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Alternative 11-plus plan snubbed by grammars

14-12-2007

14/12/2007 :: Northern Ireland :: The Irish News

Almost two-thirds of the north's grammar schools - including the entire Catholic sector - appear to have snubbed plans by a breakaway group to use new entrance tests after the 11-plus is scrapped.

A small group, including the 'Royal' grammars in Belfast, Dun-gannon and Armagh, revealed last summer that it was devising plans for its own tests to continue selec-ting top pupils.

The Association for Quality Edu-cation (AQE) yesterday listed 25 schools it claimed had now signed up. There are 69 grammars in the north.

Missing from the list was every Catholic grammar as well as one of the largest and most prestigious schools, Methodist College Belfast.

Also absent is the city's Camp-bell College but this is thought to be the school most likely to go entirely private and charge entrance fees if education minister Caitriona Ruane succeeds in outlawing academic selection.

However, despite insisting on the need for a selection test, critics have said the AQE list includes a number of schools which at present admit some children irrespective of how poorly they performed in their 11-plus.

While a new test is said to have already been created, there has been no input from the north's exams board - the CCEA - or its question designers.

AQE founder Sir Kenneth Bloom-field, who is chair of the board of governors of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, last night said he was not yet prepared to disclose who had set the test.

He would only say an "expert in education" had prepared papers. It is understood that private exam boards in England are not involved, given the costs involved in undertaking such work.

It is thought parents will be charged a fee if they wish their children to take these new tests, although low-income families will not have to pay.

Sir Kenneth said he believed there was some interest from both Catholic and state-controlled grammar schools but they might face opposition within their own sectors.

"There are schools deeply interested both in the controlled and Catholic sector. I believe they have to first convince the authorities," he said.

Education minister Caitriona Ruane last week said the 11-plus would end next year, with pupils themselves to make important choices about post-primary paths at the age of 14.

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