Caitriona Ruane today pledged to plough ahead with plans to get rid of academic selection despite thousands of families ignoring her plea not to get involved with new grammar entrance tests.
Up to 12,000 P7 pupils will sit new unregulated exams set by 68 schools this year. Primary schools across the province are helping children to prepare for the tests – ignoring Ms Ruane’s directive to have nothing to do with them.
In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, the Education Minister called on grammar schools to call off the tests and said she believes they will “see sense and join with the rest of us”.
She also said that primary principals are “delighted and liberated” by the new system – a view very much at odds with the opinion of the National Association of Head Teachers.
The union’s Northern Ireland president, Ivan Arbuthnot, said: “The situation we find ourselves in is a mess. The angst factor amongst school principals is intolerable. They are damned if they do (prepare children for the tests) and damned if they don’t. It is just unfair.”
When asked how she planned to get a regulated system in place and an agreement on a way forward, Ms Ruane said: “If, at a future date, parties are willing to work with me to legislate I'd be happy to look at that but my job is to make Transfer 2010, Transfer 2011, Transfer 2012 as fair, open and as equitable as it can be.”
The Minister claimed there was now “open, clear and transparent admissions criteria” for transfer from primary to post-primary schools. And she accused the DUP of “playing politics” and blocking change.
However, DUP education spokesman Mervyn Storey hit back accusing Sinn Fein of creating the stalemate.
“It was a former Sinn Fein Minister who abolished the 11-plus without first having in place a proper replacement. We will continue working to establish a single common assessment regulated by the department whether under the tenure of this particular minister or another,” he said.