In the Belfast Telegraph, Kathryn Torney reports that the Department of Education has confirmed that
“post-primary schools will be able to set their own admissions criteria – which can include the results of academic tests – if, as expected, a restored Assembly fails to agree on a way forward.”
[The DUP’s Sammy] Wilson said that the assurance that schools could set their own criteria was secured during the St Andrews talks.
“There has now been confirmation that schools will be able to do their own thing if there are no centrally agreed arrangements for 2009,” he said.
“We would not want this to be a permanent arrangement but at least there will not be the chaos people feared because schools will be able to set their own criteria. This can be used as a safeguard if people decide to stick their heels in and go for no agreement. That is one reason we asked for it.”
Sinn Fein’s education spokesman, Barry McElduff, revealed that the possibility of schools setting their own admissions criteria was “news to me”.
“I am very concerned and will be seeking clarification from Maria Eagle’s office on this issue,” he said.
“Whether it is computer adaptive testing or school entrance exams, I am opposed to academic selection by the front door or back door.”
UUP education spokesman, David McNarry, said that he could not tolerate a situation where schools would be left to set their own admissions criteria.
“I feel it is totally unprofessional for the department to leave schools to sort out the mess they have created,” he said.
“There would just be a free for all and it would create more confusion for parents and lead to pupils being caught in a whirlwind.
“There is also the risk of court action if parents are not satisfied with a school’s decision.”
The SDLP’s education spokesman, Dominic Bradley, said: “I think it would be a total mess if schools set their own criteria and it would be much more confusing for parents, schools and pupils than even the present situation.”
A spokesman for the Department of Education said: “If a restored Executive and Assembly cannot agree on new arrangements or on the content of new admissions criteria regulations, each school would have to determine its own criteria.
“These could include academic selection, on a basis chosen by the school. In the interests of the children and their parents, there is a clear expectation that the Assembly will work to end the uncertainty about future arrangements as soon as possible and ensure that an effective admissions system is put in place.”[added emphasis]