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'Children The Losers In Transfer Wrangling'

24-02-2009

Dromore Leader

A Dromora principal has chastised politicians for ongoing wrangling over academic selection in which, he says, children, schools and the future of education itself are the losers.

So frustrated had Dromara Primary School head, Stanley Poots, become at the transfer impasse that he wrote to the DUP's Mervyn Storey, chairman of the Stormont Education Committee, with what amounted to an appeal for all politicians to abandon political point-scoring and focus the debate on the needs of schools.

The private letter to Mr. Storey was later routinely circulated to committee colleagues by Stormont staff.

In it, Mr. Poots also pointed out that while some people were seeking to demonise Sinn Fein education minister Caitriona Ruane over the scrapping of the 11-plus, the transfer debate dated back many years and he insisted that all schools - primary, secondary and grammar - agreed that the 11-Plus test was flawed and should be abolished.

"The reason I sent the letter, " he said, "was that I was frustrated that the whole issue of transfer and academic selection has been reduced to political wrangling between two parties, the DUP on one side and Sinn Fein on the other; it's not reflecting the educational argument."

A primary school principal of more than 30 years standing, immediate past president of the Ulster Teachers' Union, a member of the ESA Working Group for Children's Services and a member of the Lisburn Principals' Association, Mr. Poots said that in all his conversations with fellow principals, teachers and union members, all, including grammar school heads he had spoken to, wanted rid of the 11-plus.

"The demise of the 11-Plus is something we welcome," he said, "but now it's about getting to the next stage; how they will move from one school to another in a way that safeguards everyone concerned, the schools and the children.

"If it means selecting at aged 14, that might be the best compromise. Testing at 11 is just much to early; we're virtually the only country in Europe trying to select children at this age.

"All the other countries that are way ahead of us in academic expertise, and show it consistently, do not have any form of selection at age 10 and 11."

In his letter to Mr. Storey Mr. Poots wrote, "The Transfer Test (flawed) has been the means by which grammar schools selected many of their pupils (even though 75% of them now take Grades B2 – D). As a result, primary schools in the past have had to distort the curriculum to prepare pupils.

"Parents who do not know any other system also try to help their children and some pay for tutoring.

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