The Belfast Telegraph can reveal today that Sinn Fein is considering bypassing the Assembly to introduce a controversial new school transfer system in place of the 11-plus.
A leaked Sinn Fein briefing paper has been passed to this newspaper by Basil McCrea, education spokesman for the Ulster Unionist party, and outlines the possibility of new admissions criteria being issued to schools by Education Minister Caitriona Ruane in the form of 'guidance'.
Any grammar school which ignores the guidelines and continues to select pupils based on their academic ability would have to finance their own entrance tests and any appeals which result from this.
Speaking exclusively to the Belfast Telegraph, Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey said he would withdraw his department officials from a new process to plan for schools on a regional basis if the Executive does not quickly determine a joint position on education.
The Employment and Learning Minister said: "The Minister is just intending to do her own thing and I am not prepared to lend my name to a process which is drifting us into what I believe is a disastrous situation for the future of our schools."
Mr McCrea also warned yesterday that the DUP proposal to limit access to grammar schools to pupils who reach a high academic standard could reduce grammar school places by a third.
He added: "The Sinn Fein paper shows that the party intends to use the Department of Education's power with existing legislation to force schools to come into line."
Sinn Fein has confirmed that the document - which is dated April 7th, 2008 - was prepared by Assembly staff for a party meeting of elected councillors and Assembly members in Co Tyrone.
Party education spokesman Paul Butler said: "This is a briefing paper outlining the factual position relating to post-primary transfer at this time.
"It is no secret that the Minister Caitriona Ruane has sought to achieve the maximum consensus among stakeholders, educationalists and political parties on the way forward. She is currently concluding this process.
"When this happens the Minister will bring forward detailed proposals on the way forward within the framework set out in her December statement to the Assembly."