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Ulster school pupils facing uncertain future

07-06-2007

Ulster school pupils facing uncertain future

07/06/2007 The Belfast Telegraph

The prospect of thousands of P7 pupils facing school entrance exams within two years looked increasingly likely today.

The Belfast Telegraph can reveal that the Education Minister is holding back from seeking the public's view on controversial new admissions criteria.

A document detailing how over-subscribed schools determine their intake after the 11-plus is scrapped next year was due to go out for public consultation months ago.

However, the Telegraph understands that Caitriona Ruane is waiting for the Assembly to take a decision on the crux issue of academic selection before putting out the paper.

The latest delay in the 11-plus replacement saga casts serious doubt over whether a decision on a new transfer process - which was due to made in the next school term - can now be made by this deadline.

Politicians continue to be split along nationalist and unionist lines when it comes to whether schools should be able to select pupils based on their academic ability. If political stalemate continues it is feared that there will not be enough time to have a replacement transfer system in place for the pupils entering P7 in 2009.

This would result in a DUP deal agreed at the St Andrews negotiations kicking in which would allow schools to set their own admissions criteria, including entrance exams.

Confusion over the way forward also comes on top of a lack of information about the establishment of a single education authority, concerns over teacher training and resources for a revised school curriculum, and the need to plan for numerous school closures/mergers across the province.

A Department of Education spokesman confirmed that "the timescale for the publication of draft admissions regulations for consultation will be subject to the agreement of the Executive and Assembly on new admissions arrangements".

DUP education spokesman, Sammy Wilson, admitted today that this default position would suit his party, but urged the Minister to take control of the situation.

And he warned that the Executive was likely to veto any consultation document which does not include academic selection as an option.

"It is unfair on parents and schools to leave things hanging as they are," he said. "Selection is here to stay until the Assembly agrees on a different system, but we need to get a consultation document out so that we can debate this out in the open.

"The Minister has to grasp the nettle and make a decision. If she cannot take a decision on selection, how is she going to handle other controversial issues in the future? My understanding had been that the Minister would bring forward a proposal in relation to selection, but it now appears that she is waiting for the Executive to deal with it. It is very confusing."

When asked for confirmation that the consultation is being stalled until the Assembly decides on selection, and also whether this was something that should really come directly from the Minister, a department spokesperson said: "These issues are under active consideration by the Minister for Education."

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