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Ruane talks tough on funding


22/04/2008 :: Northern Ireland :: News Letter

The Education Minister yesterday repeated she would refuse to provide funding for schools which set their own entrance exams once the 11-plus is ditched later this year.

Caitriona Ruane made the announcement after it was revealed she had written to a top grammar school warning them against implementing breakaway admission exams.

The Sinn Fein MLA sent a hard-hitting letter to the principal of Lumen Christi College in Londonderry last week in which she said she was "very disappointed" at the school's proposals to run independent tests.

Catholic-maintained Lumen Christi had announced it will implement a two-part aptitude test because Ms Ruane had offered no solid guidance on what may replace the 11-plus.

Similar correspondence was sent to 40 other feeder primary schools in the Londonderry area warning against setting up independent exams.

The letter said: "The Board of Governors should be in no doubt that the Department of Education will not fund, facilitate or in any way support a breakaway entrance test.

"Nor will the department allow any interference with the delivery of the revised curriculum in primary schools."

In a war of words at the Assembly yesterday, the minister was challenged by the DUP who support the school's move.

The party's Strangford MLA, Simon Hamilton, asked Ms Ruane: "Doesn't the decision of Lumen Christi College - a decision that I applaud - show that opposition to the minister's so-called vision is widespread right across all sections of our community?"

Insisting she would provide no cash for schools wishing to defy her, she said her decisions were based on providing equality for pupils.

She told the Assembly: "I will lead the change and I will make sure that every child in this state gets a fair chance, because currently every child is not getting a fair chance."

The minister also asked the DUP why they did not take up the education portfolio if they were so concerned about retaining academic selection.

It is believed the heads of up to 30 grammar schools across Northern Ireland will meet this week to announce whether they are going to defy the minister and set up independent tests.

However, teachers' unions have said that they would resist the establishment of alternative entrance tests because they could distort the revised curriculum which they support.

And earlier this month, the Irish National Teachers' Organisation urged the board of governors at the school to resign after it decided to introduce its own entrance examination.



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