Over 30 grammar schools have defied strong warnings from Education Minister Caitriona Ruane to announce that they will use a common entrance test to select pupils after the 11-plus is scrapped.
It has been known that some schools were considering the development of their own assessment exams but 31 schools have now made their position clear through a statement issued by the Association for Quality Education (AQE).
Representatives from 28 schools attended a meeting on Tuesday night in Belfast and three other schools, who could not attend, have also given their support to the common tests.
The tests will be used by the schools for pupils in P5 who will be transferring from primary to post-primary schools in 2010. AQE insists it will be compatible with the revised school curriculum.
The schools are acting against the well publicised opinion of the Education Minister — who has claimed such entrance tests would be "fraught with administrative and litigious perils".
Ms Ruane had hoped to introduce a province-wide system of transfer at age 14, free from any academic selection, but has been criticised by the UUP, DUP and SDLP for the lack of detailed information on her plans.
Earlier this week the Belfast Telegraph revealed that the Minister had written to Lumen Christi College in Derry to warn against plans to set up its own entrance tests. She branded the school's announcement "a very unhelpful contribution".
Last week a confidential Sinn Fein paper obtained by the Telegraph revealed the party was considering bypassing the Assembly and issuing new admissions criteria to schools in the form of 'guidance'. Academic selection would not be included.
The list of schools signing up to the controversial new common selection tests include grammars in Belfast, Omagh, Newtownards, Downpatrick, Larne, Lisburn, Coleraine, Bangor, Ballyclare and Antrim. Lumen Christi College in Derry is the only Catholic grammar to state so far that it also plans to continue with academic selection, which can only be banned in Northern Ireland in the unlikely event this had cross-party support within the Assembly.
The AQE statement said that the decision was taken "in the most regrettable absences of any clear or credible decision from the Minister of Education about the system of transfer to post-primary education."
The 31 schools plan to form a Company Limited by Guarantee which will deliver a common entrance assessment designed to measure the suitability of children for an academic education. Urgent steps will be taken to identify potential board members of the company, deploying financial, legal and educational experience.
They will take decisions — no later than June — on the responsibility for a common assessment, the need to minimise the cost to parents (including an exemption from payment in the case of less well-off parents), the administration of the test and the guidance to be offered to parents and primary schools. The Telegraph has already revealed that the tests are likely to cost around £55 per pupil.
Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, chairman of AQE, said that parents are angry as they face uncertainty about the future for the education of their children.
He also said that schools in support of AQE would prefer assessment conducted within the primary school environment and on a basis prescribed by the Department of Education.
"Unhappily there is no evidence of any willingness on the part of the present Minister to contemplate such a development," he continued.
"Those individual schools determined to preserve some measure of judgment in matching pupils to the challenge of their ethos and curriculum have been obliged to consider a fall-back position.
"In view of the tone of the Minister's recent communications with Lumen Christi and its feeder primary schools, and of the leaked Sinn F£in briefing document whose authenticity has not been disputed, we wish to make it clear that any radical change in our education system should be based in law, not influenced by undertones of intimidation or coercion.
"We would greatly prefer the evolution of arrangements broadly acceptable across the community; but if, in the last resort, we have to operate in a policy vacuum, we will proceed to put into place a common assessment system, as fair to all, as economically conducted and as robust against legal challenge as possible."
- Antrim Grammar School
- Ballyclare High School
- Bangor Grammar School
- Belfast High School
- Belfast Royal ACademy
- Bloomfield Collegiate Grammar School
- Cambridge House Grammar School
- Carrickfergus Grammar School
- Coleraine Academical Inst.
- Collegiate Grammar School, Enniskillen
- Dalriada School
- Down High School
- Foyle and Londonderry College
- Friends' School, Lisburn
- Glenlola Collegiate School
- Grosvenor Grammar School
- Hunterhouse College
- Larne Grammar School
- Methodist College
- Omagh Academy
- Regent House School
- Royal Belfast Academical Inst.
- Royal School, Armagh
- Royal School, Dungannon
- Strabane Grammar School
- Strathearn School
- Sullivan Upper School
- The Wallace High School
- Banbridge Academy
- Limavady Grammar School
- Wellington College