Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Bishop joins growing calls to end transfer stalemate

The head of the Northern Ireland Commission for Catholic Education (NICCE) has urged Assembly members to find a solution now to the ongoing row over school transfer.

Bishop Donal McKeown said schools were having to cope with a situation that has resulted from “a serious political failure on the part of the Executive”.

And the former head of St Malachy’s College in Belfast called on our politicians to “seek out a solution now when we need it — and not when it is politically convenient for them”.

Bishop McKeown’s comments come as representatives from four of the main political parties met this week in the first of a series of weekly meetings held to try and break the current logjam.

Sinn Fein’s education spokesman John O’Dowd boycotted the meeting and later branded it a publicity stunt.

However, a joint statement issued by the SDLP, UUP, DUP and Alliance parties on Wednesday said: “The difficult process of building consensus on this unfortunately contentious issue has begun.”

It also stated that there were significant areas of agreement between the parties.

The meeting followed the launch of the Belfast Telegraph’s Sit Down, Sort it Out campaign, which is calling for focused Executive talks to find an agreed way forward.

Thousands of people have already backed our demand that an agreed solution is found so that children transferring to second-level education in 2011 do not face the same trauma and confusion as those in 2010.

NICCE has said that Catholic grammar schools should begin phasing out selection from next year and end it completely by 2012.

Bishop McKeown said: “Schools

and parents are now coming to realise the implications of the current legislative vacuum.

“Many people are very anxious and schools face many challenges.

“This further battle, that should have been resolved within the Assembly, has now been handed over to schools — and teachers, pupils, parents, governors and school owners are now left to resolve the issue, sometimes attacking one another.

“As trustees we are very aware of the widespread concerns in the community and the detrimental effect this is having on all schools.”

He went on to say that Catholic trustees are not neutral about the way forward.

“The vast bulk of educationalists, not only within the Catholic sector, acknowledge that mass academic selection at 11 into separate silos is no longer educationally or philosophically tenable,” he said.

“Trustees will continue to work for an end to rigid academic selection as soon as that is reasonably possible. But politicians will have to find a solution sooner or later.

“As voters we expect them to seek out a solution now when we need it — and not when it is politically convenient for them.”

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