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Revealed: experts’ verdict on selection impasse

By Kathryn Torney

The contents of a confidential report which aims to help our politicians resolve the long-running logjam over school transfer can be revealed today.

The paper calls for an urgent and full Assembly discussion to resolve the political stalemate on the issue.

And if academic selection remains in Northern Ireland, there should be a single, province-wide method of transfer from primary school.

These are among the key conclusions contained in the report compiled by a group of educationalists representing all school types here.

The Belfast Telegraph has obtained a copy of the Educationalists Advisory Panel’s document which was presented to Assembly members last month and its contents shrouded in secrecy ever since.

The 30-page, 16,000 word Portfolio of Advice was handed over to politicians from the DUP, Ulster Unionist Party, SDLP and Alliance Party — who have been meeting weekly since last October to try to agree on what should replace the 11-plus exam.

Sinn Fein has boycotted the cross-party talks which began shortly after the launch of the Belfast Telegraph’s Sit Down, Sort It Out campaign.

Key conclusions in the confidential report include:

  • If selection remains there should be a single, province-wide method of transfer from primary school.
  • Any new end-of-primary test should be formulated and led by school leaders assisted by expert test designers.
  • There is a need for a re-imaging and a restructuring of the post-primary sector in order to achieve parity of esteem across the whole spectrum. This will require a major injection of funding.
  • Free school meals is not the best social index to decide access to post-primary education and is not sufficiently robust for this purpose. This is one of Caitriona Ruane’s flagship policies.
  • A panel of head teachers should be established and consulted before any new school initiatives are put in place.

Sixty-seven schools opted to set their own independent entrance exams this year — ignoring appeals from Education Minister Ruane for all schools to abandon academic selection.

The educationalists say that any decision on whether academic selection remains must be for the Assembly, but offer their views on a wide range of issues.

They have previously recommended that a state transfer test should be reinstated for up to three years while a permanent compromise is arrived at. The panel members — who have unanimously backed the report’s contents — represent a range of school types and opinion on academic selection. The group is co-chaired by a former grammar and secondary school principal.

The educationalists’ paper — which is dated May 19 — contains three advice papers looking at short, medium and long-term issues. Much of it is in the form of answers to 21 questions posed by the politicians.

It is currently being considered by the political parties.

Writing in the report, the co-chairs Michele Marken and Paul Hewit said: “It is only our legislators, our MLAs, who have the power to resolve the impasse around selection at 11, but we hope that in this document they will find much to aid them in their deliberations and decision making.

“We ask that the urgency of this matter may be accepted by all concerned and hope procedures may be found to expedite a return to full discussion on the Assembly floor.”

Speaking last month, Sinn Fein education spokesman John O’Dowd dismissed the educationalists’ report — despite not having seen it.

He said: “Those involved in these backroom discussions fail to recognise the reality that even within the grammar sector there are those forward thinking, socially conscious educationalists, including decisions by the Catholic sector, who are planning to move away from the process of academic selection.”

Belfast Telegraph


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