Page last updated at 13:16 GMT, Monday, 1 March 2010

DUP leader attacks plans for Catholic schools

Mr Robinson was speaking as the Catholic Church outlined their education plans <p

DUP leader Peter Robinson has accused the Catholic Church of being intent on denying its young people a grammar school education.

He was speaking as the Church outlined proposals to dramatically change the maintained sector's post-primary education.

Cardinal Sean Brady launched the first step in creating a network of all ability schools on Monday.

But Mr Robinson said many Catholic parents were completely against this.


"The Roman Catholic Church appears determined to deny young people the opportunity of a grammar school education," he said.

"I know many Roman Catholic parents vehemently oppose this position. They too understand the importance of successful academic schools in the development of our society here.

"I am determined to ensure that an academic option is available to those from all backgrounds who wish to pursue this path."

The first minister said that while he believed in grammar schools, he did not think that future transfer to post-primary education had to involve a traditional test.

He said the replacement of the 11-plus with involved multiple exams "hardly seemed to be an educational advancement" and that he favoured computer adaptive testing (CAT), which looks at a child's ability over a longer time period.

The CAT method has been discussed in the past by those in favour of selection.

We have been and will continue throughout this process to consult beyond the Catholic network of schools and explore new ways of sharing resources, facilities and personnel
Cardinal Sean Brady

In CAT exams the questions become more or less difficult according to how well each batch of questions is answered.

Test scores over a number of years could then be used by post-primary schools to select pupils.

Launching the Catholic Church's proposals, Cardinal Sean Brady said Catholic schools would consult beyond their own sector to share resources.

The sweeping review of the maintained sector's post-primary education includes a central commitment to the ending of academic selection, but it also examines other ways of working.

"We have been and will continue throughout this process to consult beyond the Catholic network of schools," Cardinal Brady said.

"And explore new ways of sharing resources, facilities and personnel at local level to ensure that the best possible education for all children in our society is achieved."

Cardinal Brady said that he wanted politicians to move beyond "the narrow focus on academic selection and to engage in a wider, more inclusive discussion about how together we can provide the best possible system of education for every child in Northern Ireland".

Some grammar schools are thought to be unwilling to accept the end of academic selection.

Schools are now using unregulated entrance exams. The commission on Catholic education has already said that should not continue after 2012.

The commission is trying to tackle a reduction in the number of pupils, demands for a wider choice of subjects and the hierarchy's wish to end academic selection.

Gerry Lundy who directed the post-primary review said: "What we are trying to do is to move away from this narrow focus on academic selection.

Cardinal Sean Brady
Cardinal Sean Brady made the plans public on Monday

"To address that issue ... for the community and schools what the future is and what the shape of that future should be.

"This is a consultation process. What we are asking people to do is to respond to the challenges set out in the consultation."

Over the next four weeks, the commission will reveal the options open to clusters of schools in 17 different areas across Northern Ireland.

These include:

  • Some areas will see new colleges for children aged 11 to 15 and 14 to 19
  • There will be more amalgamations of groups of two and three schools
  • Some single sex schools could become co-educational and others may be federated, with two or more schools governed by one body
  • The commission wants a network of all-ability schools, removing the need for academic selection
  • The plans are aimed at meeting government policy objectives, including sustainable schools and the entitlement framework, a scheme designed to give pupils increased subject choice.


    The review also aims to remove thousands of empty desks from the post-primary maintained sector.

    Changes are expected to take place over the next decade rather than schools facing immediate upheaval.

    It would see schools run by different Catholic religious orders come together in future mergers or collaborations.

    The commission said that it will ask for feedback from schools and parents.

    The principals of all grammar schools in Northern Ireland have been invited to a meeting on Monday night to see if they can agree on a single transfer test for this year.

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