It was confirmed last night that at least 30 grammars across Northern Ireland will continue with their plan to establish their own entrance tests.
The schools, which are represented by the Association for Quality Education (AQE), are ignoring an appeal from Caitriona Ruane yesterday for all schools to abandon academic selection.
A chaotic and confusing unregulated education system has become a reality after the Education Minister admitted yesterday she had been unable to reach agreement with her Assembly colleagues on a replacement for the 11-plus exam.
Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, AQE chair, said that plans for the grammar entrance tests were well advanced and based on “heavyweight legal advice”.
The 30 grammar schools are likely to be joined by another eight schools which previously announced their intention to set their own selective exams. It is understood many Catholic schools are also considering using independent tests.
Yesterday, the Education Minister confirmed she was scrapping her offer to phase out academic selection over three years and instead announced new non- academic admissions criteria guidance for schools.
In a statement to the Assembly, Ms Ruane said she could not defend an education system “built around and geared towards the needs of 40% of our children”.
Last week a proposal paper she produced asking for ministers to back the phasing out of selection failed to make it onto the Executive agenda.
Ms Ruane said yesterday she had attempted to reach a consensus with her Executive colleagues but that the DUP and UUP had made their positions clear. She said she had exhausted all of the options for achieving agreed new regulations for school transfer so she would now move forward to give clarity to parents, teachers and pupils.
The Minister confirmed that there would be no Department of Education test provided and that she would issue guidance to schools which they are obliged in law to “have regard” for.
The guidance, which has been issued for 12 weeks of consultation, recommends that schools do not use academic admissions criteria and puts forward special provision for applicants receiving free school meals.
From 2010 schools will be able to choose from a menu of criteria, including sibling at the school, eldest child and catchment area.
The Minister said: “I hope grammar schools choose to stop using academic selection not just because of serious difficulties that are likely to accompany independently operated procedures, but because of the interests and needs of children.
“I believe that the breakaway grammar schools will in time accept that their pupils are better served if they are part of, rather than outside, the mainstream education system.”
Ms Ruane warned primary schools against helping to prepare pupils for grammar entrance tests. She said: “Primary schools should note that this is not required of them, and they should not skew teaching away from the revised curriculum.”
Sir Kenneth said: “It is a grave disappointment, but by no means a surprise, that we are facing an unregulated situation in relation to transfer. The numerous schools across the province associated with the AQE have made it clear that, in the absence of an agreed regulated situation, they will join together to mount their own tests to assess academic ability.
“It is not to be supposed that we have contemplated this course without seeking and obtaining heavyweight legal advice. The Minister cannot impose upon us all by guidance constraints which cannot be embodied in law.
“In anticipation of this unwelcome situation, the AQE's plans to establish and operate a testing system on which schools deciding to include academic entry criteria may draw are well advanced.
“Schools choosing to assess academic ability on this basis will be anxious to inform interested parents in good time of the nature, content and timing of AQE tests, which will assess literacy and numeracy on the basis of the prescribed curriculum.”
Viewpoint, Page 24