Rebel grammar schools defying Caitriona Ruane today defended their plans to set up a new transfer test — despite new figures revealing that the 31 colleges accepted hundreds of pupils with 11-plus C and D grades last year.
Official statistics released to the Belfast Telegraph have raised questions for the grammars over the mixed ability range already in their classrooms.
According to the Department of Education, around a third of 2007's first preference first form intake at these schools did not receive A grades in the 11-plus examination.
In addition, more than 10% were categorised into the C and D grades by the controversial selection test.
It was announced last week that 31 grammar schools across Northern Ireland would use a common entrance exam from 2009, following the abolition of the 11-plus.
The move was seen as a major development in the battle over selection.
The Association for Quality Education (AQE) which plans to set up the exam said it would "measure the suitability" of P7 children for an academic education.
Figures now released by the Department of Education highlight a key aspect of the bitter debate, linked to the issue of falling rolls across the province.
They illustrate the fact that, in common with others in the grammar sector, many of the 31 rebels actually have a mixed ability intake.
According to the official statistics for first preference applications and admissions for 2007:
- 66% of the total admissions by the 31 schools last year involved pupils with a grade A at 11-plus.
- A further 21.7% — some 845 children — had B1 and B2 grades.
- 214 of the children had C1s (5.5%) and 114 (2.9%) had C2s.
- The percentage of pupils with Ds entering the 31 grammars stood at 2.1%, although this still involved 83 children. That brought to 411 the total of C and D grades in the intake.
- There was a wide variation in the 2007 figures for the schools on the rebel list.
Some remain dominated by A grade enrolments while others accepted more non-A than A grades.
For example, Cambridge House in Ballymena accepted 29 As, 16 B1s, 24 B2s, 26 C1s, 27 C2s and 18 Ds, the Departmental figures said.
Coleraine Academical Institution's intake included 31 As, 9 B1s, 11 B2s, 10 C1s, 12 C2s and 24 Ds, the statistics stated.
A leading teaching union today claimed secondary schools were bearing the brunt of falling enrolments, as grammars widened their intake.
Seamus Searson of the NASUWT said the grammar sector was taking children from across the board, including pupils with special needs in some cases.
"The teachers are in the wrong place sometimes. Some of the teachers with the experience and knowledge of dealing with children with special needs are being made redundant and teachers that are used to teaching academic children are facing real difficulties," he added.
He said the newly-released figures undermined the grammar lobby's rhetoric on selection.
However, pro-grammar figure Sir Kenneth Bloomfield said it was an " exaggeration" to suggest some grammars were becoming like comprehensives. "In a falling population, I think the entry has inevitably to some extent been diluted," he said.