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Education minister hints at new 11-plus

A single 11-plus-style test could be introduced, new education minister Peter Weir said

A NEW single academic selection test may be introduced at 11, new education minister Peter Weir suggested last night.

The DUP minister reiterated his party's support for academic selection and initially suggested the system was unlikely to change during his tenure as minister.

However Mr Weir later indicated a single test could be introduced.

"We have academic selection," he told the BBC. "We have academic selection by way of transfer tests. I don't see that particularly changing. I think if there are better ways that we can deliver that, I am more than (happy) to explore that."

When asked if he would push for the introduction of one test, he replied: "If that is something that could be achieved, it's certainly something worth exploring".

Currently there are two unregulated assessments - the Association of Quality Education and Post Primary Transfer Consortium-run tests.

The system means that some children sit the 11-plus-style tests on four consecutive weekends.

Mr Weir said there was too much of a "fixation" on selection at 11 and said other key issues needed to be addressed, including pressure on school budgets.

Schools are being left to pick up the tab for increases in employers' contributions to national insurance and superannuation.

Many warn this will cost them tens of thousands of pounds, with the cash coming straight out of their budgets, and will lead to redundancies.

Mr Weir said concerns over school budgets are "very much top of my priorities".

"I had an initial meeting today with officials and will be meeting with officials tomorrow to try and go through the financial position on it," he said. "I appreciate that we will not be in a position simply to turn everything around in a very short space of time in that regard."

He said he would ask officials "what help and assistance" the department could give schools to "try and improve the situation".

The DUP minister hinted that he could reverse former education minister John O'Dowd's decision to retain familiar A*-G GCSE grades rather than follow England in adopting a numerical system from 2017.

"We also need to make sure that our qualifications are fit for purpose and in particular that we also cherish vocational qualifications to ensure that those are of significance as well," Mr Weir said.

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