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Ruane has left us in legal limbo, says grammar schools body

By Kathryn Torney

Schools which followed Caitriona Ruane's guidance on removing academic selection could be exposed to legal challenges, a body representing grammars has said.

The Governing Bodies Association (GBA), which represents 52 voluntary grammars across |Northern Ireland, has obtained legal advice which it says leaves the Education Minister's school admissions policy “in tatters”.

The GBA has called for a full |inquiry into the administrative and legal practices of the department under the minister. Ms Ruane accused the group of searching for obstacles to change.

The minister's Transfer 2010 guidance directs all post-primary schools to set non-academic admissions criteria and to use free school meals entitlement as their first criterion for entry. But schools are still legally permitted to use academic selection.

A total of 68 schools set their own entrance exams this year and 200 schools defied the directive on free school meals.

The GBA says that legal opinion it commissioned shows that schools have a duty to conduct extensive consultation if they are making significant changes.

It claims the lack of this consultation in the guidance leaves individual schools open to legal challenge from parents.

Director John Hart said: “It is the clear and unavoidable duty of the department to ensure that schools are properly guided on the requirements of the law. They must seek the views of governors, trustees and parents before making an official application to their local education authority in the form of a document known as a development proposal,” he said.

“However, Transfer 2010 makes absolutely no mention of the phrase ‘development proposal’ on any one of its 39 pages. It would appear that either the minister was unaware of the requirement or felt it too minor an issue to mention.”

He claimed that if a school followed her guidance without a development proposal, the school, not the department, could face a legal challenge.

“The very least the minister could do now is explain to any school that did make changes according to her guidance as to how she intends to offer them legal protection. The credibility of Catriona Ruane’s flagship policy of Transfer 2010 now lies in tatters,” he claimed.

But Mrs Ruane responded: “It is for the department to determine any dispute as to whether or not a proposed change should be regarded as significant.

“In the meantime, however, if a school wishes to bring forward a development proposal to implement the new admissions arrangements the department will ensure it is processed expeditiously.

“The GBA would be better adapting to this change, rather than searching for obstacles.”

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