Catholic schools which retain academic selection will inevitably discriminate against some children, the North's Education Minister claimed today.
Many Catholic grammars have already announced they will set independent tests, while more than 30 state schools have said they will continue to use academic selection against Caitriona Ruane’s wishes.
The Commission for Catholic Education has given the go-ahead for grammars in the North to set entrance exams.
However, it also restated its position that academic selection of any kind should end by 2012.
Ms Ruane said: “The question that anybody involved in education has to ask is: ’can you test children at the age of 10 and 11, put them through high-stake, grade-determined entry into post-primary school without discriminating?’
“I don’t believe we can.”
In the past the minister has highlighted the potential impact of independent testing on children from disadvantaged areas, those with special needs or Irish speakers.
The final 11-plus was held in the North’s schools last November and the way in which children currently in primary six will transfer to second-level education remains unclear.
A working group was set up earlier this year to consider the issue.
The Catholic commission said that in the absence of a regulated system of transfer, academic tests may be appropriate in the short-term, particularly for those post-primary schools which are oversubscribed.
But it warned against discriminating against pupils, forcing them to sit a multiplicity of tests or distorting the curriculum.
The minister was responding today to a question from DUP Assembly member Edwin Poots in the chamber.
Mr Poots asked: “Is she going to fly in the face of the Catholic Commission, reject the views of the Catholic Commission as minister of education?”
Ms Ruane has asked schools to operate non-academic admissions criteria only.
She said if schools implemented the guidance issued by the Department of Education there was no need for any breakaway entrance tests in any schools.
Meanwhile, 46 primary school principals in the Newry and Mourne area today issued a statement opposing academic selection.
“In our professional opinion academic selection at 11 does a disservice to our children, is divisive, and distorts the primary curriculum,” they said.
“As our statutory legal duty is to deliver the revised curriculum, this prevents us from using teaching time or school resources to prepare for, or facilitate, any transfer tests.
“Deployment of staff and school resources will be for the revised curriculum only. If schools were to set aside the revised curriculum in order to prepare for tests, we would be failing in our statutory duty towards our children, not withstanding the possible legal consequences.”
The minister said in the past fortnight three groups representing over 150 primary schools had spoken out against academic selection.