In the Guardian Henry McDonald has a lengthy report on the privatised post-primary transfer system we now have. Of particular interest is the warning, from Frank Bunting, northern secretary of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, of potential legal action.
Teachers’ unions have confirmed that the grammars, both state and Catholic, may end up in the courts if they turn down children on the basis of them not having sat the selection tests. “I don’t think there is any doubt that there will be legal challenges facing the grammars when the decisions are taken on who gets in early next year,” says Frank Bunting, northern secretary of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (Into). Bunting, whose union has 6,500 members in Northern Ireland, says the challenges are likely to come in areas where the education minister’s party, Sinn Féin, is strongest.
And, also in the Guardian report, some comments from the principal of Lumen Christi College in Londonderry
Despite being under siege from the combined forces of the department of education, the Catholic church and the teaching union, Lumen Christi’s principal, Patrick O’Doherty, believes there is strength in numbers.
“Lumen Christi was indeed the first Catholic college to opt for an entrance test,” he says, “but since then over 30 Catholic grammar schools and several non-Catholic schools, including integrated schools, have joined together in a consortium arrangement, sharing a common entrance assessment. Children can thus sit the examination in any of these schools and apply for a place in any other on the basis of their test score. The test is based on English and mathematics taught in the primary school curriculum.”
Like many defenders of the grammar schools, O’Doherty contends that the department’s alternative guidelines for school admissions will come down to a crude postcode lottery.
“It remains the intention of the college to operate academic selection in the near future, since the board of governors is committed to providing an excellent academic education for those pupils who seek such an educational pathway. The board believes that academic selection is both the most educationally sound and the most equitable means of selection, rather than compelling pupils to attend their nearest local comprehensive and thereby initiating in Northern Ireland a postcode lottery for parents and pupils,” says O’Doherty.
“However, like all grammar schools in Northern Ireland, Lumen Christi would have preferred to avoid the use of an entrance test altogether, and had lobbied the minister for education to allow schools to use ongoing primary school assessments and pupil profiles for the purpose of academic selection, thus avoiding the need for an entrance examination.”