Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

SF: expert report adds very little to transfer debate

The authors of an expert report on Northern Ireland’s education system said they had “thrown down the gauntlet” to politicians to solve the transfer debacle.

Speaking at the education committee at Stormont yesterday, Michele Marken, co-chair of a panel of educationalists who compiled the report, called on Government to put children first and resolve the transfer issue.

She called on politicians to “look wider and deeper” than the debate on academic selection.

Two separate testing systems are currently running in Northern Ireland after politicians failed to agree on a replacement for the scrapped 11-plus test.

Four of the main political parties, with the exception of Sinn Fein, began holding weekly meetings from October 2009 to try to end the stalemate over selection.

The cross-party group commissioned an educationalists advisory panel — a team of 12 education professionals from across the sector — to compile a portfolio of advice to move the debate forward. Four of the panel, including co-chairs and former school principals, Ms Marken and Paul Hewitt, presented the 36-page report to the education committee.

Although the report covered a range of subjects, controversial topics of selection and underachievement sparked the most debate.

Sinn Fein education spokesman John O’Dowd demanded to know why when “the group was set up in a blaze of publicity” it had not resolved the issue of transfer.

“This report has done everything but touch on the detail,” he remarked.

Ms Marken responded that it was the Department of Education’s statutory obligation to resolve the issue.

“We can talk and talk and talk about the transfer issue, but if we had done that we wouldn’t have got any further than you,” she retorted.

She described how the panel had all agreed that a single system of transfer from primary education was needed “because we recognised that it should be something that is balanced and fair”.

DUP chair of the education committee, Mervyn Storey, asked if the committee had been concentrating on the wrong debate, and Ulster Unionist MLA, Reg Empey said: “We have been having |the wrong debate for the wrong reasons.”

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