Caitriona Ruane has been accused of “badgering” schools after she called on them to outline how they are funding their private entrance exams, it can be revealed.
The Belfast Telegraph has obtained copies of letters written by the Education Minister to the 67 schools continuing to use academic selection.
The letters were sent out last week, just over a month before thousands of P7 pupils sit the first test of this year’s transfer process.
The Minister claimed that she was looking at all areas of funding in anticipation of lower budgets.
Ms Ruane “invites” the “breakaway” schools to set out how their tests — and all the associated administration and other processes — were funded and the justification if public funds were used.
She added that “if funding for breakaway tests has come from private sources then the public has a right to know these sources”.
The Minister also called on the 34 schools signed up for the Association for Quality Education (AQE) tests to give her an assurance that the £35 fee they charged is not in breach of legislation which states there should b e no charge made in respect of admission to any grant-aided school.
Schools signed up to the GL Assessment test — mainly Catholic grammars — did not charge parents.
The Governing Bodies Association (GBA), which represents 52 voluntary grammars, has sought legal advice on the Minister’s request.
GBA director John Hart said: “We believe this is a crude attempt to circumvent the proper and long-established channels of financial accountability within education.
“Frankly if the minister has washed her hands of responsibility for academic selection she would be better letting those with a more responsible approach get on with it instead of petty badgering,” he added.
Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, chair of AQE, said: “You can be assured that before proceeding as it did the AQE took the best possible legal advice and I have no doubt individual schools also did so.”