The row over the future of education in Northern Ireland deepened today after plans by 25 grammar schools to implement a common entry test were met with opposition by a major teaching union.
The Association for Quality Education - a pro academic selection lobby group which has been the driving force behind the initiative - has finally named 25 breakaway grammar schools which it says will utilise the entrance exam after the 11-plus is axed next year.
However, the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) today insisted it would oppose any attempt to increase the workload of already overstretched teachers - which could seriously jeopardise plans to introduce the test.
Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, a founding member of the AQE, said that following a meeting attended by 25 grammar schools from across the province, a decision was taken to drive forward plans to implement an alternative 11-plus examination.
As the Belfast Telegraph reported last week, a test has already been created.
However, it has yet to be decided how the system will be funded or the practicalities of how it will actually be implemented.
Sir Kenneth said: "This is something that has to be decided upon quickly and we are looking into this urgently because it is important that schools, teachers, parents and pupils know what is going to happen.
"We have set up two working parties, one of which will be concerned with how we might set up some sort of mechanism to oversee the running of the test.
"We also need to establish how much this would cost. One approach would be to rely fairly heavily on the schools themselves to invigilate the tests and the other would be to contract some sort of agency that deals with the testing system.
"Beyond that, we need to look at how the costs will be met. Would they be met by schools that are in a position to meet the costs or could they set a fee? If there was any question of a fee, we would obviously have to look at how that could be set aside for families who could not afford to pay it as we don't want to deter anyone from sitting the test. That is not what we are about."
Sir Kenneth said he hoped to be in a position to make further announcements about the test in a matter of weeks.
However, Frank Bunting, Northern Secretary of INTO, said plans to implement a common entry test are a "backward step" and that teachers employed by the grammar schools planning to use the test should not be relied upon to keep down the running costs of the exam.
He said: "The workload of teachers is heavy enough with existing commitments and we would be opposing any attempts by groups to add additional chores to their workload. We will be advising members of this."
A spokesman from the Department of Education said: "The Minister has met with AQE on two occasions and listened to its initial proposals.
"In her recent statement to the Assembly on proposals for the new transfer arrangements, the Minister acknowledged that some schools may need time to adjust to the new arrangements and she said she will discuss this with them."
25 signed up for new exam
- Antrim Grammar School
- Banbridge Academy
- Belfast High School
- Belfast Royal Academy
- Carrickfergus Grammar School
- Coleraine Academical Institution
- Dalriada School
- Down High School
- The Collegiate School, Enniskillen
- Foyle and Londonderry College
- Friends' School, Lisburn
- Grosvenor Grammar School
- Hunterhouse College
- Larne Grammar School
- Regent House School, Newtownards
- The Royal Belfast Academical Institution
- The Royal School Armagh
- The Royal School Dungannon
- Strabane Grammar School
- The Wallace High School, Lisburn
- Ballyclare High School
- Cambridge House Grammar School
- Limavady Grammar School
- Omagh Academy
- Wellington College