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Last Updated: Thursday November 06 2008 07:11 GMT

Maddy investigates NI exam row

Maddy with some of the pupils who are getting ready for their 11 plus exams

If you're 10 or 11, loads of you are probably thinking about what secondary school you'll be starting next year.

In Northern Ireland nearly all kids there take the same tests, called the 11 plus, to decide what kind of school they'll be going to next.

But the tests are being scrapped this week, and no-one's sure what's happening next. Maddy's been to Belfast to find out more...

"First, we headed to a primary school. In one classroom there were 11-year-olds hard at work, reaching for their red pens to mark practice test papers they'd done that morning.

Kids in a classroom
They're are going to be some of the last kids ever to take the 11-plus exams in Northern Ireland.

At the moment, people who pass these tests have a better chance of getting into a grammar school, instead of a comprehensive secondary.

There are lots of brilliant comprehensive schools, but over the years grammar schools have had a reputation for better facilities and a good atmosphere for kids who want to learn.

Now the 11-plus is being scrapped, kids in the year below are really confused about how people will decide which school they end up going to.

Getting answers

Lots of the pupils we spoke to are getting worried. So, we went to try to get some answers for them!

The next stop was the Northern Ireland Assembly in the Stormont area of Belfast.

Maddy talking to Dr Karen Kerr
This is where many of the important decisions affecting people in Northern Ireland are made. It's an enormous grand building with tall white pillars and marble staircases inside.

We met up with woman in charge of education in Northern Ireland, Caitrona Ruane.

She's really glad the 11-plus exam is going, because she thinks any kind of test to get into secondary schools is a bad idea.

In her opinion, it's fairer for all kids to go to their nearest school, and says she will do everything she can to make that happen.

At the same time, she is promising all schools will get better facilities over the next few years.

New exams?

Not all politicians agree with her though and they are still debating lots of different options, including a new, official test for 10 and 11-year-olds to replace the 11-plus.

A boy studying
In the meantime, some schools say they're going to introduce their own exams! They say they only want to take the cleverest pupils because they think kids with similar grades learn better if they're taught together.

You can see all this means it is a very confusing time for pupils, teachers and parents in Northern Ireland right now.

Nobody wants kids to be stressed out or worried. But that is exactly how lots of them feel, because they are waiting for more information about how school places will be decided in future.

Already scrapped

By the way, other parts of the UK used to have the 11 plus too, but apart from a few counties in England, most places scrapped it ages ago.

Some of you might still have to take an exam or go to an interview to help decide which secondary is right for you though.

Whatever happens, don't worry! I failed an exam to get into one school when I was 11. But I still got good grades at the place I ended up going to. And I made lots of great mates there too!"