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Row erupts over DUP’s ‘U-turn on selection’

By Kathryn Torney

Divisions between the DUP and Sinn Fein deepened today after Caitriona Ruane challenged Peter Robinson to “come clean” on his views on academic selection.

The Education Minister claimed that the First Minister called for selection at 11 to be ended in a DUP election manifesto in 1989.

Earlier this week Mr Robinson said that grammar schools and selection are “here to stay”.

In the latest in a series of headline-grabbing speeches, Mr Robinson criticised Ms Ruane saying: “No matter what attempts have been made to undermine grammar schools there is one simple and unavoidable fact — no matter how much the Education Minister might want to dump grammar schools, they are here to stay, and so is academic selection.”

He made the comments during a speech at the opening of a new school for Grosvenor Grammar in Belfast.

The Education Minister issued a statement yesterday through Sinn Fein’s Press office.

In it she said: “For the past number of years the DUP has set out to try and frustrate change and block progress in education.

“They have defended a system which fails thousands of children every year, particularly those in working class unionist areas.

“Mr Robinson along with Sammy Wilson and Mervyn Storey has been pedalling the line that support for academic selection at 11 is a sacred cow in DUP policy. This is a lie.

“In the 1989 DUP election manifesto, which is believed to have been largely written by Mr Robinson, and under which Mr Wilson stood as a candidate, it states: ‘We believe that selection at 11 should be ended. The 11-plus procedure is educationally unsound and socially divisive and places unnecessary strain upon children at a very early age.’”

The minister continued: “So the question for Mr Robinson is clear.

“He stood on a platform of abolishing the 11-plus on the grounds that it is educationally unsound yet since his elevation to office has sought to protect and defend a system which by his own admission is deeply flawed.

“Surely the time has now come for Mr Robinson to stop playing to the gallery and come clean to the electorate on where he actually stands on academic selection at 11.”

Strangford MLA Michelle McIlveen said: “It is no secret that the DUP does not favour the 11-plus procedure. That has been a long-standing position of the party.

“This is a weak attempt by SF and the minister to hide her blushes.

“Far from removing selection, the minister has presided while selection has been fortified.

“The DUP invested massive political capital at the St Andrews negotiations in preserving selection. For anyone to try to suggest our commitment is anything less than total is ridiculous. We had the Labour Government’s 2006 Education Order rewritten to ensure pupils can be placed at the most appropriate school for their needs.”

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