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Transfer chaos: 10,000 join Belfast Telegraph campaign

By Kathryn Torney

A total of 10,000 signatures demanding that the Executive sorts out the school transfer crisis will be delivered to Stormont next weekend.

And we are asking you to join us to send a message to our Government.

The petitions signed so far by the public demonstrate the massive support from all parts of Northern Ireland for our Sit Down, Sort It Out campaign in just eight weeks.

The campaign calls for Executive talks to reach an agreement in time for this year’s P6 pupils to transfer in 2011.

Following our call for action, representatives from the SDLP, UUP, DUP and Alliance Party opened weekly talks on the issue at Parliament Buildings. However, Education Minister Caitriona Ruane and her Sinn Fein party have boycotted each meeting.

We will be joined by parents, teachers and schoolchildren to deliver the petitions to the education committee next Saturday.

Everyone is welcome to join us at the main gates of Stormont at 12.30pm — just after thousands of young people sit the last paper of new school entrance exams set by the Association of Quality Education.

The leaders of the four parties currently involved in talks and Ms Ruane have also been invited to attend on the day.

We will continue our campaign until the Executive opens talks to reach political agreement on how children in Northern Ireland will transfer from primary to post-primary schools.

Belfast Telegraph editor Mike Gilson said: “We are delighted to have secured 10,000 signatures so far for our campaign and really hope that the Education Minister will not ignore this strong call from the public for action to be taken on this vitally important issue.

“The Executive ministers must sit down and sort the situation out so that this year's P6 pupils can transfer between schools without the stress and confusion which has blighted the final year of primary school for thousands of young people this year.”

Mervyn Storey, chair of the education committee, said: “The Minister for Education has thus far closed her ears to the cries of concerned parents, teachers and pupils over the future of post-primary education.

“She is doing a gross disservice to the public through her behaviour.

“I believe members of all the parties, with one exception, are committed to working towards finding a way forward on this vital issue and I salute the efforts of the Belfast Telegraph in applying pressure on this intransigent minister. If Caitriona Ruane won't listen to fellow Assembly members, perhaps she will be buried under an avalanche of signatures gathered by the Belfast Telegraph.”

He added that the continued operation of academic selection had to be the starting point for any discussion on the future of the education system.

If you would like to join us at Stormont, email ktorney@belfast|

Case Study

Catherine Lemon explains why she will be at Stormont next Saturday

“I am really glad to hear that the Belfast Telegraph’s campaign has secured that level of support. Ten thousand signatures is terrific.

“Some of my friends’ children are sitting the new exams this month and it fills me with trepidation to think that my daughter Niamh might face the same thing next year.

“Time is ticking away so it is essential that something starts to happen politically soon after Christmas if we want to have an agreed transfer system in place in time for this year’s P6s.

“I am going to Stormont next Saturday because I am very worried about what the future holds and I also do not think that the politicians really understand the depth of anxiety and stress parents are experiencing because of transfer.

“I am happy to hand over the petitions if this will help in anyway to improve their understanding.”

"I would encourage others to join my family and I next week. They may even get the chance to put their concerns about what is happening directly to the politicians. I really hope that the Minister will listen and take action once she is aware of the strong support the campaign has secured."

The story so far

SEPTEMBER 24: Launch of Sit Down, Sort It Out petition.

SEPTEMBER 25: Alliance Party leader David Ford says he will write to the other four main party leaders to ask them to nominate representatives for all-party talks.

SEPTEMBER 28: Dozens of MLAs — bar Sinn Fein — interrupt party meetings and join queues to add their name |en masse to the petition when we take it to Parliament Buildings.

OCTOBER 14: Alliance Party, DUP, SDLP and Ulster |Unionists take part in first school transfer weekly meeting at Parliament Buildings. Boycotted by Sinn Fein.

OCTOBER 19: UUP leader |Sir Reg Empey says not yet agreeing on a solution to the ongoing school transfer |debacle is the single biggest failure of the Northern |Ireland Executive.

OCTOBER 23: Ministers Sir Reg Empey and Margaret Ritchie issue joint call for |single item Executive meeting on school transfer.

NOVEMBER 5: The four |parties say a strong level of consensus and progress is being made during their weekly talks.

NOVEMBER 14: More than 7,000 children sit the first paper of new school entrance exams set by the Association for Quality Education.

NOVEMBER 21: 6,700 pupils sit GL Assessment exams set mainly by Catholic grammars.

NOVEMBER 27: We announce that 10,000 signatures |supporting the campaign will be delivered to Stormont next weekend.

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