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Pressure mounts on Ruane to find 11-plus replacement


Belfast Telegraph

Teachers, unions and politicians today united to demand that the Education Minister make up her mind soon on a replacement for the 11-plus examination.

As the Department of Education reiterated that Caitriona Ruane will not be rushed into making a decision on the matter, pressure mounted on her for an announcement on what will replace the current system.

Ms Ruane said: "Let's not create an artificial panic. What we need to do is get the right solution that gives every child a fair chance. All schools need to be good schools and I believe that we can do that and that we can create criteria that reflects that."

In less than two years time, the 11-plus will cease to exist and as yet there are no clear indications of what will replace the current transfer system.

With the new school year started, it still remains unclear how places will be allocated to pupils moving into post-primary schools.

Teaching unions have voiced concerns that the new curriculum cannot be taught alongside preparation for the 11-plus and that time is required to introduce any replacement.

The Sinn Fein minister has been accused of dragging her feet on what is regarded by many as the most important issue currently facing the Executive.

The issue is due to be addressed by the Education Committee in the next few weeks with several members submitting questions for an answer on the matter.

"I have put a question into the minister because this needs a decision sooner rather than later," said UUP education spokesman, Basil McCrea.

"A lot of people are very anxious about the whole thing. The minister has said she will not be rushed, but that isn't acceptable. This is just a time bomb waiting to explode. At this stage, I think they are going to have to extend the 11-plus for another few years."

And the DUP's Mervyn Storey said: "She is dragging her feet on this issue. The Minister has said she has been speaking to people about this but when I asked her who she has been talking to she couldn't tell me. I think she has been having conversations with herself in the mirror. At the end of the day, parents, pupils and teaching staff need to know what is going on."

SDLP spokesman Dominic Bradley, who has also submitted a question on the matter, said: "I think this is the most burning issue in education at the moment and it needs to be dealt with."

Pro-grammar school lobby, the Association for Quality Education (AQE) has claimed that due to the Minister's failure to announce a suitable replacement for the 11 plus, 40 grammar schools in the province will create their own entry tests.

The group met last night and, spokesman Sir Kenneth Bloomfield said they are now planning to hold a meeting with the 40 grammar schools planning to introduce the entrance examination.

Principal of Royal School Dungannon Paul Hewitt, who is also a member of the AQE, said it is time for the Minister to act so that grammar schools across Northern Ireland are not forced to implement interim procedures, such as a common entry test.

Pressure is also growing from teaching unions with Fern Turner from the National Association of Head Teachers and the local director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, Mark Langhammer, also demanding that the Minister make a decision as soon as possible.

A spokesman for the Department of Education confirmed the last 11-plus examination will take place in 2008.

He added: "The Minister wanted the first few months to talk to as many people as possible about the issue. Her view on this is that she wants to take her time and make the right decision rather than be rushed and make the wrong decision."



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