Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

Four of five main parties issue joint call for temporary P7 test

The four political parties involved in weekly talks at Stormont to try and resolve the school transfer crisis have called on Caitriona Ruane to put a temporary P7 test in place.

The DUP, SDLP, UUP and Alliance issued a joint statement following their meeting yesterday which also stressed their commitment to building consensus and agreement to overcome the deadlock.

They confirmed an advisory group of educationalists will be tasked with providing them with options that “appeal to the widest possible constituency and take into account the political and legal context of the current impasse”.

The talks began after the Belfast Telegraph launched the Sit Down, Sort It Out campaign — which calls on the Executive to hold focused talks and agree a way forward. Sinn Fein has refused to attend the meetings so far.

The statement says that the participants are encouraged by the progress made and the prospects for future consensus. And it concludes: “It is our intention that the educator group work in parallel with our ongoing discussions.

“While their proposals will not bind any party we hope their guidance will provide us with viable options for consideration in our pursuit of a solution to the unacceptable transfer stalemate.”

However, Sinn Fein dismissed the statement, saying no firm proposals have been offered by those involved.

And the Department of Education said that Education Minister Caitriona Ruane “has no comment to make on this”.

Her party's education spokesman John O'Dowd said: “Sinn Féin stated clearly at the start of these discussions that the agenda was to re-establish state sponsored 11-plus examinations.

“This is the only definitive proposal that this group has managed to agree on and bring forward. The rest is a list of contradictions and fudges.

“There is no ‘necessity’ for the reintroduction of a test which the SDLP have described as being socially unjust and educationally unsound.

“Transfer 2010 is in place and it is being successfully implemented by the vast majority of post-primary schools.”

The lack of political agreement on the way forward means that no consensus has been reached on a replacement for the 11-plus exam.

Thousands of P7 pupils recently sat new unregulated transfer tests after 68 grammar schools ignored guidance from the minister and set their own entrance tests.

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