Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein attacks schools minister over plan to merge two transfer tests

By Rebecca Black

Sinn Fein has slapped down the DUP Education Minister's efforts to resolve a decade-old split between two unofficial transfer test providers.

The Belfast Telegraph revealed yesterday that the Association for Quality Education (AQE) and the Post-Primary Transfer Consortium (PPTC) will next week enter talks to agree a single unofficial test system.

The two groups which currently run the unofficial transfer tests - which see more than 14,000 entrants by P7 children across Northern Ireland each year - say they are "eager to work together to find a common transfer test".

The old official 11-plus test was abolished by former Sinn Fein Education Minister Caitriona Ruane in 2008.

In response to that, the AQE and the PPTC were set up by grammar school supporters to run unofficial transfer tests.

However, the two organisations have never been able to agree a single test system.

But in a statement they paid tribute to Peter Weir, saying significant policy changes under his watch offered them a starting point for talks.

When Mr Weir took on the Education portfolio last May, he was the first in the post since the restoration of devolution to back academic selection.

He said he would not reimpose the old 11-plus but would encourage negotiations to find a single unofficial transfer test.

The education brief had been held by successive Sinn Fein members Martin McGuinness, Ms Ruane and then John O'Dowd. All three were strongly against academic selection.

When Mr Weir took office last May he overturned a ban on primary schools being able to prepare pupils to sit the unofficial transfer tests during class hours.

And last October the minister appointed Durham University educationalist Professor Peter Tymms to lead an initiative to investigate whether agreement could be reached for a single transfer test in Northern Ireland.

Following the conclusion of his work this month, the AQE and the PPTC committed to enter talks to agree a single test.

However, Sinn Fein education spokesperson Barry McElduff slammed the progress towards the single test system.

He has claimed there have been improvements in educational attainment in recent years - which he says proves that academic selection is "both wrong and unnecessary".

"Sinn Fein believes strongly that academic selection in our schools has a hugely negative impact on children," he said.

"We are not alone in our opposition to academic selection.

"Many educationalists, parents, teaching unions, and both children's and human rights organisations also oppose academic selection.

"The Human Rights Commission in the north has called for the abolition of academic selection, as it is socially divisive and not in the educational interests of children or young people."

He added: "The huge improvements in educational attainment under successive Sinn Fein education ministers demonstrates clearly that academic selection is wrong and unnecessary."

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