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Information challenge to Minister

An Open letter to Caitriona Ruane

Dear Minister,

As the representative voice of the 52 voluntary grammar schools in Northern Ireland, the Governing Bodies Association is concerned about confusion over special circumstances procedures relating to the recent independent transfer tests.

Confusion is unsurprising given the circular dated February 9, 2010 from the Department of Education that advised primary principals that schools should not "in law, provide performance information relating to any of its pupils to any other school".

This relates to the transferring of anonymised comparative data from a primary school to a post-primary school as part of the special circumstances procedure.

Parents of children who, for varying reasons, may not have performed at their best in transfer tests were entitled to an appeal procedure to have their child's overall academic ability taken into account by a post-primary school's board of governors. As part of this process, the performance of their child compared to his or her peer group would be useful.

This year the two groups operating transfer arrangements decided to operate the same flexibility and compassion that the previous system permitted and, indeed, would have been criticised if they had not made these provisions.

The GBA is unclear when the law changed from permitting the transfer of anonymised comparative data to prohibiting transfer of this information.

Having asked the Minister's officials for clarification as to which piece of legislation effected this change, the GBA was told it was DENI policy that had changed and the legislative position remained as it has always done.

It is our view that the Departmental circular has led to a situation where some primary schools will provide this information to a post-primary school and some may not. This could have the effect of putting children of schools who refuse to release the requested data at a disadvantage.

This outcome is inequitable and we call on the Minister to clarify the situation surrounding the transfer of anonymised comparative data and explain how any change in its legality has come about since Transfer 2009.

REV KEVIN DONAGHY

Chairman, Governing Bodies Association

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