The First Minister today pledged to retain post-primary school in Northern Ireland — as the Catholic Church stressed its intention to end entrance tests entirely in its schools.
Peter Robinson said: “I am determined to ensure that an academic option is available to those from all backgrounds who wish to pursue this path.”
The chance of a schools’ split along religious lines when it comes to the thorny issue of selection intensified as the Northern Ireland Commission for Catholic Education (NICCE) unveiled the outcome of a major review of its post-primary schools estate this morning.
Over the next four weeks more detail will be released on options for 16 projects determined largely along diocesan structures and based across Northern Ireland.
This will include plans for new all-ability colleges and amalgamations of schools. In some cases it will be proposed that single-sex schools become co-educational.
The proposals are based on a key directive from NICCE that all Catholic grammars should stop using academic selection by 2012 — however, it is known that some Catholic grammars are already planning to rebel against the plan.
Speaking to DUP members and supporters in Foyle, Peter Robinson admitted that education has been an issue which has divided the Executive.
He praised the groups that established unregulated tests this year as a result of the “vacuum” and said he had “considerable hope” that a long-term solution can be found.
Referring to the NICCE announcement, Mr Robinson said: “The Roman Catholic Church appears determined to deny young people the opportunity of a grammar school education. I know many Roman Catholic parents vehemently oppose this position.”
The DUP leader said that all parties in the Assembly — with the exception of Sinn Fein — now accept that proceeding with academic selection is the right thing to do in the current circumstances, although some would argue this should only be for an interim period.
Meanwhile, grammar schools are preparing to meet tonight in a bid to agree proposals for a single entrance test which could operate in the next academic year.