Page last updated at 08:59 GMT, Tuesday, 21 April 2009 09:59 UK

Grammars get legal view on exams

Pencil and paper
The commission said academic selection of any kind should end by 2012

A grammar schools body has sought legal advice over guidelines for the transfer of pupils from primary to secondary school in Northern Ireland.

The Governing Bodies Association consulted a barrister over the guidelines issued by Education Minister Catriona Ruane in February.

She said academic selection should not be used and listed criteria for oversubscribed schools to use.

The legal opinion is that schools are not obliged to use the guidelines.

However, according to the barrister, Boards of Governors who want to continue to use academic selection as their main entrance criterion, must be seen to consider the Department of Education advice.

In her guidelines, Ms Ruane said she wanted schools, as a top priority, to select a proportion of pupils who are entitled to free school meals.

Traditionally, grammar schools have a low number of pupils in that category.

Catriona Ruane wants non-academic selection
Catriona Ruane wants non-academic selection

However, the grammar schools' barrister said selecting pupils in this way was "a crude method which may not be fair to all low income families".

The legal advice also recommended that schools should respond to the ongoing consultation, giving reasons why they intend to ignore the guidance.

The final 11-plus was held in Northern Ireland's schools last November, and the way in which children currently in primary six will transfer to second-level education remains unclear.

A working group was set up earlier this year to consider the issue.

The Commission for Catholic Education has said all academic selection should end by 2012.

But it said that in the absence of a regulated system of transfer, academic tests may be appropriate in the short-term, particularly for those post-primary schools which are oversubscribed.

More than 30 state schools have said they will continue to use academic selection against Ms Ruane's wishes.

Ms Ruane has consistently said that setting independent tests was a legal minefield.

Her list of criteria for moving to second level education also included attendance at a feeder primary school, living in the parish or in a catchment area, being the eldest child or having a brother or sister at the school.

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