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Creationism not on minister Weir's agenda for school curriculum in Northern Ireland

Peter Weir says although important that views are respected, he will not micromanage content to be taught within Northern Ireland's classrooms

By Rebecca Black

Published 27/10/2016

First Minister Arlene Foster, deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (right) and Education Minister Peter Weir with pupils Chantelle Salaja and Calvin Hamilton at the opening of the Arvalee School and Resource Centre in Omagh yesterday
First Minister Arlene Foster, deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (right) and Education Minister Peter Weir with pupils Chantelle Salaja and Calvin Hamilton at the opening of the Arvalee School and Resource Centre in Omagh yesterday

Education Minister Peter Weir says he has no plans to put creationism on the school curriculum.

Mr Weir clarified the matter in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph in which he also revealed fresh talks have started between the two bodies who set the unofficial transfer tests.

He also urged teachers not to strike amid the deepening row over pay.

There had been speculation that Mr Weir, as the first DUP minister to take the education brief, would introduce the theory of creationism favoured by many Christians to the curriculum.

While Mr Weir revealed the current curriculum is being reviewed, he said he will not micromanage the details.

"There will be a move to an overall review of the curriculum because it has been almost 10 years or more since there has been a review," he said.

"We want to ensure there are opportunities for all our young people. One size does not fit all in terms of where talents and abilities lie. There is still a thing where some people maybe have a slightly out-of-date perception of where career paths should take their children.

"There will be a lot of parents who would still aspire for their child to be a doctor, accountant or lawyer, and that is fine for some, but it may not be the best for others. It's about trying to embed a better knowledge about careers issues as well."

Mr Weir answered speculation about creationism.

"I think it is important that people's views are respected, I am trying to look at things strategically," he said.

"But if people seriously think I am going through textbooks with a red pen about what should be in and what should not be in ... that is not a realistic situation.

"I have great faith in schools in terms of the delivery of things, whatever they are delivering will always be done in a sensitive manner to respect people's views. I am not going to micromanage the curriculum in that sense."

Mr Weir was speaking to the Belfast Telegraph this week almost five months after taking on the role.

He hopes he has made a difference in terms of removing obstacles, such as relaxing the rules on primary schools being able to prepare pupils to sit the transfer test, negotiating with English examination boards AQA and OCR to ensure Northern Ireland students can still sit their GCSE exams, and opening up the teacher training scheme.

The minister also indicated that he has been encouraging unofficial transfer test setters AQE and GL to work together towards creating a single test.

Around 14,000 children sit the exams each year, and if a child sits tests from both they can face five papers.

"I have met with both of the bodies and we are starting to begin a process of dialogue to see what help and assistance could be there," he said.

"Given the demand, it is clear that academic selection is here to stay, there is a clear desire for that, it has not withered on the vine as maybe some would have predicted."

Mr Weir said it was clear there wouldn't be political consensus on the transfer test or academic selection.

He added: "My focus is making sure the process is as smooth as possible for those doing the test, hence the guidance I have issued, hence the work going on in discussions with the two organisations to try and facilitate whether there can be a narrowing of the gap between the two, or ideally one set of tests.

"Most children sit one test, although there is an overlap of around 2,000 who sit both ... If we had a single set it would be something that would be helpful."

Referring to the ongoing dispute between the teachers' unions and Education Authority, Mr Weir said he regretted threats of industrial action.

He said in this financial climate, it is not possible to grant the pay increases the unions have demanded.

"My primary focus is what impacts on the children, so therefore I would urge all the unions to think long and hard before they take any action," he said.

"I entirely appreciate the union's main role will be seen as to try and defend the interests of its members. I suppose there has to be an appreciation that we are not in particularly great economic times as regards public spending, and therefore there is a limitation on what can be done.

"Pay is a decision for the management side rather than the department. We are in the position that, given the pressure on school budgets, if for example there was a shift in the amount of money that was given to each individual teacher, inevitably I think that would lead to greater levels of redundancies.

"It's in many ways a not particularly nice choice, but it's a choice between greater levels of pay and losing more jobs, and if I can protect people's jobs I would regard that as my major priority."

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