Page last updated at 17:01 GMT, Thursday, 22 January 2009

Schools link up for entrance test

'It's a contingency measure'

A group of Catholic and state-controlled grammar schools in Ballymena and Magherafelt is to collaborate on a single independent entrance exam.

They say that unless Education Minister Caitríona Ruane can provide an approved government exam, they will run aptitude tests on 7 November.

The test will be sat by Primary Seven pupils on the same day at various schools, who will share the results.

The final 11-plus was held in Northern Ireland schools last November.

Many Catholic grammar schools have announced they will set independent tests, while more than 30 state schools say they will continue to use academic selection against Ms Ruane's wishes.

Ms Ruane said in a statement: "I am still working to achieve agreement which could allow schools to apply to use the department's test during a three-year transition period."

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David Lambon, principal of St Mary's Grammar School in Magherafelt, said the test was a "contingency measure".

"We would be much happier if the minister allowed us to continue to use the CCEA test, that is the position of all Catholic grammar schools," he said.

"However, in planning a year ahead we have to publish our admissions criteria in the next few months, so as an efficient organisation we are trying to do that."

Ballymena Academy principal Ronnie Hassard said the test was designed to ensure performance "would not be enhanced by intensive coaching".

As a compromise interim measure following the end of the 11-plus transfer test, the minister for education has said grammar schools can use tests set and marked by the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment.

But the schools would be restricted to taking 50% of pupils on academic criteria the first year, diminishing to none after three years.

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