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Minister's plan to allow exam coaching in primary schools setting a dangerous precedent

The Catholic Principals' Association - representing educational leaders in 230 schools - is deeply disappointed and concerned by the recent statement issued by the Minister of Education Peter Weir relating to the issue of coaching and preparation in primary schools for unregulated, private tests.

We have consistently argued for a new vision for education in NI which goes beyond the sectional interests of some parts of our community - one which focuses on the educational needs of all pupils regardless of ability, social or community background. The new Department of Education guidelines are, in our view, regressive, contradictory and at odds with such a vision.

All children have a statutory and equal right to the primary curriculum. The minister should clarify, as a matter of urgency, how coaching in schools for private tests is consistent with this legal right. He and his department should also clarify how the "wishes of parents" vis a vis coaching might be determined by schools in line with the rights of children to teaching and learning at a level appropriate to their needs and abilities.

There is no syllabus or guidelines for these private tests - rendering preparation for these tests virtually impossible. Moreover, permitting coaching for unregulated tests sets a very dangerous precedent which could lead to an educational "free for all" and thus undermine the implementation and delivery of the primary curriculum - a curriculum which is admired worldwide. We believe the "guidelines" issued by the minister/Department of Education at the beginning of a new school term, will only cause further uncertainty and confusion for parents, school leaders and pupils. Moreover, it has the potential to damage the education of children in our schools and do long term damage to the system of education here.

We call on Archbishop Eamon Martin/CCMS to make an urgent statement re the position of the Catholic Church/ CCMS with regard to any advice/guidance offered to Catholic schools.

Carmel Dunn


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