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Thursday, 28 September, 2000, 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK
NI education debate begins
Exam hall
Huge research effort on 11-plus selection
BBC Northern Ireland education correspondent Maggie Taggart looks at the background to a major report on the effects of and possible alternatives to the controversial 11-plus selection system.

Twenty-five academics from the two universities and two university colleges in Northern Ireland worked for almost two years to produce a collection of 23 different research papers.

Their topics range from the opinions of secondary school teachers to the extent of coaching for the 11-plus.

The effort has cost 110,000 with the publication of the papers adding half as much again to the bill.

For the first time, a huge amount of evidence has been gathered to prove what has been believed about Northern Ireland's selective system:

  • The vast majority of teachers feel pressurised to coach children for the transfer test and half of the pupils are tutored privately.

  • Emphasis on the exam means that maths, English and science are taught in such a narrow way that children do not understand the subjects which have to be virtually taught again at post primary school.

  • Other subjects like history and creative writing are neglected in the last two years of primary school.

  • Grammar schools are credited with getting better results - of two pupils with the same 11-plus grade, the one who goes to grammar school is likely to achieve more.

  • In contrast, there are too many schools with poor results.

  • There's bitter resentment among secondary school teachers who feel they are expected to achieve high academic results, while at the same time supporting pupils damaged by failing to get into a grammar school.

    None overcome all problems

    It is clear the research team found little support for the current selective system, but the solutions will not be easy to find.

    The teams examined Scottish, English, Welsh and European comparisons from comprehensive schools to delayed selection at 14, to a split between academic and more vocational schools

    While all have advantages, none overcome all the problems of giving pupils an equal chance to achieve equal status in society, high academic achievement and employability.

    If selection was to end, larger schools could mean cost savings by reducing their number by 60 through 20 closures and 40 mergers.

    But the teams acknowledge that would cause significant disruption.

    The debate begins today, and Northern Ireland's Department of Education wants as many people as possible to have their say on what the future should hold.

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    See also:

    28 Sep 00 | Northern Ireland
    Criticism of 11-plus selection test
    05 Feb 00 | Northern Ireland
    Red letter day for pupils
    18 Jan 00 | Northern Ireland
    Vice-chancellor criticises transfer test
    04 Dec 99 | Northern Ireland
    McGuinness: Let's work together
    03 Dec 99 | Northern Ireland
    NI's universities attract poorer students
    05 Nov 99 | Education
    Questions over 11-plus exams
    15 Dec 99 | Northern Ireland
    Research funding cuts criticised
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