Parties take receipt of educators' report

A REPORT aimed at breaking the political impasse over academic selection has been presented to a cross-party group of MLAs.

The SDLP, Alliance Party, DUP and UUP commissioned a team of educators to report on how the stalemate could be overcome.

Sinn Fein's Education Minister Caitriona Ruane has stopped official academic testing for post-primary education but grammar schools across both sides of the community set up unofficial tests in defiance. Unlike the previous 11-plus test, this left many children having to do multiple, unofficial tests in unfamiliar surroundings at weekends.

The main political parties in the Assembly, except for Sinn Fein, came together to try and find a way forward and commissioned the report from a team of 10 educators from across the educational spectrum – from Irish medium, secondary, grammar and integrated sectors.

Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn, who chairs the ad hoc group of MLAs, declined to give any indication about the conclusions of the report, which the Assembly members were given on Wednesday evening.

However, he confirmed that the same group of educators previously recommended the department reintroduce academic selection for three years while an alternative strategy is formed.

"Every political party has previously advocated the reintroduction of testing for three years while a compromise is worked out," he said.

"Even the minister previously proposed running down the 11-plus over three years."

He said the Alliance Party is opposed to academic selection at 11 and would prefer some type of selection at 14, as in the Dickson Plan in Portadown.

Education committee member Basil McCrea, of the UUP, said the final report was "very balanced".

"It was not given to Sinn Fein because they were invited to join this process but declined," he said.

"We are simply trying to find a solution. We cannot get any movement from Sinn Fein so the Alliance Party invited the other parties to form this group. The minister has said that if we have an alternative plan she would like to hear it."

He said that the problems surrounding academic selection have never been discussed at the Executive "although they have discussed animal welfare 10 times".

An SDLP spokesman said the advisory panel to the MLAs had to be commended for the substantial work they had put in.

"But it is not up to advisors to find solutions," he said.

"The cross-party group will meet again next week to exchange views but it will be up to the Executive to follow up on the report."

Sinn Fein education spokesman John O'Dowd was not enthusiastic about the report.

"Sinn Fein stated clearly at the start of these discussions that the agenda by the parties involved was to re-establish state-sponsored 11-plus examinations," he said.

"Clearly it will be no surprise if the report presented today endorses this position further."

It is not yet known when the report will be published.