Political agreement is vital to restore order to the school transfer process in Northern Ireland, it was claimed today.
John McCallister, Ulster Unionist Party MLA for South Down and a member of the education committee, said that his party wants to reach political agreement on the issue to ensure that all schools can remain within the official education system.
His comments come after more than 7,000 P7 pupils sat the first paper of new unregulated transfer tests on Saturday at 34 schools — mainly grammars catering for Protestant pupils.
Around 6,700 children will sit two papers set by GL Assessment on behalf of another 34 schools mainly within the Catholic grammar sector this Saturday.
Mr McCallister is among politicians from the UUP, DUP, Alliance Party and SDLP taking part in weekly talks in a bid to reach agreement on a replacement for the 11-plus test. Sinn Fein has boycotted the meetings so far.
The Belfast Telegraph’s Sit Down, Sort It Out campaign has already secured the support of more than 8,000 people and the first batch of petitions will be presented to the education committee on Saturday, December 5.
The Belfast Telegraph has called for Executive talks to take place and for agreement to be reached on a way forward in time for this year’s P6 pupils’ transferring from primary to post-primary schools in 2011.
Mr McCallister said: “The DUP and Sinn Fein, the co-equal axis at the centre of the Executive, would not and could not agree a transfer system to incorporate into the Programme for Government. And because they could not agree, the grammar schools were forced to do the job themselves.
“People expect a government to be able to provide the basics, yet the DUP and Sinn Fein couldn’t even agree a method to get 11-year-olds from one school to another. Mind you, they are also unable to agree upon the devolution of policing and justice, or the boundaries of the 11 new councils.
“What we have today is a fundamentally dysfunctional Executive committee, a committee which is failing to provide good government, let alone demonstrate that devolution can make a difference for the better for everyone here.
“The transfer test is always a trying time for parents and children. The fact is that the circumstances this year, with the chaos, confusion and uncertainty surrounding it, have only served to make matters much worse.”
\[Brian Pelan\]”Rather than allow this to be the first of a new annual test, the UUP is committed to ensuring that 2009 will be remembered as a mere blip.
“We want to restore order and sanity to the process and we want to ensure that an agreement is reached which allows all of our schools to remain within the official system.
“The people of Northern Ireland deserve good, responsible, accountable government. That’s what they voted for.”
A total of 68 schools — mainly grammars — will select their first year pupils for 2010 based on the results of the new entrance exams. The 11-plus test has been consigned to history but academic selection cannot be banned in Northern Ireland without cross-community support in the Assembly. Caitriona Ruane has warned of legal action being taken by parents, but schools which are aligned with the new tests say that they have received strong legal advice and are sure that their tests will stand up to legal scrutiny.
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