DUP Assembly Member, Mervyn Storey, has moved to reassure parents and pupils on the eve of the new school year. The North Antrim MLA said today:
“The Education Minister’s tenure in office has been characterized by confusion and disarray. Due to the Education Minister refusing to deal seriously with the need for acceptable new transfer arrangements, as pupils return to school many are still uncertain about the future.
The transfer issue is of significant interest to many people, and despite the Minister’s threatening language, everyone can be reassured that for those seeking and suitable for who want a grammar school education, it will still be available. That is the legal position and there is nothing that Sinn Fein can do to alter that. Had this position not been secured at St Andrews by the DUP, it is clear we would now be on an irreversible path towards a wholly comprehensive system.
Academic selection has been secured. The confirmation that more than thirty schools will use an independent form of assessment to match pupils to the most appropriate school, while not perfect, establishes a baseline position which we can build upon. The approach adopted by the Minister unfortunately made the development of an alternative form of academic assessment outside the Department inevitable. This is not the ideal situation and in our view it would be better for the Department to take responsibility for the assessment. We will continue to work to achieve the optimal outcome. We still maintain consensus could still be achieved on the transfer issue but it would require a genuine commitment from the Minister to find a realistic accommodation in the context of the confirmed legal position.
In the mean time more information about the new test will be published shortly and the dozens of schools who will operate academic selection will be holding meetings to explain the procedures fully. Also, the DUP will be producing a new education document in the first few weeks of the new term. Parents can ignore the threats from those who for some ideological reason are wedded to opposing placing pupils at the most appropriate schools. Academic selection cannot be removed without the consent of the DUP. The Minister has persisted with her tired rhetoric despite even a leaked internal Sinn Fein memo acknowledging that selection could not be abolished. Rather than grasp the nettle, she has left everyone in limbo.
While much recent debate has focussed around grammar schools, it is essential that secondary schools and indeed primary schools receive the same level of focus. Our secondary schools must be protected, particularly at a time of falling pupil numbers, by only permitting grammar schools to admit pupils reaching a certain academic threshold.”