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Last 11-plus results come through the letterboxes

By Kathryn Torney

More than 15,000 children across Northern Ireland made history today when they received results from the last ever 11-plus tests.

The P7 pupils found out this morning what grade they received from their two tests — which they sat in November.

The controversial exam has been scrapped by the Department of Education — however, no political agreement has yet been reached on its replacement.

A total of 15,378 10 and 11-year-olds took the 11-plus this year, out of a possible 22,970.

During each test, the young people had an hour to answer questions on English, mathematics, science and technology.

An A grade has been awarded to the top 25% of the entire age group eligible to transfer, then grade B1 to the next 5%, B2 the next 5% and so on until grade D, which has been awarded to the balance.

Caitriona Ruane has announced that she will issue admissions criteria guidelines for school transfer in 2010 and has recommended that grammar schools no longer use academic selection to determine their first year intake.

However, it is likely that up to 40 grammar schools will set their own entrance exams — which they are legally entitled to do.

The minister who has driven forward the abolition of the 11-plus against considerable opposition, particularly from unionist politicians, hailed its end.

In a message to pupils she said: “I would like to say to all children receiving their 11-plus results, you are making history, you were the last to take this test, you were the last ones to sit anxiously awaiting a grade which determines the school you will go to.”

The minister added: “While some will celebrate achieving the results they had wanted, many of our children may be disappointed. This is why I am glad this is the last year such letters will be dropping through letterboxes.”

Ms Ruane said she was responsible for all children and that was why she was engaged in the process of changing the education system.

“The sole aim of this change is to build on the successes of our current system while addressing the very serious inequalities and weaknesses which also exist.

“Weaknesses such as declining school numbers and the 12,000 young people per year who leave school without adequate numeracy and literacy skills. This is why the resolution of the issue of post-primary transfer is part of a much wider debate.”

Meanwhile, in a surprising move yesterday, the Alliance Party called on academic selection by examination to be maintained for at least two years, to avoid the education system falling into chaos.

Alliance education spokesperson Trevor Lunn announced the proposal following consultation with primary school principals.

The Lagan Valley MLA said: “There is now complete consternation among parents, teachers and pupils as to what system will be used to select children for all secondary and grammar schools.

“This chaotic situation has been brought on by an incompetent and divided Executive which has failed even to come close to agreement on the way forward.

“The Alliance Party would rather academic selection examinations were not part of our education system, and we maintain our view that a non-selective process at age 14, close to that which operates under the Dickson Plan, represents the way forward.

“However, selection is preferable to leaving the situation entirely unregulated. The idea of confronting parents with multiple confusing options will only work against those whom the Minister claims to want to help.”

As the 11-plus is consigned to history, a new blog has been established for parents and education experts to exchange views.

Professor Tony Gallagher |expressed his opinion at www.| and he appears to support the view put forward by Mr Lunn.

Prof Gallagher said: “The main political parties appear to be willing to wait until the other side blinks, but while that might make for good political theatre, it plays with the future of a generation of children and should not be seen by anyone as a price worth paying |either for change or no change.”

He added: “The practical option is to continue with selection for two or three years, to give time to agree mechanisms to make differentiation at age 14 work.”

A parent blogger expressed her frustration at the lack of information on how her daughter will transfer to a post-primary school.

She said: “I believed this would be something of a priority for our elected representatives. The current situation is a complete mess.”

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