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Non-grammar schools may have power to set own tests


08/10/2008 :: Northern Ireland :: The Irish News

Non-grammar schools banned from using the 11-plus to admit pupils may be given the power to set their own entrance tests from next year.

If a new legislative framework for pupils in Primary 6 cannot be agreed by the executive and assembly, every secondary school in Northern Ireland will be permitted to use academic selection.

Such a move could throw the education system into chaos.

The Department of Education confirmed that in the absence of new legislation, 154 non-grammar schools could set admissions tests for 2010 if they wished.

This means schools, that at present rely solely on non academic entrance criteria such as geography and family, could also controversially use testing.

Only grammars and the north's four 'bilateral' schools can take ability or aptitude into account by using the transfer procedure test grade to decide which pupils to admit.

Non-grammars must use other tie-breakers, and these are far from consistent. There is no single set of admissions criteria that all schools must adhere to - the existing system has been described as "anarchic".

Education minister Caitriona Ruane has proposed a new transfer test to replace the 11-plus after this autumn - but for three years only.

After that she plans that selection by ability will be forbidden, although unionists have pledged to block the move.

Despite this opposition, Ms Ruane says she is pressing ahead with her proposals and has made a bid to the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister for a slot in the assembly's legislative programme.

But if the executive and assembly cannot agree legislation for arrangements for pupils currently in Primary 6, then their transfer to post-primary schools in 2010 could be left unregulated.

It is already within non-grammar schools' power to change their entrance criteria from year to year and without new legislation these criteria could include testing from next year.

It is likely that only those non-grammar schools that are traditionally over-subscribed would opt to use selection.

This is already the case in the Republic which has no grammar sector but where some popular schools have their own entrance tests.

Similar moves in the north would likely be opposed by parents, teachers and the minister who wants to abolish all forms of selection.

Test grades could, however, be employed by some secondary schools instead of existing geographical criteria to ease severe admissions headaches.

Already 33 of the 69 grammar schools have signalled their intention to continue with admissions tests after the last 11-plus. Last week, St Michael's College, Enniskillen and St Patrick's Grammar School, Downpatrick, joined the ever growing list of grammars planning to defy the minister.

Frank Bunting, northern secretary of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation last night said: "All schools will be able to use whatever criteria they choose including academic criteria.

"It is certainly not where anybody would want to be next year."



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