Northern Ireland news

Two top grammars intend to abandon transfer tests

Loreto Grammar School in Omagh is to phase out academic selection along with the town's Christian Brothers Grammar School

TWO leading Catholic grammar schools are to stop 11-plus tests - a major coup in the Church's drive to end academic selection.

In a joint move, Omagh Christian Brothers' Grammar School and the town's Loreto Grammar plan to phase out selection entirely by 2020.

Pleas from the Catholic Church, politicians and unions to abolish transfer tests have, by and large, fallen on deaf ears in recent years.

The Omagh announcement is being seen as hugely significant - the area has a large Catholic population and a good grammar pedigree.

That two prestigious schools have now decided to end selection is expected to convince others to follow suit.

The Irish News reported in the summer of 2014 that the all-girls' Loreto and Omagh CBS for boys had agreed to work together to move away in a phased process from selection by ability.

The two schools released separate but almost identically-worded statements yesterday confirming the plan.

The trustees of the schools carried out consultation exercises with governors, staff, parents and pupils.

Following analysis of the results, they said they remained of the view that the schools should embark on a phased transition away from the use of academic selection for admissions to Year 8.

Phasing would start from September 2017, with a view that the schools would have a totally non-academically selective intake by September 2020.

It is understood that 25 per cent of Year 8s will be admitted without using tests in 2017, increasing to 50 per cent in 2018, then to 75 per cent and 100 per cent the following two Septembers.

Both grammar schools are due to receive new buildings as part of a re-location onto the massive Strule shared campus at the former Lisanelly army base in Omagh.

The town already has a non-selective co-educational post primary school, Sacred Heart College, which is also due to receive a new build at Strule.

This would mean three of Strule's planned six schools would be non-selective Catholic post-primary providers, each with between 880-1,000 pupils.

The Catholic Church first told its grammar schools seven years ago to phase out academic selection, and scrap all entrance tests by 2012.

Loreto College in Coleraine and St Patrick's Grammar School in Armagh no longer use 11-plus tests. The new St Ronan's College in Lurgan is also non-selective.

There is a proposal on education minister John O'Dowd's desk that, if approved, would see Dominican College in Portstewart also end its use of 11-plus tests.

The Catholic Principals' Association, which represents the views of about 230 Catholic schools, has claimed grammar schools who use entrance exams are doing serious and lasting damage to the ethos and reputation of Catholic education.

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