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Churchmen call for an end to confusion over transfers


06/11/2008 :: Northern Ireland :: The Irish News

The north's four main Churches have urged politicians to stand back from established positions to end uncertainty surrounding the future system of transfer to post-primary schools.

Church representatives spoke of a "deep unease" among parents and teachers and a growing "sense of frustration" that no political agreement seemed within reach.

Bishop Donal McKeown of the Catholic Church, the Rev Ian Ellis (Church of Ireland), the Rev Trevor Gribben (Presbyterian) and Rev Trevor Jamieson (Methodist) called for space to find the best system for all children.

In a joint statement, they also said consideration should be given to a system of academic selection at age 14.

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.

If the executive and assembly cannot agree on the legislation, it is feared transfer to post-primary schools could be left unregulated.

Previously the minister had said she hoped to achieve "consensus" but warned more recently that there were only two options for replacing the 11-plus - her way or a free-for-all. With no executive meetings having taken place in recent months and no apparent progress behind the scenes between Sinn Fein and the DUP, it is unclear what exactly lies ahead.

In their joint statement, the Churchmen said it was clear there were "strong yet unreconciled convictions" about the best system of education for the future.

"Each viewpoint seems to cancel out the other and, in the absence of consensus, we risk heading to an abyss of unregulated arrangements.

"It is also of concern that Year 6 children are increasingly likely to become anxious or distressed as they pick up on adult confusion about the type and number of any tests in the future."

They said consideration should be given to a paper published in the summer that suggested selection at age 14 could resolve the long-running debate.

In that paper, representatives of both grammar and non-selective secondary schools backed scrapping the 11-plus in favour of selecting pupils before they begin GCSE study.

"Over the summer a group of educationalists, representing a diverse range of views on transfer, met and produced tentative proposals which in our view seem to suggest a workable approach," the Church representatives said.

"The group shared ideas, displaying vision and openness to a new way forward, which would lead to the disappearance of selection at age 11 and the use of criteria to access certain courses and pathways at the age of 14 which could include, amongst others, academic criteria."

Bishop McKeown said the absence of a legislative framework was not acceptable.

"The impasse we find ourselves in is very, very unsettling," he said.



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