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Announcement due from political talks on transfers

By Kathryn Torney

A significant announcement is expected to be made later this week as a result of ongoing political talks on school transfer sparked by the Belfast Telegraph’s Sit Down, Sort it Out campiagn.

Four of the five main political parties are planning to release an important joint statement on Wednesday — after their fifth weekly meeting at Parliament Buildings.

Three days after this meeting, 7,023 P7 pupils will sit the first Common Entrance Assessment (CEA) exam set by the Association for Quality Education.

These are the among the entrance exams being used by many grammar schools across Northern Ireland to replace transfer by the 11-plus after it was scrapped last year.

The talks began following the September launch of the Belfast Telegraph’s Sit Down, Sort it Out campaign — which is calling for focused Executive talks on the issue to resolve a bitter political impasse on the future of transfer.

The campaign is backed by the SDLP, DUP, UUP and Alliance Party. Sinn Fein has criticised the campaign and is boycotting the political talks — despite over 6,000 members of the public backing the petition so far.

We will deliver the first batch of our petitions to the Assembly’s education committee at Parliament Buildings on Saturday, December 5.

Meanwhile, the SDLP has reiterated its call for Education Minister Caitriona Ruane — who is against academic selection and is urging grammar schools to abandon the tests — to participate in the weekly talks with fellow MLAs.

The party’s education spokesman Dominic Bradley said: “The inter-party talks have already identified many areas of broad agreement and we are working on proposals for a long-term solution to be devised by educators.

“The Minister should be leading that process instead of telling parents just to put up with the stand-off she has created.”

Ulster Unionist education spokesman Basil McCrea said: “Sinn Fein's refusal to engage meaningfully with the other parties continues to be a major obstacle to progress.

“At some stage the Executive will have to demonstrate leadership and confront this matter. One rejectionist party cannot be allowed to stand in the way of progress.”

And DUP education spokesman Mervyn Storey said: “Any solution will require cross-party support and the Minister’s refusal to support these talks is simply creating further chaos and confusion for parents and pupils across Northern Ireland.”

. To join our Facebook group, search for ‘Sort Out the Transfer Maze’.

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