Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Schools warn Ruane over exam plan

Grammar schools will go ahead with plans to set their own entrance exam if there is no movement from the Department of Education by the end of this month, Caitriona Ruane was warned today.

It has also emerged that the academic test - which could be used by up to 30 grammars - is likely to cost around £55 per pupil for those families who can afford to pay.

Lumen Christi College in Londonderry has already revealed plans to set its own entrance tests to determine entry from 2010.

Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, former head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service and a member of the pro-academic selection lobby group Association for Quality Education (AQE), said: "We have set a date towards the end of the month for grammar schools to say if they are definitely on board for a common entrance test.

"We plan to set up a company limited by guarantee but will only go this way as a last resort if there is no state managed test."

Sir Kenneth confirmed that the test is likely to cost £55 - for the families who can afford to pay.

He added: "Clearly we would not want to deter anyone from taking a test because they do not have adequate means to pay the fee. We would also be anxious to protect ourselves from any allegation of being elitist."

Meanwhile, a war of words continues to rage between DUP education spokesman Sammy Wilson and Education Minister Caitriona Ruane with both accusing the other of "living in cloud cuckoo land".

Ms Ruane told the Belfast Telegraph that she does not know what alternatives Mr Wilson has to offer - despite this newspaper reporting on a proposal put forward by the DUP early last month. Mr Wilson claims he has also outlined his party's proposals to the Minister on at least two occasions.

The DUP has suggested that grammar schools should be allowed to select pupils based on their academic ability but should only accept pupils who reach a certain academic standard — rather than filling to capacity at the expense of some secondary schools which is the case now.

Mr Wilson said: "The Minister's indecision and delaying tactics are causing huge uncertainty and stress for pupils, teachers and parents.

"The Minister states that she has consulted with many people, many schools and many groups and stakeholders, and that they agree with where she stands.

"It is now clear, however, that she is living in cloud cuckoo land. I urge the Minister to come out of her ivory tower and co-operate with the other parties so that consensus can be reached and the fears of parents, teachers and pupils put at ease.

"The Executive agreed to set up a sub-group to look at this issue but that was resisted by the Education Minister. The Executive now hears nothing from her."

In a statement the Minister said: "I have held a number of meetings with Sammy Wilson on this important issue and still do not know what alternatives he has to offer. It is he who is living in cloud cuckoo land if he believes that the current education system, which clearly does not serve all our children equally, can be simply tinkered with.

"I have already engaged with Executive colleagues in this process and will continue to do so when appropriate," she added.

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