Belfast Telegraph

Monday 28 July 2014

Two Catholic grammar schools become latest to reject academic selection in Northern Ireland

Education Minister John O'Dowd
Education Minister John O'Dowd

Two Catholic grammar schools have become the latest in a growing trend to move away from academic selection.

Omagh Christian Brothers' School and Loreto Grammar, both in Co Tyrone, have announced that they will either phase out or end academic selection after a period of consultation with people in the local area.

The schools will now be part of a growing list of schools following plans laid out by the Church's bishops and signed by the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland to phase out academic selection at the age of 11.

Catholic schools have been hesitant to implement the proposed changes that would have seen all grammar schools move away from the use of academic selection for 100% of enrolments to a maximum of 75% of enrolments in time for the school intakes in 2014.

At the time of the announcement only one of Northern Ireland's 29 Catholic grammar schools did not sign up for a new year of transfer tests, however since then there has been a growing trend in the sector.

The schools said a consultation on the move was due to begin in September. It is understood the schools' authorities do not expect local opposition.

In a joint statement, the schools said: "The board of governors of Loreto Grammar School, Omagh, and the board of governors of the Christian Brothers' Grammar School, Omagh, in consultation with their respective trustees, have agreed to work together to move away in a phased process from academic selection.

"The boards of governors envisage that the implementation of the first phase will begin in September 2015 in accordance with an agreed time frame."

In March Education Minister John O'Dowd approved a plan to change St Michael's Grammar in Lurgan, Co Armagh, to all-ability, while the Loreto College in Coleraine, Co Londonderry, no longer uses selection.

St Patrick's Grammar School in Armagh city is also set to drop academic selection, while a proposal is in place to cut the proportion of academically selected pupils to St Mary's Grammar School in west Belfast.

The minister said he welcomed the Omagh schools' announcement that they were examining the possibility of moving away from using academic selection.

However, no formal change has been made and he encouraged people to make their views known during the consultation period.

The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools also welcomed the move by the two well-known grammar schools.

Background

The Department of Education has tried to end academic selection and the final official 11-plus test in Northern Ireland was held in 2008.

However, for the past five years many grammar schools have used unregulated transfer tests to select pupils.

There are two unofficial replacement systems for the 11-plus in operation, resulting in exams that have been criticised by parents. GL Assessment is used mostly for Catholic schools and the AQE (Association of Quality Education) sets a different exam for the other schools.

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