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Minister unwavering amid test turbulence


27/06/2008 :: Northern Ireland :: The Irish News

Ms Ruane has faced repeated calls to give greater detail on her proposals to replace the 11-plus.

Education minister Caitriona Ruane has encountered many twists and turns in her journey towards abolition of the 11-plus.

Since she set out more than a year ago she has stuck to her own carefully mapped-out route.

Political opponents and some grammar schools have acted as back-seat drivers, often insisting on their own directions, but Ms Ruane appears determined not to veer off course.

She first outlined her proposals to reform the education system in December, saying the last 11-plus test would take place this year.

Academic pathways would remain, she said, but these would in future be accessed by "intelligent, well-informed and mature 'election' and available through modern organisational flexibility".

However, there then followed months of uncertainty.

A stormy education committee meeting in January ended with irate members claiming that many questions remained unanswered.

In February the minister promised to write to parents and schools to provide information about her vision for a post-primary system without the 11-plus.

That letter has not yet been sent, with finance minister Nigel Dodds refusing to provide Ms Ruane with funding.

An Irish News survey of primary principals in April found that most felt they had insufficient information about future arrangements and lacked confidence in the minister's ability to deliver a quality new system.

Ms Ruane finally revealed further details of her plans last month - there would be a new transfer test but for three years only.

Grammar schools would be able to admit half of first-year pupils in 2010 using the test, with that proportion falling to 30 and 20 per cent in the following two years.

All other pupils would be chosen using non-academic criteria such as family members at schools and geographical proximity. From 2013 all selection by ability would be forbidden.

Meanwhile, 30 grammar schools said they intended to introduce their own tests to continue selecting top-performing pupils after the 11-plus ended.

Despite warnings from the minister one Catholic grammar - Lumen Christi College in Derry - also said it would introduce an aptitude test from 2009.

In separate letters to grammar and primary schools (the latter sent just two days ago) Ms Ruane argued that independent procedures for academic selection are fraught with administrative and litigious perils.

She said such plans were an attempt "to thwart the implementation of my progressive reforms".



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