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11-plus questions still remain unanswered after stormy meeting


01/02/2008 :: Northern Ireland :: The Irish News

A stormy education committee meeting ended yesterday with members claiming that que-stions about minister Caitriona Ruane's post 11-plus plans remained unanswered.

Ms Ruane last year said the transfer test would end in 2008 with pupils deciding their next move at the age of 14.

The committee had sought more detail on the minister's plans asking detailed questions about area-based planning, grammar schools and restructuring the schools estate.

Yesterday was the first opportunity the committee had to quiz the minister on her vision since she made her announcement.

However, Ms Ruane provided no further detail about the system to replace the 11-plus.

She faced severe criticism with members questioning the proposed time scale for change and claiming there was no consensus for her plans.

Observers last night said the relationship between the minister and committee, which was strained to begin with, now appeared to have broken down completely.

Ms Ruane warned the committee that if no consensus was reached then transfer would be unregulated, meaning schools can set their own admissions criteria.

The Association for Quality Education has named 25 schools it claims have already signed up to a new entrance test designed to let them continue selecting 'top' pupils.

The transfer tests were perceived to be the single most important decision-maker in a child's educational progression, Ms Ruane said.

"It goes without saying that they are contentious and disliked for this reason," she said.

"But it is also for this reason that, whilst government is res-ponsible for it, government asks a dedicated, expert, independent, professional body to ensure that every aspect of its delivery is as watertight as it can be," she said.

"This is the function a small number of schools are considering taking onto themselves.

"It is why an unregulated system should not be welcomed by any party in this assembly.

"It is a prospect fraught with administrative and litigious perils."

She added that there had never been a popular method of academic selection.

"Even those who passionately defend selection are, I suggest, defending not an admissions process but a type of school - an excellent school with high standards offering children the brightest future," she said.

"I defend that as well. We can do this by retaining and improving what is best in the system and by developing new pathways suited to the talents, abilities and aspirations of all our children.

"Our challenge is to develop a joined-up system."

Earlier, she said falling pupil numbers were making academic selection "an irrelevant admissions practice and the root of systemic decay".

While the grammar system was designed for 30 per cent of children, in 2006 the 69 grammars admitted 42 per cent of children transferring from primary.



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