“rather than trying to pretend that essentially, testing does not exist”

As the BBC notes, the Northern Ireland Education Minister, the DUP’s Peter Weir, has reversed the department’s previous position prohibiting the use of academic selection to decide what post-primary school pupils transfer to.  That position was set out in 2008 by then NI Education Minister, Sinn Féin’s Caitríona Ruane, and upheld by the subsequent Minister, Sinn Féin’s John O’Dowd.  From the BBC report

A circular sent to school principals on Wednesday removes any prohibition on using academic selection to decide what post-primary school pupils transfer to.

As a result primary schools can prepare pupils for the AQE and GL Assessment tests during normal class time.

However, the education minister has decided against re-introducing a common, department-run 11-plus test, admitting there was not enough political support to bring back an official exam.

“I have been resolutely supportive of academic selection and, indeed, the right of people to have academic selection,” Mr Weir told the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme.

“This is actually about providing freedom to schools. They now have the freedom to choose whether to prepare their pupils, what level of help and assistance they can give in terms of preparation tests.”

He said his decision to allow primary schools to formally prepare pupils for unofficial tests was “reflecting the reality of what is happening out on the ground, rather than trying to pretend that essentially, testing does not exist”.

However, Mr Weir said no school would be “compelled” to carry out the preparation.

And from the ministerial press release

Peter Weir said:

“This week marks 100 days into my term as Education Minister. I have been clear from the outset that I support academic selection and wanted to reflect the widespread public support for its retention and for the process to be improved.

“The guidance which has been sent to schools today allows primary schools to respond to parental demand to prepare children for the transfer tests.  Importantly, it removes any perceived threat to primary schools involved in supporting children through the process of transfer.

“This is a significant change to an area where no progress or agreement had been made for a significant period of time.”

Continuing the Minister said that every child, regardless of background, postcode, social group, religion or ethnicity has the opportunity to get into a grammar school.

He said:

“Grammar schools can, by setting demanding standards and offering rich educational opportunities, secure impressive outcomes for those who will derive the greatest benefit from them.

“This in no way diminishes the excellent work being carried out in our non-selective post primary schools.  Those who did not attend Grammar schools have likewise gone on to make a very significant contribution to the social and economic life of our country.”

Of course, the lack of political agreement within the NI Executive that the BBC report mentions, in regard to “re-introducing a common, department-run 11-plus test”,  means we will continue to have, in effect, a privatised and unregulated selection process for post-primary grammar schools.

A separate BBC report adds

Ralph Magee, headmaster at Andrews Memorial Primary School in Comber, County Down, leads one of the schools that openly coached pupils for the unofficial transfer tests.

“From our perspective, we were on the naughty step,” Mr Magee told the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme.

“It was public that we were, because we were honest about what we were doing.”

Last year, 93% of his P7 pupils completed the unregulated tests in a bid to secure a grammar school place.

The headmaster said the decision by Education Minister Peter Weir to reverse government policy removes the “perceived threat” to schools who had continued to coach pupils since the abolition of the 11-plus exam in 2008.

“What it doesn’t change is the fact that testing is still unregulated and we still have two private companies essentially vying for business, and that I don’t think is helpful,” Mr Magee said.

“Parents in this position can’t really be blamed, they’re stuck in the middle.”

Interesting to note this comment from that last archived Slugger post in 2009.

…it’s worth repeating the reported comments from NI First Minister, Peter Robinson, in June last year

“Resolving the problems over education is an issue which could define the executive, First Minister Peter Robinson said. He said everybody needed to get into negotiation mode and get down to the business of getting agreement. Mr Robinson said if they could agree over education it would show they could agree over anything.”

And since they couldn’t agree..

Progress, then…

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  • mickfealty

    Now why would they do that? 😉 Besides, it’s a highly illustrative story. Now the Department can honestly stop pretending it is going to discipline any school for breaching the rules.

  • Thomas Barber

    All those under achieving Protestant children in DUP constituencies can now all breathe a sigh of relief now that the DUP has, after investing much time and energy, restored order in the Education system. Im sure there will be street parties on the Shankill and East Belfast tonight.

  • Korhomme

    Do we really need this constant rewriting of the rules? Why cannot the executive decide on a policy and stick to it?

    And is there any *evidence* that grammar schools are a good thing?

  • T.E.Lawrence

    I think the DUP gave up on them kids and them communities along time ago !

  • Korhomme

    I’ve heard that; some call it spoonfeeding.

    And, I’ve as heard that kids from NI have a greater fall-out rate when they go to Uni than kids from other areas. This, it’s said, reflects an inability to work on their own.

  • Thomas Barber

    That doesn’t stop them from using those same children and communities as political cannon fodder whenever the need arises T.E. Maybe the next time a political diversion is needed to take our eyes off the ball they might just get a look in however as usual there’s always a price to be paid.

  • Croiteir

    Or an inability to meet the financial requisites. To use your point is there ny evidence of this being true and if so why?

  • Croiteir

    Well done the DUP, this puts freedom and power back towards the parents and schools were it belongs and long may this continue. Of course the socialists who like to run everyone’s lives for them will be outraged. Good. I hope there is a lot more outrage for them ahead.

  • Gopher

    Welcome this and it will help under achievement in that parents (with sense) will want to stick their babes in primary schools that achieve high transfer rates. Those schools that don’t achieve a decent rate should be left wither as uptake declines. If we can get to a stage were teachers employment depends on their ability to produce educated children so much the better. We can then streamline our bloated education system and reinvest the money in success.

  • Korhomme

    I heard this some years ago, really before Uni fees were jacked up to their present level.

    I’m not at all sure abut the evidence base; it might have been correct in the past.

    However, it was also said that girls did better (academically) in single-sex schools; I gather that more recent evidence shows that this isn’t correct.

    And anyway, are academic results the only measure of a school?

  • T.E.Lawrence

    “They might just get a look in !” Don’t Kid Yourself ! Them Kids and Communities have been thrown on the scrap heap along long time ago, but I suppose they serve some useful purpose as the front line in the trenches behind those Peace Walls, as you can sure as hell bet once the Hand-to-Hand Combat has to take place in the “Back Streets” those illustrious political leaders living in Middle Class Suburbia will be along with them Night and Day in the Battle ? NOT !

  • John Collins

    Just the other day I heard that Colleges Fees are £9,000 in the UK and they are €3,000 in the ROI.

  • Korhomme

    Not quite: fees are up to £9000 in England and Wales; this is the maximum, though most places charge it. If you live in Scotland, AFAIK there are no fees, but full fees if you come from E&W and study in Scotland. If you’re from NI and go to Scotland, you can be an ‘international’ student and pay no fees – you might have to be an Irish citizen, I’m not totally sure.

    In RoI fees, except the €8 for the students union, were paid by the government until quite recently. This applied even if you came from NI.

  • hgreen

    Delighted to see you are all for personal freedom, empowerment and the rights of people to make choices.

  • hgreen

    Do we not have the highest percentage of school leavers with no qualifications in the UK?

  • John Collins

    Thanks for the clarification.

  • Croiteir

    delighted you are delighted