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Executive 'not going to collapse' over transfer test issue, says former Education Minister John O'Dowd


One AQE exam is due to be held next month (PA)

One AQE exam is due to be held next month (PA)

One AQE exam is due to be held next month (PA)

Former Stormont Education Minister John O'Dowd has said the Executive "is not going to collapse" over the issue of transfer tests.

He was speaking ahead of a meeting of Stormont ministers on Friday.

Transfer tests were due to be held over the next five weeks, beginning on Saturday, however these were cancelled by exam providers on Tuesday, except for a sole AQE test to run in February.

This has caused an apparent split in the Executive, with Sinn Fein and others calling for the test to be scrapped, while the DUP are pushing for it to go ahead.

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey called for the Executive to discuss plans to hold the AQE test next month, expressing concerns over the "mental and emotional wellbeing of young people".

Speaking to the BBC, John O'Dowd said the Executive "is not going to collapse over the issue".

"We are not planning to have a row - we are planning to have a sensible, reasonable discussion, in a political forum" he said.

"I think the impact on our children is what has to be considered rather than what the political impact will be."

Mr O'Dowd pointed out that both Children's Commissioner Koulla Yiasouma and the Mental Health Champion Professor Siobhan O'Neill have called on the test to be scrapped.

"Those calls should not be ignored and the Executive should not ignore them," he added.

Alliance leader and Justice Minister Naomi Long told the BBC's The View on Thursday night that it would be "unfortunate" if the DUP used a cross-community voting mechanism to block moves at the Executive's meeting to scrap the AQE test.

"The last thing that stressed parents and stressed 11-year-olds need is another meltdown in the Executive, another round of bickering," she said.

"I will deploy my vote, although it may not carry, I will vote not to do transfer [tests] this year, but I will also be imploring all of my colleagues before we get to that point - because in truth I don't think any of us want a showdown.

"The education minister has the power to direct for this year, and this year only, and I am willing to park all my concerns about transfer [tests], that there should be no examination and find another way to do [the process]."

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, however, accused those parties calling for the Executive cancel the test of using the pandemic" to advance their anti-academic selection ideology.

"There is no question of the transfer test going ahead if the public health conditions at that time do not permit it," he said.

"This is a legitimate choice being made by parents and schools. It is perfectly legal for schools to select pupils on the basis of academic ability.

"We want to facilitate that choice and particularly for those children who are an only child or the eldest child in a household.

"There must be a fair process of transfer which does not disadvantage those pupils who live far away from school.

"Those who want to use the pandemic to stop academic selection should be honest and outline their real objective is to close grammar schools and stop hiding behind other arguments."

Belfast Telegraph