North Antrim DUP MLA Mervyn Storey has rejected criticism of the DUP position on academic selection and reminded critics that it is only as a result of the actions of the DUP that academic selection will continue to be available. The DUP’s Education Spokesman said,
“Those who are constant critics of the DUP should cease from their scaremongering. It is sad that rather than back the DUP’s strong stance on academic selection, they prefer to attack the DUP and give relief to the enemies of our excellent education system.
The DUP worked extremely hard to secure academic selection at St Andrews. While others would advocate Direct Rule, thereby guaranteeing the abolition of all forms of academic selection, the dismantling of the Craigavon based Dickson Plan and destruction of our education, we would not countenance anything that would weaken that legal reality in any way.
Our position is clear. On the principle of academic selection at 11, the legal reality is that the Education Minister cannot abolish academic selection without political agreement. She will not get that political agreement. Indeed, at this stage agreement is unlikely over the whole issue of post primary transfer.
On the question of what age transfer would take place, the DUP’s position is very clear. Currently pupils transfer at age 11. The DUP is engaged in discussions on the basis that this will continue to be the case. It is for others to produce papers and ideas to convince us of the contrary. There is not the slightest indication of that happening.
The DUP has been willing to listen to the arguments put forward for 14 but remain unconvinced. The idea of transfer at 14 would present huge difficulties, educationally, financially and practically.
Dozens of schools intend to implement a new transfer test but currently that would be unregulated. We wish to see this test brought under the Department’s umbrella.
An unregulated system is not our desired outcome. Colleagues and I have been having discussions with stakeholders and other parties about how this issue can be resolved in the context of the legal reality that academic selection will continue.
We are only too well aware of the confusion felt by parents and pupils at this time as a result of the Minister’s behaviour and we are determined to secure the best outcome for everyone in Northern Ireland.
In any discussions we have had, we are working on the basis that the entitlement the DUP secured for schools to have the freedom to select at 11 is our baseline position. We are open to listen to any further improvement that can incorporate this and build on it which other parties can offer.
We have always supported local solutions for local areas and we realise that those in the Craigavon area are very complimentary of their Dickson Plan system. If other areas of the Province sought to adopt such a system and there was clear public support for it that is something we would all have to consider. However we are absolutely convinced that the right of 11-18 grammars to select on the basis of academic ability at 11 must always be safeguarded.”