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Primary schools told of breakaway grammar school entrance exams

By Kathryn Torney

Every primary school in Northern Ireland has received detailed information about the new common entrance exam being developed for 30 grammar schools.

The Common Entrance Assessment (CEA) will be used by the schools to determine their first year intake after the 11-plus test is scrapped later this year.

An information pack has been sent out to all primary principals containing the expected timetable, and a guide for parents.

The pupils currently in P5 will be the first to transfer to post-primary schools under the new system.

Education Minister Caitriona Ruane has put forward a proposal to phase out academic selection over three years but, so far, does not have the cross-party support needed to get this through the Assembly. She has already commissioned exams body CCEA to work on a temporary test.

The CEA will consist of three papers. They will assess English and Mathematics but will not include a science element. Marks will be awarded on the basis of the best two scores.

Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, chair of the Association for Quality Education (AQE), said: "We bring forward our proposals with real reluctance, but in the conviction that academic selection remains lawful, that there is no prospect whatever of the necessary political agreement to prohibit it, and that every successive test of wider public opinion has endorsed its retention.

"The incumbent Minister has closed her mind to these realities, dealt with us as 'stakeholders' on the basis of a repetitive monologue, and finally unveiled an absurd 'compromise' in terms of a slow death of academic selection rather than its summary execution.

"These proposals are unacceptable to us, can never win sufficient support to be put in place, and would therefore leave an abhorrent vacuum after the final '11-plus'.

"If the Minister cannot or will not credibly fill that vacuum, others must do so. Further indefinite drift is unthinkable."

He added that the CEA will test whether, in terms of the key basic skills of literacy and numeracy, a child can cope with a curriculum and ethos of academic rigour.

In response to questions from the Belfast Telegraph, AQE said that they hoped to use the Department of Education application forms and that parents could apply to a number of schools.

Pupils sitting the tests will be awarded a score rather than a grade and it will then be up to individual schools to decide how these are used.

Some may allocate places in rank order while others may decide to use different criteria to allocate places among pupils they judge as suited to a grammar school place.

Entrance test is a re-hash of the 11-plus, claims MLA

By Matthew McCreary

Details of new grammar school tests for academic selection have been dismissed as a "re-hash" of the existing 11-plus exam.

Thirty local grammar schools yesterday unveiled details of the Common Entrance Assessment, which will consist of three one-hour papers which are similar in format to the current 11-plus test.

The schools have taken the step as they say the Department of Education has not brought forward a satisfactory alternative.

Sinn Fein Assemblyman John O'Dowd hit out at the Association for Quality Education (AQE) which yesterday sent out packs to primary schools across Ulster with information on the new test.

"This body are setting out how taxpayer's money is to be spent without any accountability to the taxpayer," he said.

"They have re-hashed the 11-plus and try to sell it as a new package. It failed in the past and I have no doubt it will fail education in the future.

"Our focus remains on the fact that the Minister has proposals on the Executive table and there is now a duty on the other Executive parties to discuss those proposals so they can unfold and allow the process to move forward.

"The grammar schools involved in this are wedded to academic selection. "

Ulster Unionist Assemblyman Basil McCrea said the move had been forced on the schools.

"It is a shame that it has come to this but what else can people do?" he said.

"What parents want to know with some clarity is — what does my child have to do to get them to their school of choice?

"The clock has been allowed to run down deliberately. It is right that these schools bring out some form of guidance and the Minister of Education should not have let it come to this."

The DUP's Mervyn Storey, who is chair of the Education Committee at Stormont, welcomed the publication of the details, but stressed that it was not an ideal solution.

"They have moved to bring about a situation that gives clarity and certainty when the Minister has failed to bring about clarity and certainty," he said.

"Schools should not be forced to go it alone. They have been pushed into that position by the unbending attitude of the Education Minister.

"However, I do believe that a way forward can be found if the Minister is prepared to act in a flexible and even-handed manner. I and my colleagues on the Education Committee will be pressing her in that direction over coming days."

Belfast Telegraph


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