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Last Updated: Saturday, 13 May 2006, 17:31 GMT 18:31 UK
Rally focus on NI selection issue
School examination
The last 11-plus examination will be held in 2008
Hundreds of people have attended a rally in Belfast to oppose the end of academic selection in Northern Ireland.

Campaign organisers said they had raised more than 40,000 to fight a new law due to be introduced this summer.

About 700 people heard speakers at the Ulster Hall support the grammar school system and criticise planned changes.

They said the changes would mean "money replacing merit" in getting a school place. The last 11-plus transfer test is scheduled to be held in 2008.

The rally on Saturday was organised by the Association for Quality Education, which wants to stop the government banning any sort of academic selection.

Gerry Beamish from the association said the issue of selection was now being used as a political bargaining tool.

"They're now using education as a lever to try to get our assembly up and running again and that's a pretty offensive thing for the government to do," he said.

About 700 people attended the rally at the Ulster Hall
About 700 people attended the rally at the Ulster Hall

Those attending the rally were given draft letters and petitions which will be sent to assembly members, MPs and the Secretary of State, Peter Hain.

However, no firm date has been fixed for a debate on the issue in Westminster.

The first move to end the current system in Northern Ireland was made by assembly education minister Martin McGuinness hours before he left office in October 2002.

In January 2004, the then education minister Jane Kennedy announced that the government was abolishing academic selection in Northern Ireland.

Last December, the then education minister Angela Smith said that by 2009, schools could take pupils based on a flexible "menu of criteria".

This included having siblings already at the school as well as various community and geographical factors.

If selection could not be sorted out through these criteria, there would be "tie-breakers" including random selection and distance from the school, she said.

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23 Jan 06 |  Northern Ireland
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06 Dec 05 |  Northern Ireland

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