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Grammar schools test 'would be legal'

10-10-2007

Newsletter

The plan for 40 grammar schools to set their own common entry test to replace the 11-plus has progressed, with advice that the move would be legal.

The schools involved have also now devised their own mock common numeracy and literacy tests.
At this stage they are also of the understanding that the costs involved are manageable.
Boards of governors at each school are therefore being asked to consider their position and to decline or assent to the plan.
Around 30 of the 40 schools were represented at a key meeting of the Association for Quality Education (AQE) on Monday evening and the News Letter also understands that a number of them are schools from the Catholic sector.
They were briefed on where the AQE has got to, in terms of planning and its view on whether or not the Minister for Education, Caitriona Ruane, will or will not devise a system to replace the 11-plus which will still include provision for academic selection.
Principals, teachers and parents were told that the lack of movement on the issue suggested that, even as a temporary measure, the common test looked likely to have to be implemented, if possible, with a working party also reporting on the legality of this.
AQE spokesman Sir Ken Bloomfield said: "They had to establish if academic selection is already barred under the law? No it's not," he said.
"The Direct Rule administration removed the bar on academic selection from the Education Order (2006) which was originally to scrap it.
"Selection will not be scrapped, unless a vote is taken in the Assembly to scrap it and that would require majority, cross-community consensus, so it will not happen. Therefore we were told that a common entry test is legal."
He added, the Department of Education has the right to proscribe acceptable criteria to replace the 11-plus which excludes academic selection but again Sir Kenneth said this "would fly in the face of undertakings" he said had been given to the political parties at the St Andrews Agreement talks.
The spokesman said that a second working group also briefed the meeting on the creation the entry test, noting that the schools seem in general agreement that ultimately they would be for a Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT) means of selection.
"This would, however, take time to formulate," he said.
"So in the meantime, we envisage a replacement test for numeracy and literacy," said Sir Ken.
Despite the planning, he also stressed: "We are not interested in taking schools out of the system, we believe there should be an alternative selection system but within the state apparatus and paid for by the state.
"We are making it clear this is the last resort as we would much rather the state would do the whole thing, quite frankly," he continued.
And he said the Assembly Executive had a responsibility to meet parents' demands.
"The minister, Ms Ruane, argues very strongly for integrated education," he noted, "because there's demand. Or Irish language schools because there's demand. So it would be perverse to bow to that principle of choice and then refuse to recognise the demand for academic selection.
"Why not let schools go their own way?"
"At the same time, I accept that there may be grammar schools who will look at the demography of their location and decide that they would not benefit or flourish from setting an entry test. Nobody would wish to stop them doing what they see as right for them and their area."
He concluded: "If hardy comes to hardy, I do not think the cost would not be unmanageable, with a small for fee for sitting the test probable, for those parents who could afford to pay."
While the schools involved are still not being revealed, the meeting was told they must now go away, brief governors and consult, before reaching a decision on the common entry test which seems evermore a possibility.

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