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11-plus: just 73 days and counting

Minister under pressure to announce new system

By Lisa Smyth

Just 73 days remain before the deadline passes for work to begin on a replacement for the doomed 11-plus, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal today.

As thousands of P7 pupils prepare to sit the second 11-plus test this Friday, time is fast running out for the Education Minister to announce details of the new post-primary transfer system.

The body responsible for the implementation of the transfer test, the Council for the Curriculum Examinations and Assessment, has told the Telegraph that it has set a deadline of January 31 next year for direction from Caitriona Ruane if it is to create an alternative transfer test which can be run in conjunction with the revised curriculum.

The 11-plus is due to be axed next year and so far Ms Ruane has refused to be pressed on making an announcement about a new transfer system.

While she has appealed for calm from teachers and parents on the matter, she was coming under increasing pressure today to make her intentions public.

As a spokesman from the Department of Education confirmed that Ms Ruane has no imminent plans to make an announcement on the matter, Education Committee member, Basil McCrea, called for clarity and challenged the Minister to reveal the timetable she is working to.

He said: "I think we need to know if the Minister agrees with the deadline that has been set by CCEA. There are few things more important to parents than the future of their child's education so she is putting everyone in a very unfair position by refusing to enter into debate on this.

"It is very unreasonable of her to ask people to be patient. It's a bit like telling people on the Titanic not to worry.

"We have been told nothing so far, except a few whispers through the media about transfer at the age of 14. Either the Minister knows exactly what she is going to do and is so confident about her plans she feels she doesn't need to tell anyone, or she is being driven by a political agenda to do away with academic selection but doesn't know what should replace it and is hoping something will come along. My own personal feeling is that she isn't on top of her brief."

Jack Magill, principal of Foyle and Londonderry College, branded removing the 11 Plus with nothing as yet to replace it as "negligent".

He also warned that politicians who saw the move as a vote- winner could be in line for a "ballot box backlash" if the moves throws current education structures into chaos.

Mr Magill said: "It is not just that there is not a better plan, there is no plan at all, and I am astonished that we have got to this stage without there being some form of guidelines on how we're going to proceed. It is very destabilising to have such a long period without a plan."

In a letter to members of the Education Committee, acting chief executive of CCEA Neil Anderson said: "The format of the current transfer tests would require adaptation for use beyond 2008.

If transfer tests were used in the 2009/10 school year they would have to reflect the phased introduction of the revised curriculum from 2007 onwards.

"The test development and quality assurance cycle is necessarily detailed and exhaustive and in normal circumstances takes place over a 16-month period.

"To manage the development of quality assured transfer tests properly adapted for use in November and December 2009 CCEA would have to commence the test development cycle six months earlier than has been normal to date and we would therefore require direction to undertake this work no later than January 2008."

As the deadline for the creation of a new transfer test approaches it is looking increasingly likely that the Minister intends to plump for a new system without any form of academic selection.

She has hinted at her preference for children to make their own subject choices at the age of 14 - without academic selection - which would mean any kind of transfer test would be axed.

Belfast Telegraph

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