Parents, pupils and teachers were today trying to steer their way through the chaos after Caitriona Ruane abandoned any chance of a school transfer compromise for next year.
With just months left to the end of the school year, the picture is more confused than ever.
The Education Minister confirmed yesterday that an unregulated education system would begin to operate from 2010 because no political consensus has been reached on the way forward.
Some schoolchildren – currently in P6 – face sitting a number of entrance exams later this year as Northern Ireland’s education system crumbles into confusion.
And teachers face a dilemma over what to teach the children – either defy the Minister to help them prepare for entrance tests or stick to teaching the revised curriculum alone.
Parents, too, will have tough choices to make. They need to decide if they will put their children through the school entrance tests and, if they do, how many to enter.
School administrators must consider the implications of |setting up their own entrance |examinations.
Although Ms Ruane has |recommended that no school uses a selective test to determine its intake, her advice is not legally binding.
The Minister has warned schools that they could face costly legal challenges from parents if they operate their own tests so already stretched school budgets could come under heavy strain if even one case is won that challenges a grammar school’s admission decisions.
Ms Ruane confirmed yesterday that she had scrapped work being carried out by local exams body CCEA on a new test which would have been used as part of her plan to phase out academic selection over three years.
So a state-run test is no longer an option.
Secondary schools will follow the Minister’s non-academic admissions criteria which are similar to traditional criteria already used by many schools.
However, 30 grammars have already confirmed they will stick to the plan to set their own entrance tests — at least eight others are likely to follow and other schools are known to be still considering their next move.
Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, chair of the Association for Quality Education, said that plans for grammar entrance tests were well advanced and based on “heavyweight legal advice”.
“It is a grave appointment, but by no means a surprise, that we are facing an unregulated situation in relation to transfer,” he continued.
“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. The Minister cannot impose upon us all by guidance constraints which cannot be embodied in law.”
A parent and teacher from west Belfast was one of many readers to post a strong message on the Belfast Telegraph website.
He said: “Grammar schools should join and set a single, common entrance test and thus help remove ambiguity, confusion and frustration surrounding this matter. Give the parents access to exemplar material and let them take it from there.
“My advice, as a parent and a teacher from west Belfast with experience of grammars and comprehensives and as a Sinn Fein supporter, is to do all you can to access a grammar school for the security of your child's future and the development of their educational potential.”