Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Ruane urged to publish legal advice on transfer plans

Northern Ireland Education minister Caitriona Ruane today faced calls to publish legal advice on changes to academic selection which have polarised the Executive.

Fierce DUP critic Mervyn Storey made the call after parents were left facing a legally unregulated system of transfer to secondary school in 2010.

Ms Ruane yesterday blamed Executive divisions for thwarting her efforts to phase out examinations over three years and leaving scores of schools planning to set independent entrance tests. She has issued guidance which doesn't carry the force of law.

Mr Storey claimed: "She should explain to the whole community how she can legally justify what she did in the House yesterday.

"Failure to produce the legal advice will lead people to question its very existence and open the minister up to further public ridicule."

Her guidance was issued using the Education Order (NI) 1997 which said the Department may issue and revise guidance as it thinks appropriate for admission of pupils to grant-aided schools.

She discouraged schools from using academic selection but they are under no compunction to do so, simply to "have regard" for the advice.

Over 30 schools have already planned to set their own test, although the minister has warned this could prompt court challenges, possibly from aggrieved parents if their child is snubbed.

Ms Ruane has accused the DUP and UUP of standing in the way of progress. She has scrapped the 11-plus and wants to improve the prospects of the disadvantaged and many who attend secondary schools.

Many young people are leaving school without at least a grade C at GCSE Maths or English.

Union leaders have supported her in the past but some Catholic and Protestant parents and teachers have voiced disquiet over alleged confusion.

Mr Storey added: "Yesterday represented an admission of defeat on the part of the Education Minister, Caitriona Ruane.

"She was forced to concede that academic selection can continue in Northern Ireland.

"It is a matter of regret that she spurned the offers of other political parties including the DUP to find a consensus on this issue."

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