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School experts to advise political parties on crisis

By Kathryn Torney

Four of the main political parties will be presented with possible interim school transfer arrangements by Easter, the Belfast Telegraph can confirm today.





A group of educationalists tasked to suggest ways to deal with the current logjam hope to provide their initial advice on short and medium term arrangements including what should happen for this year’s P6s.

The advisory group — made up of 12 experts — represents all school types and sectors in Northern Ireland and is being headed up by two former school principals with opposing opinions on academic selection.

Paul Hewitt is former headmaster of Royal School Dungannon and Michele Marken is the past principal of St Joseph's College in Belfast.

The group will advise representatives from the DUP, Ulster Unionist Party, SDLP and Alliance Party who are already taking part in weekly talks in a bid to find a resolution to the current political stalemate on the issue.

The cross-party talks — which Sinn Fein has refused to take part in — began after the Belfast Telegraph launched the Sit Down, Sort It Out campaign. Last month 10,000 signatures from members of the public backing the campaign were presented to the education committee.

The four political parties signed up for the talks have already agreed that an interim solution could involve the use of a selective test — supported by the Government — to be used for a time-limited period.

The education group’s aims are to advise on what should happen with this year’s P6s, interim arrangements and also longer term solutions.

The members represent primary, secondary, grammar, integrated, further and higher education and Irish medium schools. They are all taking part on a voluntary basis and their names will be confirmed at a later date.

Mr Hewitt said: “We will present our advice and options to the politicians. They may then choose to take this to the education committee.

“We took this on because we feel that we can make progress and give advice that is practicable and pragmatic in approach, affordable and widely acceptable to the whole community.

“It is my view that why things have failed in the past is because these principles have not been observed.

“We are all agreed that we do not want the same frenzied speculation, debate and anguish that happened last year to fall on this year’s P6s.”

Mrs Marken said: “We have deeply held views representing two different opinions on academic selection but Paul and I agreed that we must try to do something for the children and it is in that spirit that we are meeting.

“The members of the group all have deeply held views and that will be respected by all of us.

“The group has had a good, open start. They are all great people and very keen to contribute.

“Our job is to advise the four parties currently meeting on a weekly basis who are keen to find a solution.

“It will then be up to them to decide what to do with our advice but we would hope that it will help them to break the current logjam.”

Later this week the Belfast Telegraph will be publishing full details on all parents need to know about Saturday’s exam results.

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