“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…