaknesses. One of the key strengths of the current system is the high attainment achieved by the grammar schools. This seems to sit alongside a pattern whereby there is a long tail of low-achieving schools, and both of these aspects need to be taken into account.
The second model might be described as the German model. This is a system where there is differentiation at age 11 as we have here, but the schools are quite different in terms of the curriculum and qualifications they follow. There are a number of European countries that use this type of system, and the alternative to the academic grammar schools tend to be schools with a technical or vocation emphasis. Most of these systems have a number of characteristics that also differentiate them from our current system: parents often choose the type of school their children go to; and there is a reasonably high degree of flexibility in these systems and movement of pupils in both directions between school types for a whole variety of reasons. There appears to be an employment benefit gained for the young people who go through the technical or vocational schools, in that in these countries, these young people end up in skilled jobs. A much smaller proportion end up with unskilled or low skill jobs as often happens in the UK.
The third model that we looked at might be described as a middle-school system, and the closest comparison people here would be aware of is the system operated in Craigavon where there are junior high schools. There are a number of places in England that use this type of system. Research that was done for the Department of Education a few years ago looked in detail at the Craigavon system, and two of the main conclusions that emerged were that the system appeared to be very popular in the area, partly because there seemed to be a very high proportion of young people who obtained a place in a grammar, or grammar senior high school and that the pupils who were not selected at age 14 were having problems in terms of the education they were getting, although the Education and Library Board has addressed that issue since.
The fourth and fifth models are similar in that they involve the use of common schools, where all pupils would attend for an extended period. In places such as France or Italy pupils attend common schools up to the end of compulsory education, whether that is at age 15 or age 16. In places like Scotland and in many Scandinavian countries pupils attend the common schools right through to age 18. The main advantage of both these types of system is that they keep opportunities and options for young people open longer than any of the systems where there is a decision made at an earlier stage. The main weakness in relation to these systems is that they appear to set a cap on the level of attainment open to pupils of the highest ability, and we looked at some evidence in relation to that.
At the end of the report we argue that our hope is that the discussion which will be opening up over the next number of months should focus less on structures and more on the sort of things we want our education system to do and what we want our young people to get out of it. If we have that sort of a discussion first, then we can decide the type of structure which will best provide it.
Thank you for your presentation to the Committee. It would appear that we have a number of models: the existing model; the Craigavon model; the Italian model; the French model and, unfortunately, there is no Swedish model! [Laughter]
The closest to that would be the Scottish school system.
It has been a long day for you too, Prof Gallagher.
The meeting will now be an open forum. Committee members will now have the opportunity to ask questions. Members may want to ask supplementary questions, but I will limit each of them to one main question and one supplementary because of time constraints. I ask for short, sharp responses to equally short, sharp questions.
Mr K Robinson:
Now that the fashion comments are over I am glad to open the questioning. I thank the Gentlemen for opening Pandora's educational box. We have all been surprised at what is beginning to fly out, and we need time to assess that. Does your research suggest that parents might take the transfer results record of primary schools into consideration when they are selecting one for their child? Paragraph 7.4.1 seems to suggest that intakes do not increase, whereas one would expect them to rise if a particular school appeared to be a good school in the eyes of parents.
This issue is talked about a great deal. When we were doing the work, a lot of people talked about the issue of primary schools being judged in terms of their transfer grade profile. Because it was talked about a great deal, we tried to nail down some empirical evidence to support it. The main evidence we looked at was whether the transfer results in one year influenced the intake of a primary school in the following year. We had some statistics from the Department to look at, but analysis did not suggest any particular relationship between the two. There are obviously a lot of other factors involved, and perhaps our data was too crude to explore that question. The empirical data did not support the notion, even though it is something that is still talked about. Primary school teachers are very much aware that it is an issue.
Mrs E Bell:
I would like to concentrate on the primary school aspect. Prof Smith covered quite a great deal of what I wanted to talk about, however I am interested in the perceptions and expectations of pupils and the motivation and performance of teachers.
Your report mentions that some teachers have modest or low expectations of pupils who have not yet entered the transfer tests. At times, their priority has been keeping such pupils busy, rather than actually educating them. There has been some suggestion that teachers devoted less consistent attention to the educational needs of such pupils. By contrast, teachers have high expectations of pupils they expect to do well.
Section 3.3 of the report says that there is evidence that a number of primary school teachers are highly motivated and accept the job as a challenge. In a typical class comprising pupils with high expectations, borderline pupils, those who have opted out, and those with low expectations, were you able to quantify the number of teachers who were challenged by the constructive aspect of the job, and what happened to the children they did not have high expectations for?
This was not a quantitative piece of work. A minority of teachers said that their motivation lay in preparing children for the transfer test. Nevertheless, a number of respondents suggested that some teachers specialise in this aspect of primary school education and that partly involves taking children opting into the transfer test system right through the process.
There was a great deal of anecdotal evidence about the nature of that specialisation and any status that might be attached to it, et cetera. In response to your question, it was a small minority who indicated that the very challenge of preparing children was their main motivation in teaching. However, we did not have sufficient data to quantify exactly how many teachers are motivated in this way.
Mrs E Bell:
Do we need a consultative process to look at this further? There is a high proportion of other pupils.
Yes. Within the confidentiality of the research, I have been struck by the eagerness of teachers to speak about these issues. These are issues that a school would not be very keen to have discussed in the open.
There are three parts to my question. First, it is acknowledged the very weighty and detailed work that you and your team have carried out is very helpful to us. In putting this analysis to us today you are doing a great service to the entire community in Northern Ireland.
You mentioned underachievement and low attainment several times, and in one paragraph you referred to secondary schools and the difference between controlled secondary schools, which are the state schools that appear to have a lower attainment than maintained or integrated schools. What are the reasons for that?
Secondly, with regard to the five models that you have set out, there is much food for thought in what you have put before us. There is some education going on in a small number of the all-ability schools here in Northern Ireland, and that has not been referred to in your work. Why has that not been brought to our attention?
Finally, underachievement is a very worrying issue, in particular, the standards of literacy and numeracy. According to a recent paper from the Training and Employment Agency the proportion of low levels of literacy and numeracy has risen to 19%. Obviously, they are pointing out that there is a cost to them if they were to try to increase the levels of literacy and numeracy at this stage. Is there a way to save money in that respect? We are already spending millions in both primary and secondary education trying to counteract this. Have you any comments to make about literacy and numeracy in relation to this report?
The first question was in relation to the performance patterns of controlled and maintained secondary schools. Whilst studying the focus which appeared to influence the performance of schools, we used a statistical model to identify the combination of factors which best explained the performance of particular groups of schools. With secondary schools, the analysis suggested that controlled schools had a separate pattern of factors influencing their performance as opposed to the maintained and the integrated schools. From our study at both the maintained and integrated schools, the same set of factors appeared to be playing a role.
The best explanation or key part of the explanation is that a slightly higher number of pupils with higher transfer grades are going into the integrated and maintained secondary schools. This creates a slightly different dynamic within schools altogether. There is an issue particularly in some of the inner city controlled schools, which face problems of extreme social disadvantage in alienated communities. There are larger issues to be addressed there, but those are often to do with very particular circumstances.
You asked about the issue of all-ability schools. It is true that 90% of pupils in the Northern Ireland school system are directly or indirectly affected by the 11-plus system. The other 10% comprise pupils involved in the Craigavon system, or those who go to about a dozen all-ability comprehensive schools designated as such by their Education and Library Boards.
Previous work looked at the Craigavon system and at some of those all-ability schools. In this project we were asked to focus specifically on the selective system. We or others could look at what is happening in Northern Ireland's comprehensive schools. I feel there is a story to be told. I am sure they have experiences they would be keen to share, but in our work, we concentrated on a more unitary comprehensive system. That involved collecting data on the Scottish system, and we did some work on the schools there. We felt that that might provide a better set of data on a wholly comprehensive system if we wanted that as a counterpoint.
The third point relates to issues of literacy. We did not specifically focus on literacy in our work, but I will pick up on a point made by Prof. Smith. There is a general commitment to promote lifelong learning and to tackle literacy as a key issue, particularly in primary schools. One of the issues emerging from the evidence we have is that the situation that secondary schools face is hard, and is getting harder. In some senses, the combination of selection and open enrolment creates a situation where secondary schools constantly face challenges. That makes their task more difficult. Yet it is our opinion, taken from those secondary schools, that the public judge them on their academic criteria. That does not help them concentrate their energies across the board. It probably does not help in the achievement of the issue of tackling the literacy problems which we know are there and are important.
Mr S Wilson:
In the first part of your reply you mentioned the difficulties with some controlled schools, especially those in the inner city. You said that in areas of high social deprivation you would expect some link with educational performance. I notice that throughout your report you refer to both of those items. Would social deprivation rather than the selection procedure partly explain the long tail? Is it because we have concentrated higher levels of social deprivation? Have you completed any comparisons with selective systems elsewhere?
There are not many selective systems operating outside Northern Ireland. The German-type systems involve three types of school. The third type of secondary school, the Hauptschule, tends to display some of the characteristics of some of the lower-achieving secondary schools in our system. In the specific case of Germany, the Hauptschule, these days, have a relatively low proportion of pupils attending them. They tend to have a high proportion of children of guest workers, which are migrant families. There are a series of problems in that system.
I think you are correct that part of the explanation for the long tail of low-achieving schools in our system is related directly to social disadvantage and concentrated social disadvantage. Our evidence suggests that the demography of social disadvantage, and especially where this is concentrated in cities, is exacerbated by the selective system. It combines pupils who face social and disadvantage problems with those of relatively low ability. The combination creates the problem.
In the Scottish system there was social differentiation across the schools in the area we examined. That differentiation was closely linked to the catchment areas. There was not the same effect of ability differentiation across the schools, so the consequences of concentrated social disadvantage in that context were not as extreme as in our situation.
Mr Chairman, are we going to take two or three questions at once?
Originally I intended that we would deal with one question at a time, and we will try to revert to that.
For feedback and record purposes, we need to get answers to a number of questions.
My question relates to innovation in secondary schools and school league tables. Research shows that secondary school teachers displayed a distinct resentment at a lack of acknowledgement amongst the wider public on the challenges and difficulties they faced. There was also evidence that secondary schools had tried to innovate in areas such as ability grouping, pupil monitoring or special needs. Is there any evidence to suggest that such attempts, using innovative teaching approaches and methods in secondary schools, have been acknowledged through the school league tables?
The problem with the school performance tables is that they tend to provide specific sets of indicators related to attainment patterns, and people tend to look at a particular set of tables in the abstract, rather than year on year.
One area which shows the effects of some of these innovative strategies in secondary schools is the pattern of improvement that some have shown over time, and that is acknowledged within the system by people who work there and who are aware of the effects of these processes. If we accept that education is about more than qualifications - albeit that qualifications are important - then perhaps we should try to find ways of extending the school performance tables to provide a wider range of information. We may be straying from the main subject of the report, but, nevertheless, it is an important issue.
I have spoken about the economy to people in industry and hear of a need for life skills to provide for future industry. Can the curriculum be tailored to provide this? I suspect that grammar schools do not do that. Would the secondary school system better deliver that need?
The low status which vocational education has been given in the past is recognised as a long-standing problem in the education system, not just in Northern Ireland but in the United Kingdom generally. Some interesting things are being done to cope with that in Scotland, but people often look to the German or Dutch systems where a much stronger status is accorded to vocational education. It is clear that those systems link directly into industry and the labour market, and evidence suggests that those systems provide opportunities in skilled employment that other systems do not. The question is where do we place vocational education and how can we raise the status of that system of education and the qualifications associated with it?
The report states that
"It is difficult to estimate the impact of religion on grammar school performance, because the social characteristics of Catholic and other grammar schools, as measured by the proportion of pupils who are entitled to free school meals, are so different.".
Why was this so?
When we were constructing our statistical models to look at the factors that influenced performance outcomes, a number of different factors were fed into the equation. The three main ones were: the level of social disadvantage, measured by free school meals entitlement; the proportion of girls in a school, because the higher proportion of girls generally reflected higher performance in the school; and the proportion of pupils with high transfer grades. In some situations religion seems to be a factor, but, in the particular instance you referred to, there is very little overlap when one looks at the free school meal entitlement pattern for Catholic grammar schools as opposed to other grammar schools.
The average level of free school meal entitlement in Catholic grammar schools is considerably higher than in any of the other grammar schools and, even in terms of the overall pattern, there is very little overlap between the two. Because of that, statistically it is difficult to differentiate between the effect of religion and the effect of the free school meal entitlement. It is almost a technical problem. But all the other evidence suggests that the free school meal entitlement factor is likely to be a more important influence on the eventual outcomes.
Mr S Wilson:
I notice in your concluding remarks, and also in the report, that you indicate that the starting point for the discussion ought to be the social, educational and economic objectives of young people. Then we should look at the structures. In a theoretical world, we would all sign up to that, but that has implications which you have spelt out in the report. If we adopt a non-selective system, we could be reducing the number of schools from 238 to 178, and that causes political antennae to start shivering a little.
How did you come to that conclusion? Secondly, we do know that we have cost in introducing a non-selective system. Are you suggesting that that is how the introduction of structural changes, which may result from this study, could be financed?
No. The reason for that particular part of the analysis is that we were asked specifically by the Department of Education to consider a theoretical model if we were to move to a non-selective system, in order to try to get some indication of the extent of change that might be required. We do not claim this to be a definitive plan for any new system. It is meant to illustrate the extent of change that could happen under one scenario.
The way we did it was to take different geographical areas, look at the number of school places available in those areas and set that against the number of school pupils in those areas. If you work on the assumption that in a non-selective system you can get rid of a great deal of the surplus capacity that is the consequence that emerges. You need surplus capacity in a selective system in order to have real choice. We kept a number of other parameters stable, such as the provision of denominational options, or the provision of single-sex options in the various areas. In addition, we did not make any assumptions about any decline or growth in integrated education.
The purpose of the exercise was simply to illustrate some of the consequences of change. Much of the discussion about the system is in a vacuum, and that was a way to root it in a degree of reality. If we make radical changes, there are big consequences, and so that needs to be factored into a decision.
The point we are making at the end of the report and the point that I concluded with is that we should look at what we want and then look at structures. I still think that that is a good way of doing it, even though it may well be a bit abstract. Fortunately, academics do not have to be elected. If you can identify an ideal possibility, then politicians have to make the hard decisions about how close you can get to that. I do not think there is any harm in having an ideal to work towards, while recognising that nothing is ever perfect.
Is there not an argument, which is not included in your conclusions, that the answer would be to provide two or three additional grammar schools? Under the existing flawed examination system pupils in some areas of the province are not guaranteed a grammar school place even though they get a grade A, yet in other rural areas, pupils are getting into grammar schools with a grade C1. Is one way of rectifying this situation not to provide more grammar schools thus making them more accessible?
When we talk about maintaining the status quo as a model, that involves fine-tuning the current system.
Yes, that would be one way of dealing with aspects of the issue. In the current system the Department's policy is that there should be enough grammar places for all pupils who get a grade A and about 80% of the pupils who get a grade B. My understanding is that so long as that criterion is met, the Department's position is satisfied.
But you are correct; there are some areas where the availability of grammar school places is such that often C1 or C2 grade pupils, and sometimes D grade pupils, receive grammar school places. The logic of the system is an issue. When the selective system was introduced in 1947, somewhere in the region of 20% of pupils were going into grammar schools. By the time it had settled before open enrolment, 27% of the age cohort went into grammar schools, and now we have 34% or maybe sometimes 35%.
As outlined in one of our comparative papers there is still a small number of grammar schools in some areas in England. These schools set a test with a limit which a student must reach before being deemed suitable for a grammar school place. If enough students do not achieve this level the places remain unfilled. In England a clear criterion has been identified, which must be met before a grammar school place is offered. That is one possibility - define a criterion rather than leaving it to the markets available to fill up the places.
I commend Prof Gallagher and Prof Smith on the presentation of their report. It was much awaited. The big question over the summer was when the results of their research would be available. We are at the beginning of a very important journey that will, it is to be hoped, map out the most appropriate system for all our children - but that is work for another day. The research findings are not supposed to be prescriptive about that.
My question relates to the influence of coaching with regard to the movement of pupils between school types - from grammar to secondary and from secondary to grammar. Does this suggest that a child who is coached towards an on-the-day performance often finds himself unable to meet the challenges of a grammar school? Likewise, where a child underperforms on the day and finds himself in a secondary school, the move upwards to a grammar school may cause the same problem. Did the research produce quantifiable statistics to indicate the extent to which transfer grades are not an accurate reflection of a child's overall ability?
Previous work that was carried out in the 1980s attempted to quantify that and described it as misplacements in the system - pupils who were deemed suitable for grammar school but did not achieve the expected performance at sixteen, and pupils who had not been deemed fit for grammar school but did achieve a high level of performance at sixteen. That followed a pattern of work done in the 1950s and 1960s when there was an attempt to try to identify the error factor in the grades.
This is not so easy to do now, because quite a few secondary schools are obtaining high levels of performance from their pupils. Somewhere in the region of thirty secondary schools send students to higher education. That is part of an evolving policy in the system, which sees the role of secondary schools as having changed over time. There is no longer an expectation that students leave school at sixteen with few qualifications and go into an apprenticeship. That is a past world.
That creates a difficulty in trying to define exactly that notion. One body of evidence that maybe relates to this - and you might like to examine it sometime - is the work done by Prof Gardner and Pamela Cowan from the Graduate School of Education. They looked at some of the technical issues in relation to the tests and the extent to which they felt there were problems with the accuracy of the test. However, that is something that you would have to talk to them about.
In our discussions with teachers in grammar and secondary schools, we found that some of them felt that there were some pupils who had come through to their schools with a transfer grade that belied their ability. They often attributed that to the effects of coaching. However, that was speculation on their part, and we simply reported that that was a perception in the system.
I want to mention one other dimension of those transfers. Transfers from grammar to secondary schools are often the cause of resentment amongst secondary schools, particularly in cases where the transfer has been for behavioural reasons. The feeling is that if someone has academic ability and the reason for the transfer is a behavioural one, then surely the pupil should be relocated to another grammar school rather than simply being passed on to a secondary school for them to cope with.
Is there any comparison or correlation between the number of places provided in integrated colleges and the number of pupils opting out of the transfer procedure?
If you look overall at secondary schools, something like 20% or 25% of the pupils who enter secondary schools have not taken the transfer test. If you look at the much smaller number of integrated schools, over the years the average is between 35% and 40%, and I suspect that that larger proportion of pupils who opted out is due to the fact that a significant proportion of those pupils perhaps attended integrated primary schools, and for them, the transfer process was not relevant, because they were always intending to go straight through to the other school anyway. That is the evidence we have on that.
Would the same apply to Irish-medium schools?
Quite possibly, yes.
Mr K Robinson:
I would like to tease out the social differentiation aspect there. Section 4 (2) of your report draws links between open enrolment and a widening of this social gap between pupils. In the event of certain conclusions being drawn at the end of this consultation period, is there not also a possibility of an increase in the numbers and, indeed, the role of independent schools in an independent sector and that would therefore add to a widening of that gap?
Do you mean in the future?
Mr K Robinson:
In the future, should certain conclusions be drawn at the end of this process.
Yes. One of the issues that comes up in discussion and debate about the future of the English public school system - and when I say "public", I mean the state school system - is that a fairly high proportion of pupils go to independent schools. Many critics of Government policy argue that more should be done to try to encourage parents to send their children back to the state schools and draw them away from the independent sector.
This is an issue, to a certain extent, in Scotland, but there is a much lower proportion of pupils who attend independent schools in Scotland. I suppose it is a possibility that if there were a radical change, then there probably would be some independent schools open. They already have one college that is trying to operate as an independent institute, although I understand numbers are quite small. That may well be a possibility, but the best safeguard, in a sense, if you want to have a safeguard - and I am not sure if that is the most appropriate term - against that is to have a system of schools, however it is organised, that commands a high degree of confidence among the public. If we have that, then people will not feel the need to pay extra for independent schools. This is what happens in many European countries where there are private schools, but people tend to go to them for the social cachet they provide rather than for any sort of qualifications advantage that they may derive from them.
There is not the same pattern in many European countries as there is in Britain where there is the independent school, which feeds through to a leading university, which feeds through to leading positions in society. That does not happen in most European countries, and it may be that that relates to the nature of their systems.
Mr K Robinson:
This morning, when the report was being presented, we talked about the social, then the educational and then the economic. I would have expected the educational aspect to be first, but perhaps that was just a slip of the tongue.
Those three dimensions are all important.
Mr K Robinson:
They are inter-related, but I would have thought the focus should be on education.
In terms of the independent schools, what is your view as to how desirable or undesirable the creation of an independent sector would be? Would it not distort the educational picture and end up being a rich man's benefit?
I think it would be a fair argument to say that that is a problem in England, because about 9%, possibly 10% of pupils go to independent schools in England. It is a problem - one that people are tackling. People are trying to identify ways in which the state system can be made more attractive, and some of those parents may be drawn back. That would be a problem if something like that were to happen, but the solution is to try to develop a state system that people see the value of.
Mr S Wilson:
You mentioned social differentiation. I do not know that we are unique in this, but we do have concentrations of social disadvantage, especially in parts of Belfast and in the inner parts of Londonderry. Would it not be likely, at least in certain parts of Northern Ireland, because of the concentrations of social disadvantage and the fact that a local school would be serving those areas, that if we were to move to a non-selective system that the level of social separation would be increased rather than evened out?
I know that a lot of youngsters who go to grammar schools in Belfast would not have the opportunity for the social mix they have at present if they were to go to a local school which has local enrolment.
I think that certainly is an issue we wanted to explore. If you were to get rid of the selective system you would not solve those sorts of problems overnight. When we looked at the situation in the Scottish area, exactly that pattern was coming out. There was social differentiation across the schools, and that was directly related to the schools' locations and the main catchment areas that they drew their pupils from.
That is the reality. Those problems are not solved by moving to that type of common system. In that particular instance the consequences did not seem to be so severe as in some of the inner city areas here. The effect of social disadvantage is not being reinforced with other constraints, which happens in our selective system.
In one of the papers we mentioned one system which has devised a way which appears to solve the problems of social differentiation between schools, but I am not sure that people would want to adopt it. That system is a simple one identified in order to remove this difficulty of social differentiation. It has been used in South Korea. When pupils get to the end of their time in primary school they are allocated to a post-primary school on the basis of a lottery. Overnight they solved the problem of social differentiation.
Mr S Wilson:
It could be you. [Laughter]
It could be you, indeed, yes.
Geoffrey Wolford from Oxford has written a great deal about this issue. He argues that it is actually a fairer system to operate, because one of the consequences for parents in a particular area is that there is a incentive for all the schools in that area to be good because their child could end up going to any one of them, whereas in a selective system, parents whose children can get into the better schools think that those schools are good, and they do not care about the rest.
Mrs E Bell:
Throughout the report you talk about the low morale, the perception of low status among secondary schools and the grammar school effect, that is a grammar school effect is equal to 16 GCSE points. You stated that the most important factor is for pupils to achieve a high GCSE score and to achieve it in a grammar school. Could you offer further information regarding this? You go on to mention the value-added effect of achieving a grammar school place. Say a pupil with a B2 gets a place in a grammar school - there is some irregularity there. Can you elaborate on that?
In terms of statistical issues, when you call for all factors, including the transfer grade, and all other things being equal, a grammar school pupil will get a higher attainment at 16 than a secondary school pupil, even if they got the same transfer grade level and regardless of what that transfer grade was. We describe that as the grammar effect - the value-added benefit in attainment terms from being in a grammar school.
Mrs E Bell:
You say "statistical". Does that not take many things for granted? Is the general perception that the statistics are just adding to the idea that a secondary school is secondary to a grammar school?
Personally, I would be astonished if a grammar school did not have a grammar effect. A grammar school's purpose - its mission - is to achieve high academic results, and it selects its pupils in order to achieve that. There would be something seriously wrong if it did not do that. Pupils in grammar schools sit more GCSEs than those in secondary schools, and the ones in grammar schools are more likely to pass those GCSEs because of those schools' role and purpose.
Anyone who gets there benefits from it, and I think that is important. That is partly why so many parents value grammar schools - the fact that there is a tangible, measurable benefit to a pupil who gets there. However, the corollary of that is also important - you have to see the whole picture - and part of that whole picture is the long tail of low-achieving schools. I think those two things go together.
Mrs E Bell:
The problem with the secondary schools is that the diversity of their mission is not acknowledged. I accept what you are saying, but I am concerned about the possibility that these two differences will be institutionalised if we keep on the way that we are.
Mr K Robinson:
Mr Chairman, is there not a lesson there? There seems to be a focus on the grammar school; there is an expectation of the grammar school; it is aiming for its objective. There seems to be a suggestion that, unfortunately, the secondary school has several objectives - has not quite got the focus for a variety of reasons - and, therefore, the package is not right. Should we be beginning to aim for a more focused secondary education?
There is something of an anomaly there. I talked about the introduction of the common curriculum, and there is something of an anomaly in terms of both types of schools' working towards that common curriculum, being judged on academic results, and yet there is this other aspect: to what extent do we value the academic alongside the technical and the vocational? The fact that there is not that kind of equality of status presents a real dilemma, I suppose, for where you would want to move to from this situation, because carried along with any proposals to move in any direction, if part of what you are seeking to achieve is more parity of esteem, if you like, for these tracks, then it is going to require a considerable cultural shift in this society.
There are long associations in terms of the status attached to these, and so that would be part of any kind of transition.
Rather than focusing on structures, I think we should focus on what is best for everyone on the equality front. I wonder about the impact of the expectations of children who have failed at 11 and go to a secondary school. What if they go on to occupy management positions or are high-attainers in the job sector? Is there evidence that the impact of their expectations has followed them right through their employment years indefinitely?
We did have evidence that there are different patterns of expectation among pupils in the schools. When we talked to pupils in the grammar schools and asked them what they were aiming towards, the pattern that emerged was very uniform. They were all expecting to do well in their GCSEs; almost all of them were expecting to come back to do A Levels, and they were pretty much all expecting to go on to university, and then life would open in front of them. The pattern of expectations among pupils in secondary schools was much more diverse. Some of them wanted to do A Levels and go to university; some of them wanted to come back and do GNVQs; some of them wanted to leave at age 16 and go into youth training or get jobs or go into further education. There was a whole variety of routes, and the potential problem is that there is a dampening down in terms of the highest expectations, but it comes back to the point about the mission of the secondary schools. The problem faced by a secondary school is that it is trying to do a great many different things, and there is the reality of the group of pupils that it is faced with. It is judged publicly on only one of those things, yet it is trying to do many other things. It is not the school's problem; it is a problem created for them by the system.
A key message given to the children at that stage could be critical to the rest of their lives.
The problems that are coming through strongly are experienced right across Northern Ireland, and this will move forward to consultation and, it is to be hoped, towards solutions as well. Bearing in mind what you say about the sequencing and the importance of objectives and structures, if we were limited to a single solution for the North, can the objectives be met? I believe it is possible to have more than one solution. In different areas we might have different solutions that people are comfortable with in those areas and that meet the requirements. Do you have views about that?
The contrast between the way in which comprehensive education was introduced in England as opposed to Scotland was the fact that it was done in a less whole-hearted way in England. Because of the variety of approaches, with some areas retaining grammar schools, you got a compromised comprehensive system. That is one explanation put forward as to why the academic attainment would be higher in Scotland than in England and Wales; there was a much more whole-hearted approach in that jurisdiction. Once you get local solutions for local situations you get a mixture of systems operating, and they interact with each other. This can also have unexpected effects and outcomes.
Mr K Robinson:
We are still trying to tease out this matter. You mentioned the German model - it seems to have a focus, status and an acceptance in the eyes of German society. That started me thinking about the Scottish model as opposed to the English model, and the reluctance to take on comprehensive education and the escape from comprehensive education by moving house in England. Is the Scots' apparent success based on the inert historical relationship between the Scots and education and the value they put on education? Is it simply being transferred on to this new model and that is the reason for its apparent success, or is it the model itself that is driving the success?
There is a high regard for education in Scotland as there is for it in Northern Ireland. All the surveys suggest that the regard with which education is held in both those places is much higher than in England. The demography of Scotland is also closer to Northern Ireland in terms of the number of market towns that we have.
I am not sure that I can directly answer your question, but I can say that the teachers in Scotland are very content with the system, and they attribute its success to its structure and the fact that there is a unitary comprehensive system. There is no great clamour for change and no desire to go back to what previously existed.
Mr K Robinson:
There is no parental clamour for change?
None that we are aware of.
What part of Mr Gallagher's or Mr McHugh's constituency could the South Korean lottery model be tailored for?
The Presbyterians of South Armagh.
On a more serious note, I was surprised not to see any scrutiny of the situation in the Twenty-Six Counties and how that could be instructive, or is there any useful message to be learned from the system applied there?
Part of the paper looks at the system in the Republic. There is an interesting similarity in many respects between the system in Scotland and that in the Republic. They both have broader leaving certificate examinations; they are ostensibly both common school systems. Realistically, in the Republic there is a greater deal of social differentiation because of the history of the schools. It is, perhaps, disguised in terms of official rhetoric, but there is a strong residential effect and a popular sense of the better schools, and people will work hard to try to get into them.
To an extent it is greater in the Republic than in the Scottish system. I was also interested that in Wales they are exploring a Welsh baccalaureate as a leaving certificate examination, which is making a break with the A level systems operating in England. There are interesting developments with devolution where people are beginning to move in different directions. This is a challenge to yourselves. We can provide you with the information to consider decisions for the future, but you are elected to make the decisions.
Mr S Wilson:
In section 7 of the report, section (2) paragraphs 1, 2 and 3, you mention that some teachers were concerned that because of the transfer test and the emphasis placed on it, that key elements of the Key Stage 2 curriculum were missed out on and, perhaps, given less emphasis. I am not blaming this on you; it could well be that the teachers are contradictory, which would not be unusual. It seems to contradict section 3(2) where teachers are saying that they had to find ways of keeping those pupils who did not go in for the transfer test busy. I would have thought that if it were difficult to deliver Key Stage 2, at least those pupils not entering the test would have had the opportunity to experience the breadth of the curriculum. That is a question for the teachers, not you. There appears to be a contradiction there. Is there any evidence, as a result of there being less emphasis on all of the Key Stage 2 curriculum, that it led to literacy and numeracy problems and that youngsters were not achieving levels of literacy and numeracy because of the emphasis on the 11 plus?
Secondly, did that follow through? Was it a long-term effect? Was it quickly remedied once people went to secondary level, or were the effects seen right throughout Key Stage 3 or maybe even to GCSE?
We do not have any direct evidence of the impact of some of these issues in Key Stage 2 on levels of literacy. The main conclusion we draw is that it is a consequence of the perceived importance of getting to grammar school. Much of the upper years of primary school is organised around the test. Even though the purpose of the test is to identify the 25% of the cohort who will get a grade A and a proportion who will get a grade B, it is designed to identify a minority of pupils among the whole lot. It seems that the priority in the upper years of the primary school is geared towards that issue and, to a degree, to the neglect of the others. We do not have any direct evidence of those links, but that is the main thing that appears to be happening.
You ask about its longer-term consequences. It comes back to our attempt to try to understand the explanations or the factors behind patterns of performance at 16 and the differential factors that influence performance in grammar and secondary schools. That is the best sense of what the consequences of differentiation at 11 are.
I think there is a lot of concern, and the Gardner and Cowan report highlighted, in part, the flawed method the current system uses, the lack of knowledge that either parents or teachers have or pupils are given as to how they do, and how it is finally determined. Is there anything we can do to reform that, or is that beyond the pale?
The Gardner and Cowan report raised some questions about the technical aspects of the tests. That was based on samples. There is another question if you look at the population data of whether the same sorts of issues would emerge, but that is one for a separate day. In direct answer to your question, the best way of thinking about it, for me, is to look at the systems that operate in Germany and the Netherlands. They allow parents to choose and operate that system. Not all the parents choose to go to the academic grammar schools, yet they operate a system of different tracks. There must be something happening in that system that allows parental choice to operate and not need a test. Maybe if there were a closer status between the grammar and secondary schools, or the secondary schools offered something more distinctive that would seem to be of value, then you would not need a test to make that decision for people.
If the grammar and secondary schools had a similar status, or the secondary schools offered something more distinctive apparent to be of value, then you would not need to have a test to make that decision for people.
Mr S Wilson:
In your introductory remarks you said that one of the effects on teaching strategies was the narrowing of the range of strategies or techniques; that there was less emphasis on creative writing and that the mathematics content of Key Stage 2 was squeezed into the first year. I do not want to say that teachers were lying about this, but are you not surprised that if that were the case that there was not some fairly conclusive evidence? There must have been an effect on levels of numeracy and literacy. The fact that you do not have any clear evidence about the effects on numeracy and literacy may be an indication that that criticism of the transfer test is not as strong or as valid as suggested in the evidence given to you.
One piece of evidence that might illuminate that was the report of discrepancies that secondary and grammar school teachers commented on. That was between Key Stage assessments reported by primary schools and teachers' subsequent views on where children were in their key stage progression. In many cases post-primary school teachers regarded the reported attainment levels as being overly inflated. They were having to go back over work in mathematics, and particularly in science, to check the basic understanding of concepts.
I did not say that we did not have any evidence and that there was not an impact. We did not look for any of that data, so we are not able to answer the question. We do not have the data available. As a general principle, when we were doing the work we tried to look at every issue from a number of different perspectives, so that any conclusions we made would be clear. On this particular issue there was a separate study carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research for the curriculum body, the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) as part of a cohort study where they followed groups of pupils from primary to post-primary school as part of the work that CCEA was doing on the new curriculum. They used different methods and different approaches, but the conclusions they derived are completely in accord with ours. Two different studies looking at the same issue in quite different ways came to the same conclusions.
It is inevitable that conflicts will arise on those going forward and those opting out. One might question whether they opted out or whether they where moved out when they where told that their child is not going to pass. That is based heavily on achieving high pass rates, which becomes a bit like the Olympics after the results come out. I wonder about parental choice and the focus and results of the message that I mentioned before.
There is also the message about moving part of the class to a different learning group for a period until that examination result is achieved. The message to them in that is quite clear, long before they have even left the school. There are many conflicts of interest from 1 September right through until the exams are actually done or not done.
There was some work done by BDO Stoy Hayward for part of the project. They surveyed parents, particularly those who had opted their children out of the test and asked them why they had done so. In most cases the reason was that they did not expect them to get the highest grades. Very often this is based on advice from the teachers. To us that indicates a positive relationship between schools, teachers and the parents, in that the schools feel that they can give out advice and the parents feel able to take it. We have got to remember that the transfer tests are not designed to try to see what the score of the individual pupil is.
They rank pupils, so only 25% of the cohort can get a grade A, and it does not matter how much encouragement or support pupils get, only 25% can get the top grade. It is a very particular type of test. It is potentially a bigger problem in that there is a group of primary schools, 200 or so, where a very high proportion of pupils get a grade D, yet a very small proportion of the pupils are opted out. From the point of view of the interest of pupils, it is of greater concern that for some reason the parents are putting their children through a process which does not make a lot of sense.
Mr K Robinson:
I refer to the discussion between Mr Wilson and Mr Smith. Is it the case that the performance of children when they go into secondary school in some cases is not matching their performance as reported on their Key Stage 2 assessments?
Yes, there are instances of teachers reporting that to us. It was not a quantitative study, so we have not assessed the extent of that perception. Added to this there may always be a subjective aspect to the post-primary schoolteachers' views of what is going on in the secondary school.
There appears to be a gradual shift to a more comprehensive school system in European countries and those systems are now moving closer together in the pursuit of higher standards and school improvement. Is there any evidence to suggest that schools in Europe are achieving these goals?
Education and school reform has been a worldwide phenomenon over the last 10 to 20 years. One of the main consequences in Europe has been less concern with debates about structures, and more concern, as you say, in our report, about raising standards. In Italy, for example, they are beginning to have more differentiation earlier in the system in pursuit of that end. However, in the Netherlands they have introduced what is called an orientation year, which sometimes extends to two years, where there is a common curriculum in the first couple of years of post-primary education. Here we have a differential system moving in the direction of commonality, and a common system moving in a direction of differentiation, both in pursuit of higher standards.
Generally the evidence is that standards are increasing as a consequence of all these reforms, but the key issue is what is happening in the classrooms. If there are going to be improvements in schools and in the systems, that is where they have to start. In the classroom, the school and the education system as a whole, the key question is what they can do to help teachers improve what is happening in the teaching and learning environment of classrooms.
Mr K Robinson:
Taking up the European model again, what strikes me when I go to Europe is the status of teachers. Teachers view themselves as professional; society treats them as professional. As a result, parents will take their professional advice. I was heartened to hear you mention those schools where teachers had advised parents to opt their children out of the transfer procedure. We have not dealt with that aspect of our school system. How do we enhance the professional status and, indeed, the training element for our teachers, so that the parents more readily accept their words and professional advice?
That is crucially important. A key aspect of that are the consequences, if we have a differentiated system. It is important that parents see that the pupils will benefit, no matter which part of it they go in to. At the moment there is a question mark as to whether parents see that. It is not the fault of the schools; it is a consequence of the system we have.
Mr S Wilson:
There were seemingly two strands here - vocational and academic. Is it purely parents' selection there, or is there some aptitude test, or whatever, which guides the parents in their choice?
There is a third track; a secondary track where about 20% of pupils go into the Hauptschule, but practice varies across the different lands in Germany, as it is a federal country.
Yes, it is a parental choice, but there are consequences of making an over-ambitious choice. If pupils are in the academic schools, they are required to achieve a minimum standard or level each year before they are allowed to proceed. If they do not reach that level, then they can be either held back a year, or asked to move a level. That is the point regarding flexibility. Flexibility does exist in the system, and because there are many ladders and connections leading in various directions, that is the key part of the system. However, there does not appear to be the same degree of flexibility in our system.
I will now draw this special meeting of the Education Committee to a close. It has been extremely useful. I would like to thank both of you for your input today and for this important piece of work that you have produced. It must have taken a great deal of time, effort, and soul-searching. I hope this is the real beginning of a major debate on education in which everyone will be welcome to participate. We look forward to seeing you, perhaps, at later stages during the consultative period, and, even afterwards, when we have arrived at some conclusions. To those members of the general public who have attended, we express our thanks and gratitude to you and hope that you found the meeting stimulating and useful.