The Governing Bodies Association is calling on the Department of Education to radically re-think its Entitlement Framework policy. After consulting with members the organisation representing 51 Voluntary Grammar Schools said there was a clear view amongst schools that the policy in its present form would be unworkable in light of budget cuts.
The GBA said they agreed with the Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove when he said schools needed to be honest with pupils when recommending subjects for A-level.
GBA Director John Hart said “The Entitlement Framework policy is a classic example of top-down policy making. Introduced under direct rule ministers it places unnecessary pressures on schools to restructure their curriculum offering.
“Given that the funding for the principal vehicle of delivering the entitlement framework (i.e. Area Learning Communities) is being reduced and removed in the DENI budget 2011-15 schools foresee considerable difficulties with the development & implementation of the Entitlement Framework.
“We all recognize we are in new financial territory, and if the Department of Education is cutting financial support for the Entitlement Framework they must recognize that schools will be less able to meet their arbitrary targets. Financial cuts have consequences.
Pointing out recent trends in England & Wales the group called for an honest debate amongst educational stakeholders. “It is interesting to observe in England and Wales the Education Minister Michael Gove calling for schools to be honest about the perception of certain subjects as ‘soft’ by top universities, including the Russell Group. That type of honesty from politicians is refreshing.
“Northern Ireland’s schools should not be forced between a rock and hard place of Universities demanding subjects with recognized academic rigour, and a devolved government policy that demands they dilute their offering.
“Schools will always seek to offer the widest range of opportunities sought by pupils. But these must be as a result of genuine demand from learners and not imposed through ham-fisted and misguided policy making from DENI.
“There are many examples of where schools have quietly and conscientiously been collaborating with neighbouring schools to broaden their offering to pupils, long before millions of pounds were spent on Area Learning Communities.
“Irrespective of government targets schools will do this where it is practical and in the best interests of their pupils.
“We are calling for the Minister to allow schools to opt-out of the Entitlement Framework where there is a clear and demonstrable demand from pupils and parents for an alternative provision.”
“At the very least the Minister should make clear to schools and education authorities that the Entitlement Framework is an aspirational policy, and that schools should work towards it at a pace that suits their own education provision. The constant official referrals to 24/27 subjects must stop.”
“Ultimately schools have the responsibility, both from parental expectation and in legislation for the education of their pupils. We must move towards a system that empowers school leaders to take those decisions that are in the best interests of pupils.
They can be trusted to do so.”