Belfast Telegraph

Friday 1 August 2014

Sinn Fein and unionists pledge 'clean sheet' on academic selection,

Sinn Fein's new education minister and unionist MLAs have signalled their wish to start with a "clean sheet" after years of division over scrapping the 11-plus transfer test.

John O'Dowd met the Assembly education committee for the first time yesterday and said that on the contentious issue of academic selection, he would seek to persuade his party's critics.

The DUP committee chair Mervyn Storey said he hoped for a positive working relationship, while Ulster Unionist deputy chair David McNarry said his party wanted to start political life with the new minister with a "clean sheet" and be constructive.

He said if difficulties did arise: "We hope we can work through that and make progress."

Mr Storey told Mr O'Dowd that his predecessor Caitriona Ruane had failed to sufficiently fully engage with the sector.

"Without going over old ground and opening up what some would see as old sores, is it the case that you will engage with the entire spectrum within education?" Mr Storey asked.

Mr O'Dowd said he would engage with all groups but said disagreements had to be dealt with.

He revealed he had written to groups, including those in favour of defending academic selection, to seek a meeting.

"There will be challenges for all of us in those meetings," said Mr O'Dowd.

"I am on a pathway of trying to persuade people that academic selection is not the way forward."

Although no political progress has made been on post-primary transfer, the minister indicated the political parties have reached a broad consensus on the introduction of the Education Skills Authority (ESA), which could save £20m per annum in bureaucracy.

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