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Peter Robinson backs one transfer test for all pupils in Northern Ireland

By Liam Clarke

Peter Robinson has promised his support for efforts to bring about a single transfer test next year.

Speaking yesterday, Mr Robinson predicted that selection for secondary school at age 11 was here to stay but a single test should replace the current two.

"My colleagues and I, along with many of you here in this room, fought to preserve the rights of our schools to be independent and to be allowed to set admission criteria that best represented the ethos of the individual school," he told the conference of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) in Belfast.

Mr Robinson spoke as families prepared for two separate privatised transfer tests.

They are run by the Association of Quality Education, whose three tests begin with one this Saturday, and the Post Primary Consortium whose two GL tests begin on November 15 and have been in operation since 2007.

Some schools transfer on the basis of proximity - the so-called postcode lottery.

However, many grammar schools rely on the AQE test which operates mainly in state schools, and the PPPC test is used mainly by Catholic schools but also by some state schools. Integrated schools may use either test.

Mr Robinson's party is committed to selection. He lambasted the Department of Education, which has had three Sinn Fein ministers since it was set up in 1999, for failing to accommodate the wishes of the grammar schools.

"It is regrettable that the department, for harsh and flawed ideological reasons, still ducks the challenge of endorsing a full range of parental education choices, but the truth is that the independently operated system has bedded in and has growing support. Nonetheless the continuation of separate entrance tests does nothing to help win even greater support," he said.

This is the second time Mr Robinson has floated this idea - the first was two years ago - and party insiders say that he has been working on it ever since.

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