MLAs hear renewed calls for scrapping of transfer exams
A 'proper' integrated education system can never happen while schools persist with academic selection, the assembly has been told.
MLAs yesterday heard renewed calls for the scrapping of 11-plus-style exams.
Tabling a motion, Sinn Féin assembly member Pat Sheehan said unregulated assessments were "cruel and damaging".
While most grammar schools continue to use entrance tests, a growing number in the Catholic sector have abandoned them for children due to transfer next year.
St Michael's and Mount Lourdes in Enniskillen and Christian Brothers' School in Omagh are the latest.
The all-girls Loreto Grammar School in Omagh is continuing to engage in discussions and consideration of all the implications for admissions and will inform parents as soon as possible.
Several schools in Belfast, Derry and Co Down have also said they will not use academic selection this year.
Mr Sheehan said a recent paper by the Ulster University's Transforming Education project outlined the psychological harm caused to children.
He also said there was little evidence that social mobility was increased by academic selection.
Arrangements for transfer at age 11 were damaging the life chances of a large proportion of the school population, members were told.
Mr Sheehan acknowledged that the north's pupils did better at GCSE and A-level than peers in Britain. However, he said focussing on that aspect ignored the "long tail of underachievement" in Northern Ireland.
Research, he said, highlighted that the achievement gap in the north was the widest in Europe.
"The minister needs to start a process that leads to improved educational outcomes and he should begin by setting aside his own ideological support for academic selection and look at the evidence instead," Mr Sheehan said.
"Selection does not raise achievement across the system and may be one of the main contributors to the long tail of underachievement.
"There is no other area of public policy that has so much academic and research evidence stacked against it. The evidence couldn't be clearer, and that is why so many are opposed to using academic selection for 11-year-old children.
"Underachievement does not just happen. It is the inevitable outcome of a policy that brands 60 per cent of children `failures'."
He added that a truly integrated education system could never be achieved if it did not also extend to ending social selection.
SDLP education spokesman Daniel McCrossan said the right to use academic selection was enshrined in law.
His party's amendment to the motion called on minister Peter Weir to repeal this legal provision by 2023 and replace it with a system that has "the widest support and prioritises educational excellence for all without academic selection".
Jim Allister of the TUV described the debate as a "chest-beating" exercise, adding that no-one had brought a private member's bill to end selection.
The DUP's Robin Newton said it was an attempt to destroy grammar schools.
Mr Weir said there was no viable alternative to academic selection.
"In the long run, the scenario of non-academic selection will mean the ending of grammar schools as we now know them," he said.
The Sinn Féin motion, amended by the SDLP, was carried by 48 votes to 37.