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Education committee to quiz minister over selection plan


Irish News

Caitriona Ruane will today be quizzed by members of the cross-party assembly education committee on her efforts to abolish academic selection.

The education minister will brief members about her request that all post-primary schools should operate non-academic admissions criteria only.

It is the first time since she unveiled her plans last month that she will face the committee set up to scrutinise her work.

Last month the minister brought forward proposals in the form of guidance after the executive failed to agree a plan to abolish selection.

She wanted to introduce a temporary transfer test to give schools time to prepare for a complete ban on academic selection but she needed legislation.

Instead she reverted to offering guidance, given the urgency with which clarity on a new transfer system is required.

As expected, Ms Ruane confirmed she was withdrawing her department’s commission to CCEA to produce the transitional test for 2010.

Her guidance recommended all schools use as their first criterion a measure that will ensure children entitled to free meals gain admissions at the same rate as all other applicants.

At the committee today she is likely to face questions about her powers to cut admissions numbers to reflect “real academic selection”.

Ms Ruane wants to stop the practice of “bleeding dry” the secondary sector – and she has the power to restrict first-year intakes at grammars to pupils with the top grades.

It is understood that the minister is considering this option which, if implemented, would mean a drastic cut in funding for grammar schools which accept pupils with grades C and D.

She is also likely to be asked about the effectiveness of guidance, which is more advisory than legally enforceable. Schools can ultimately introduce any entrance criteria they wish, provided they first “have regard” to the guidance.

More than 40 grammars, therefore, look set to ignore it and instead continue with new 11-plus tests.

Schools are preparing to either offer an English and maths-based Common Entrance Assessment (CEA) or verbal reasoning papers.

Meanwhile, details of the format of the CEA tests have been revealed to parents of P6 pupils considering applying for a place at Methodist College Belfast in September 2010.

Pupils will sit three separate papers, which will include poetry and prose questions as well as asking children to solve about 30 mathematics problems.

Each paper will be marked twice by different markers and checked by a third marker. Marking will take place at two centres in the presence of chief examiners.

There will be an opportunity to apply for a remark.

Parents must list three schools at which they want their child to take the CEA – although this choice has no bearing on their application for a place at any school.


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