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Churches bid to end exam deadlock


05/11/2008 :: Northern Ireland :: BBC News

It is understood the four main churches in Northern Ireland are to attempt to help end the 11-plus stalemate.

The Church of Ireland, Catholic, Methodist and Presbyterian churches have joined together to try to find agreement in the long-running dispute.

They are expected to hold a joint press conference later to give their backing to transfer at 14 instead of 11 years.

The move could herald a softening of Sinn Fein's opposition to academic selection.

The churches' main focus will be on changing the age of major choices to 14, which is a policy favoured by the minister, Caitriona Ruane, and some members of the grammar schools' association, the governing bodies association.

However, a large number of voluntary, controlled and Catholic grammar schools are planning to run independent tests at 11.

There is a possibility that Sinn Fein politicians might agree to a form of academic selection as long as it is informal and happens at 14.

It is believed the Department of Education is preparing to reveal new guidelines for oversubscribed schools.

As well as family, community and geographical criteria, it is considering telling schools to accept a quota of children entitled to free school meals.

The department also has a plan to protect the grammar school chances of children in rural areas.



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