Belfast Telegraph

Monday 15 September 2014

Minister reiterates 11-plus stance

Minister reiterates stance on 11-plus examinations

Sinn Fein's new education minister and unionist MLAs have signalled their wish to start with a "clean sheet" after years of division over scrapping the 11-plus transfer test.

John O'Dowd met the Assembly education committee for the first time and said that on the contentious issue of academic selection, he would seek to persuade his party's critics.

The DUP committee chairman Mervyn Storey said he hoped for a positive working relationship, while Ulster Unionist David McNarry said his party wanted to make a fresh start.

Mr Storey congratulated Mr O'Dowd on his appointment, but said he believed his predecessor Caitriona Ruane had failed to sufficiently engage with all sections of the education sector and asked the new minister what his plans were.

"Without going over old ground and opening up what some would see as old sores and old wounds, is it the case that you will engage with the entire spectrum within education?" Mr Storey asked.

"Can we take it that, as I think both myself and yourself as minister have endeavoured to do since your appointment, to create a different environment for education?"

Mr O'Dowd said he would engage with all groups but said disagreements had to be dealt with. "We shouldn't shy away from talking about transfer and our different views on academic selection, it's how we hold the debate which is important," said the minister.

He revealed he had written to groups including those in favour of defending academic selection to seek a meeting.

"There will be challenges for all of us in those meetings," said Mr O'Dowd. "I will be putting across my point of view and I have no doubt the individuals who have a different point of view to me will put across their point of view. I am on a pathway of trying to persuade people that academic selection is not the way forward."

Mr McNarry stated his party wanted to start political life with the new minister with a "clean sheet" and be constructive. He said if difficulties did arise: "We hope we can work through that and make progress for the children."

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