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Hundreds of principals will reject 11-plus coaching guidelines

Principals plan to ignore controversial plans to allow teachers to coach for unofficial 11-plus tests

HUNDREDS of school principals will ignore controversial guidance allowing teachers to coach pupils for unofficial 11-plus tests.

Primary and secondary heads have come together to say the "regressive" move will undermine a curriculum "which is admired worldwide".

The Catholic Principals' Association (CPA), which represents the views of leaders in 230 schools, said it was "deeply disappointed and concerned" by new DUP minister Peter Weir's unilateral 180-degree policy shift.

New guidance says schools can now choose to supply support materials and carry out preparation for unregulated transfer tests during core teaching hours.

Mr Weir, who succeeded a series of Sinn Fein ministers, is the first education minister in the north - devolved or direct rule - to tell schools they can teach to the test.

He said his decision was "reflecting the reality of what is happening out on the ground, rather than trying to pretend that, essentially, testing does not exist".

A large number of the north's 375 Catholic schools are likely to ignore the guidance, however.

They claim the policy u-turn has the potential to damage the education of children and do long term harm to the system.

It is understood principals will meet Mr Weir today to ask why he is permitting schools to coach for private tests which no-one has seen.

The CPA said it wanted a system that focussed on the educational needs of all pupils regardless of ability, social or community background.

"The new Department of Education guidelines are, in our view, regressive, contradictory and at odds with the realisation of such a vision," it said in a statement to the Irish News.

"All children have a statutory and equal right to access the primary curriculum. The minister should clarify, as a matter of urgency, how the practice of coaching in schools for private tests is consistent with this legal right.

"He and his department should also clarify how the `wishes of parents' vis-a-vis coaching might be determined by schools in line with the statutory rights of all children to access teaching and learning at a level appropriate to their needs and abilities."

The group said the minister should be aware that there is no syllabus or guidelines for the private tests, "rendering preparation for these tests virtually impossible".

Permitting coaching for unregulated tests, it added, set a dangerous precedent which could lead to an "educational free for all and thus undermine the implementation and delivery of the primary curriculum - a curriculum which is admired worldwide".

"We believe that these guidelines, issued by the minister at the beginning of a new school term, will only cause further uncertainty and confusion for parents, school leaders and pupils. Moreover, it has the potential to damage the education of children in our schools and do long term damage to the system of education here.

"The implication from the guidelines that the needs of some pupils should be prioritised at the expense of others is incompatible with the inclusive nature of our schools and is a direct challenge to our Catholic ethos."

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