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11-plus 'must be a Stormont priority'

03-05-2007

11-plus 'must be a Stormont priority'

03/05/2007 The Belfast Telegraph


The Northern Ireland Assembly must make it a priority to decide what will replace the 11-plus exam, it was warned today.

Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, former head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service and a member of the Association for Quality Education (AQE) has written exclusively for today's Belfast Telegraph.

The pro-grammar group was established in response to the Government's proposals to radically reform secondary education in Ulster. It raised £40,000 for its cause in less than a year.

Under radical Government plans to reform the education system in Northern Ireland, the 11-plus will be scrapped from 2008 and replaced by a non-academic Pupil Profile which will inform parents in their choice of a post-primary school.

But the Government agreed that local politicians could decide whether or not to have academic selection. The parties are split on this crucial issue down nationalist and unionist lines.

Mr Bloomfield writes: "The time is rapidly approaching when our locally-elected politicians must reach crucial decisions about the future of our education system.

"It is, however, of particular urgency to clarify the arrangements for transfer from primary to secondary education.

"With the achievement of devolution, the threat to impose a statutory ban upon any inclusion of academic merit amongst acceptable entrance criteria will be removed."

Sir Kenneth said both parents and teachers need to know sooner rather than later the range of future acceptable entrance criteria to be used by schools.

"Many of those who have set their faces against any consideration of academic performance or potential have sought to persuade us that the sole alternative is 'parental choice'.

"The reality is that an alternative system heavily influenced by considerations of location and proximity will serve to exclude many children from schools their parents would choose, and swing the pendulum away from merit and towards financial means," he claimed.

"Let these zealots consider the unseemly scramble for places in many parts of England, often heavily influenced by the means to acquire expensive property close to a popular and highly-regarded school."

Sir Kenneth speaks about the possibility of post-primary entrance tests replacing primary school "exit tests".

"A pupil profile, if meaningful and reliable, could provide for parents and potential receiving schools a useful summary of a pupil's performance in primary education and facilitate the informed matching of pupils to schools."

He said that if politicians cannot agree on a new system, secondary schools could use common entrance exams to determine entry.

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