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MLAs to propose own transfer syste


26/02/2008 :: Northern Ireland :: The Belfast Telegraph

The Assembly's education committee is to bring forward its own proposals for a new system of school transfer in a bid to break the deadlock over finding a replacement for the 11-plus.

Committee chair Sammy Wilson said today that he hoped to arrange a special committee session before Easter to enable its 11 members to try and agree a way forward.

The decision was taken following a stormy debate on the issue in the Assembly chamber yesterday.

Education Minister Caitriona Ruane was urged by MLAs to clarify her plans for a system of transfer at the age of 14.

During the debate, Ms Ruane claimed some opponents did not like the fact that a Sinn Fein minister and a woman minister was leading the process of change.

She also accused MLAs of trying to bully her.

Yesterday, the Belfast Telegraph reported how the minister had harshly criticised the education committee, committee chair Sammy Wilson and the media during an interview with this newspaper.

She claimed that parents are not concerned about the time it is taking to finalise new schools' admissions criteria, and instead accused the media of " scaremongering" around the issue.

During yesterday's debate, Mr Wilson called for the minister to be reshuffled by Sinn Fein.

This morning he said: "I think the committee should be able to agree on a way forward.

"We will then present this to the minister."

He confirmed that any alternative plan would have to include an element of academic selection.

Ms Ruane said yesterday: "Some are merely paying lip service to the notion that they are behind progressive change, while at the same time they have joined forces with those most opposed to change and are playing narrow, opportunistic party politics and that's very regrettable."

In December, the Minister announced that the last 11-plus exams would take place this autum. The test would be replaced with key educational decisions taken by pupils and their families at the age of 14.

Education committee members Trevor Lunn of Alliance and the SDLP's Dominic Bradley called for clarity, arguing parents and teachers were crying out for more detail. Michelle McIlveen of the DUP warned there was real danger of confusion turning to panic.

The Minister said: "You can shout up at me and you can try to abuse me. You can try to bully but that's what it's all about. You are afraid of change, you are afraid of the much needed change that we are going to have."

Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill and colleagues sprang to the defence of Ms Ruane, noting more information would be produced on area-based planning in the coming weeks.

The Alliance Party motion calling on the minister to bring more detailed post-primary proposals before the Assembly to ease parents' concerns was passed.

Meanwhile, the Minister today refused to confirm she had turned down an Executive offer to set up a ministerial sub-group to look at school transfer - a fact revealed by the Belfast Telegraph.

" That was a leak from members of the Executive. I am not prepared to discuss private Executive business," she told the BBC.



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