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New warning over legal ‘trap for the unwary’ facing schools

By Kathryn Torney

A second barrister has backed the claim that Caitriona Ruane’s school admission guidance has left grammar schools at risk of costly legal challenges.

A school principal from the Catholic Heads Association (CHA) has confirmed that legal advice it commissioned stated grammars should go through a formal consultation process to become all-ability schools.

This information is not contained in the guidance document issued by the Education minister to schools.

The barrister who advised the CHA said in his legal response that failing to include this meant that the Department of Education had “created a trap for the unwary”.

And he warned that a school scrapping selection without a development proposal could be found to have acted unlawfully if the issue came to court.

The document has been circulated to the 31 Catholic voluntary grammar principals who are members of the CHA.

The news comes just days after the cross-community Governing Bodies Association — representing 52 voluntary grammars — revealed details of legal advice it had obtained indicating that schools following the Transfer 2010 guidance could face future legal challenges.

Both reports said that schools have a duty in legislation to conduct extensive consultation and to lodge a development proposal if making significant changes — which would include becoming an all-ability school.

Ms Ruane was strongly criticised for dismissing the claim as “a red herring”. She did not deny that schools could end up in court as a result of the advice.

She said this week that grammar schools ”should not be spooked by grey men with vested interests. They should go for it. I am not a lawyer but I know what is right and wrong.”

The Catholic grammar principal — who asked not to be named — said he knows of no schools now considering moving to an all-ability intake and he called for a political solution to the current stalemate.

SDLP education spokesman Dominic Bradley said: “The minister is clearly wrong to dismiss this problem as a red herring.”

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