Page last updated at 03:27 GMT, Thursday, 25 December 2008

Rebellion dominates education year

By Maggie Taggart
BBC NI education correspondent

The year was dominated by rebellion in schools: an acrimonious dispute which virtually closed a secondary school for three weeks and the long-running and increasingly bitter battle over academic selection.

Caitriona Ruane
Education Minister Caitriona Ruane offered a transitional arrangement
The grammar schools mostly attended by Protestant pupils were first to declare that they would set their own entrance exams, if Education Minister Caitríona Ruane did not offer a replacement to the 11-plus transfer tests.

The final tests took place in November 2008.

This spurred the minister to offer what was described as a transitional arrangement allowing three more years of testing, leading to grammar schools phasing out academic selection.

That has not been voted on by the Assembly and, as it stands, it is unlikely to win the cross-community support it needs.

In the meantime, a growing number of Catholic grammar schools have announced they too will run their own independent entrance exams, in the absence of an acceptable and workable alternative.

The governors of the Catholic schools made the decision, despite the Catholic bishops' stated opposition to independent testing.

Alleged assault

The dispute at Movilla secondary school in Newtownards began over the alleged assault of a teacher by a pupil.

After intervention by the education minister, the children's commissioner and the Assembly's education committee the two sides - the NAS/UWT union and the South Eastern Education and Library Board - went to arbitration at the Labour Relations Agency.

With a mid-term break involved, it was three weeks before the 540 pupils were able to get back to their lessons.

School closures and the threat of closure demonstrate the impact of the shrinking pupil population.

Movilla strike action
Strike action at Movilla High School lasted three weeks
The historic Hilden Integrated Primary school closed after a long battle to save it and Balmoral High School in Belfast closed, even though it had opened only a few years ago.

Poor planning was blamed for its demise.

Lisnasharragh in east Belfast, George Best's old school, also closed down.

For the first time, a funded integrated school had to shut. Armagh College realised it could not recruit enough pupils to make it viable.

Controversy

The Further Education sector was not immune from controversy.

Sixteen colleges have recently been merged to form six large institutions but after struggling with that often- difficult change, four of the six chairmen resigned.

Some said they were unhappy at the scale of unpaid work they were expected to do, but the Department of Employment and Learning said the chairmen should have been aware of the commitment needed.

The Department said it was not possible to offer them payment as the chairpersons of school boards of governors did not get remuneration.

Colleges across Northern Ireland have also lost almost 200 staff because of reorganisation, despite controversy over whether there was enough money in the coffers to pay for enhanced pensions and redundancy deals.

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