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New schools guidelines lack executive backing

30-06-2009

Irish News

New admissions criteria that ask grammar schools to award more places to ‘poorer’ children from next year have been published – but without backing from the executive.

Details of the criteria schools will be asked to use for transfer in 2010 were yesterday published by the Department of Education just days before the summer holidays.

Schools are being asked to operate non-academic entrance criteria only but the department has acknowledged it can do little to stop grammars holding their own tests.

The guidance was only published on the department’s website although education minister Caitriona Ruane is expected to make a statement in the assembly today.

Ms Ruane first brought forward draft proposals in the form of guidance in February after the executive failed to agree a plan to abolish academic selection.

She wanted to introduce a temporary transfer test to give schools time to prepare for a complete ban on academic selection but needed legislation.

The minister reverted to offering guidance and withdrew her department’s commission to CCEA – the north’s exams board – to produce a transitional test for 2010.

There is not much difference between the draft and final versions although there is now an annex devoted to the issue of unregulated entrance tests.

There will be no state-sponsored exam in November but almost every grammar has signalled its intention to forge ahead with new 11-plus papers.

The department said all involved in the admissions process for 2010 should be assured that the actual process will remain largely unchanged, “the major difference being the absence of a department-provided transfer test”.

It has recommended all schools use as their first criterion a measure that will ensure children entitled to free meals gain admissions at the same rate as others.

Other non-academic criteria such as applicants who have a sibling currently attending a school or applicants from a feeder/named primary school should also be used.

The department appeared to recognise grammar schools look set to defy the guidance.

“The legal position and the department’s recommendations: for any school to use academic admissions criteria will not be explicitly prohibited,” the guidance read.

“However, it is the department’s policy not to include academic admissions criteria in the menu of admissions criteria recommended for the admission of all children of compulsory school age.”

Schools had previously been told they must “have regard to” any guidance by Ms Ruane. This was further clarified.

“In drawing up admissions criteria for the 2010/11 school year [boards of governors] should give active and receptive consideration to the guidance’s recommendations on admissions criteria and record this consideration.”

Asked if the executive had met to discuss the guidance and whether it had approved the final version, a Department of Education spokesman said the guidance had been seen by ministers.

“Following completion of the consultation and consideration of responses, the Transfer 2010 guidance originally published on 2 February was finalised and sent to the executive ministers before publication of the final guidance on 25 June,” the spokesman said.

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