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EDITIONS
 Friday, 27 December, 2002, 22:14 GMT
11-plus remains a target
children in classroom
The transfer test is heading for abolition

2002 in review

The future of the grammar schools and controversial decisions in the universities have dominated the education headlines in Northern Ireland over the last 12 months.

The Burns report, which suggested changes to the way children are allocated school places after they leave primary school, continued to raise hackles in some quarters and raise hopes in others.

Consultation on the report brought a range of opinions.

Most of the education bodies told the Department of Education they were opposed to academic selection at 11.

But most unionist politicians, both Ulster Unionist and Democratic Unionist, backed the grammar schools which launched a campaign to protect their right to choose the brightest pupils for a more academic education.

Still on the cards

When it came to a household response survey, the waters were muddied even more when most of those who returned their forms voted to keep some sort of academic selection.

The then Minister for Education, Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein, was undaunted and as the Northern Ireland Assembly reached crisis point, one of his last acts in the job was to announce that the final 11-plus transfer test would be in November 2004.

Now his successor among direct rule ministers, Jane Kennedy, says she will aim to do that, but cannot promise to stick to his deadline.

A programme of meetings is supposed to be working on alternatives, but it is unlikely that any radical changes will be proposed while the Assembly is suspended.

Threats

School life in North Belfast was disrupted again in 2002 when a loyalist threat was made to Catholic school staff.

Following the protests and bitterness of the Holy Cross dispute, the warning was taken seriously and there was widespread condemnation until the threat was lifted.

Holy Cross girls' school found that the loyalist street demonstrations had a dramatic effect with the number of pupils going to the school much reduced.

For the moment though, extra money is being spent to protect the school from redundancies and more funding has been given to help other north Belfast schools recover from a time of sectarian accusations and recriminations.

Protests

There was bad news from the universities.

Queen's revealed it wanted to close a number of academic departments and despite howls of outrage, the classics department has not been reprieved.

Even the Nobel Laureate, Seamus Heaney, joined the protests, but the university stands firm on its decision.

Queen's also revealed that ambitious plans for a 60m redevelopment around the students' union have been abandoned indefinitely.

It said it could not raise the money and claimed that saving some listed houses damaged the scheme's earning potential.

'Unviable'

The University of Ulster was not unscathed by the economic climate.

Its long-term plans to be a part of the Springvale campus have been scrapped.

University bosses finally admitted they would not be taking part in the development because they say a report condemned it as unviable and unaffordable.

Reactions from west Belfast, which would have benefited from Springvale, were angry but resigned.

Community leaders there said they knew the university was lukewarm on the project and enthusiasm had waned since the departure of its main champion, the former vice-chancellor Sir Trevor Smyth.

Uncertainty

All in all, the universities are having a rough time.

The two local institutions joined forces to complain about a lack of funding for research and development.

They say they are worse off than their colleagues in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Towards the end of the year the government responded, offering a boost of 30m over the next three years.

That has been welcomed - but they say there's still a shortfall and hold out hope that even more millions may be on the way.

See also:

29 Oct 02 | N Ireland
17 Oct 02 | N Ireland
23 Dec 02 | N Ireland
25 Jun 02 | N Ireland
27 Sep 02 | N Ireland
09 Nov 02 | N Ireland
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