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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 July 2006, 06:17 GMT 07:17 UK
Bid to keep NI selection defeated
Children sitting an exam
The last transfer test is to take place in 2008
A move in the House of Lords to retain academic selection in Northern Ireland has been defeated.

Conservative and Ulster Unionist peers hoped to delay approval of the Education (NI) Order 2006.

They tabled an amendment delaying the legislation until the people of Northern Ireland had "the opportunity to approve the proposals".

This was rejected by 172 votes to 97, a government majority of 75, with Labour and Liberal Democrat peers opposing it.

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain's one concession - to give the Northern Ireland Assembly a veto on the changes if devolution is fully restored by 24 November - was dismissed as "blackmail" by Conservative Northern Ireland spokesman Lord Glentoran.

If people disagree with this, they have the remedy in their own hands by restoring devolved government
Peter Hain
Northern Ireland secretary
He accused ministers of using the issue to force Ulster Unionists and Democratic Unionists to share power with Sinn Fein ministers.

On Tuesday, Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, who lobbied peers to support the Lords motion, said the campaign will go on.

"The minister Maria Eagle in writing to me essentially rejecting our arguments about academic selection, nevertheless has promised there will be very full consultation about the future criteria for admission."

"So we will continue to fight our corner in those discussions and negotiations I can assure you with all our vigour," he said.

United Kingdom Unionist assembly member Bob McCartney said he did not believe it was "a done deal" because the "machinery for delivering it has still got to be put in place".

"For example, there is no machinery yet for deciding the criteria for entry, except possibly post-code or random selection," the North Down MLA said.

On Monday, Ulster Unionist peer Lord Rogan, contrasted the Order with the system of local parental ballots on the future of grammar schools in England and urged the House to decline to approve the Order.

It should, he said, be delayed "until the people of Northern Ireland have been given the opportunity to approve the proposals contained therein in a manner analogous to the procedures followed in regard to similar proposed changes in England".

'Not grammar abolition'

Lord Rooker, for the government, insisted that the proposed changes to admissions arrangements would not mean the abolition of grammar schools.

"I have not come to the House tonight to move the abolition of grammar schools," he said.

After the vote Mr Hain said he was delighted that the Lords had confirmed the Order.

"This is very good news for every child in Northern Ireland - and if people disagree with this, they have the remedy in their own hands, by restoring devolved government to Northern Ireland by 24 November," he said.

The Order was approved by a Commons standing committee last month, by 15 votes to eight.

The government has consistently said it wants to get rid of academic selection.

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.

The last 11-plus transfer test is scheduled to be held in 2008.

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

Hear more about the debate

Lords motion on academic choice
10 Jul 06 |  Northern Ireland
NI education reform 'must happen'
23 May 06 |  Northern Ireland
'Year zero' move for NI funding
31 Jan 06 |  Northern Ireland
NI teacher training places cut
13 Apr 06 |  Northern Ireland

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