Barry Gardiner has pointed to the benefits of grammar schools
Northern Ireland's education minister has rejected suggestions the good results in A-level and GCSE level in the province will be damaged by scrapping the 11-plus.
The government is to press ahead with plans to abolish the 11-plus tests in 2008.
It follows consideration of the Costello Group's report - a government-appointed working body set up to suggest alternatives to the current transfer tests.
Education Minister Barry Gardiner said replacing the current system would not diminish the quality of the education system in Northern Ireland.
Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Inside Politics programme on Saturday, he said: "I want to see the grammar schools go on and thrive.
"They are a significant part, a very important part, of the educational scene in Northern Ireland and it's absolutely right that they should continue to be so.
"But any good school defines itself by what it does, by its ethos, by the quality of their teaching, by the curriculum, not by who they admit."
Last month, the UUP education spokesman Roy Beggs expressed concerned at the plans to change the system.
Mr Beggs said grammar schools were not opposed to change and had been working on alternative methods of selection to replace the 11-plus.
He disputed Mr Gardiner's claims that Northern Ireland's overall GCSE results were worse than those in England.