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Press Releases 2016

Minister Seeks to Turn Back Time

Thursday, 8 September 2016

In light of today’s announcement by the Education Minister Peter Weir MLA, INTO reiterates its opposition to the use of academic selection in the transferring of pupils from primary to post-primary school.

INTO has major concerns in regard to this statement, in which the Minister has unilaterally reversed the position of the Department of Education on the regulations governing how schools may now go about preparing our children for the unregulated transfer tests.

The Minister’s decision and the advice from the Department of Education to primary schools will impact directly upon curriculum content, timetabling, resourcing, funding and most importantly the core purpose of the statutory primary curriculum in addition to adding to teachers already unreasonable workloads.

Mr Gerry Murphy, Northern Secretary said:

“The Minister appears eager to turn back time. He is greenlighting schools to prepare their pupils for participation in tests which have only a limited connection to the current statutory primary curriculum. There are elements that the Minister has highlighted including exam technique and preparation for the test which have no part whatsoever in the primary curriculum and yet he is encouraging schools to now suspend teaching schemes already in place for the current academic year to incorporate these new elements into the teaching day. Effectively this will lead to the narrowing of the primary curriculum in many schools. The skills based nature of the current curriculum is not reflected in these non-regulated tests, which are primarily a test of a pupil’s knowledge of English and Mathematics.

The provision of past papers and the purchase of additional resources will add additional financial pressures to schools who are already struggling to make a vastly underfunded system workable.

The fundamental purpose of the unregulated tests is to help the minority of our post primary schools to choose the pupils they will accept for enrolment.  The value of the grade gained from the unregulated tests only determines a pupil’s place in the queue, as schools chose pupils from the higher grades before progressively drawing from lower grades in an effort to meet their capacity.

Reference is made in the Department circular to social mobility as a justification for the use of academic selection. This assertion does not accurately reflect the reality of the situation where about three times the number of pupils in receipt of free school meals attends non-selective post-primary schools.”

Mr Murphy continued:

“INTO is concerned that Minister Weir has taken a decision without full consultation with the key education stakeholders. His method of announcing the decision through a column in a newspaper, before the schools affected had been informed must be condemned in the strongest terms. In his interview broadcast on the BBC this morning the Minister referred to the fulfilling of a DUP manifesto promise in relation to academic selection. Perhaps he should have reflected more on his party’s education policy document which makes reference to protecting one sector at the expense of others. His decision today takes scant cognisance of this statement.

Finally the timing of this statement is interesting. It seems that such a change would have been better notified to schools prior to the beginning of the school year thereby allowing schools who are interested in undertaking this additional preparatory work for the unregulated tests to incorporate the necessary changes into their planning for the year.

Whilst there may be no consensus politically on this issue across the education sector there is agreement that academic selection has to go and  INTO will continue to campaign until this is achieved.”