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Three-year exam plan to replace 11-plus test

14-05-2008


14/05/2008 :: Northern Ireland :: The Irish News

The system to replace the doomed 11-plus is to involve a new transfer test but for three years only.

It is understood that education minister Caitriona Ruane will tell the executive that some form of academic selection could remain in the short-term.

The SDLP last night accused Sinn Fein of backtracking on their commitment to ending academic selection while the DUP criticised the minister for taking so long over her proposals.

Under the plan, grammar schools would be able to admit half of first-year pupils in 2010 using a new test which will be drawn up by the north's exams board, the CCEA.

However, in the following two years this would be reduced to 30 per cent and 20 per cent - roughly the same percentage awarded A grades under the present system.

Other pupils would be selected on non-academic criteria such as family members at schools and geographical proximity.

After three years it is planned that selection by ability would be forbidden.

This may, in the interim at least, satisfy some of the demands of those arguing for a system of "real academic selection" with a cap placed on grammar entry.

The types of school that will emerge in the proposed transitional period will be 'bilateral', which cater for children of all abilities under one roof.

Bilateral schools, of which there are four in the north, are the only non-grammars that can use academic selection to determine some of their intake - up to a maximum of 35 per cent.

An example is Holy Cross College in Strabane, which was formed by the merger of a grammar and two secondaries in the Co Tyrone town.

Such schools were always considered to be a key model for Ms Ruane's vision for post-primary reform because while they are largely non-selective, they also retain an academic pathway for pupils who choose to follow it.

Assembly sources last night suggested they were confident the proposals would command support in the post-primary sector.

DUP spokesman Sammy Wilson, one of the ministers strongest critics, did not rule the proposals out of hand.

However, SDLP assembly member Dominic Bradley accused Sinn Fein of doing a secret deal with the DUP over academic selection.

The last 11-plus tests are due to take place this year.

Ms Ruane has said that in future, children should transfer based on parental choice and using non-academic criteria where schools are over-subscribed - family, community, geography and tie-breakers.

It is thought that this will mean most children attending the post-primary school nearest their home.

Under the minister's plans, the key decision point will move from 11 to 14 years old, with every child making important decisions about their educational pathway at 14 from the year 2013.

 

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