Protestant churches back abolition of 11-plus

 

The campaign to end the controversial 11-plus exam in Northern Ireland has received a major boost with the decision of the three main Protestant churches to support the abolition of the selection test for primary pupils who are about to enter second-level education.

An umbrella group representing the Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist churches said that the Burns review of post-primary education, which proposes an end to the 11-plus, "can be the catalyst for reform that is long overdue".

The Transferor Representatives' Council last week discussed the Burns report with Sinn Féin's Education Minister, Mr Martin McGuinness. It yesterday welcomed the proposed abolition of the test which, based on the exam results, determines whether pupils transfer to grammar or secondary schools.

"We will be glad to see the back of it," said the council's chairman, Mr George Orr. The test "had to go", he asserted, because the 60-70 per cent of pupils who failed the exam were unfairly labelled as not meeting the proper educational grade.

"Whilst this system has enabled a minority of pupils to achieve high standards of academic excellence, it has been at the expense of a huge loss of self-esteem of a greater number of pupils who have felt the stigma of being considered 'failures'," the council said in a statement.

The council favours a system of transfer at 14 years of age, when students would be better equipped to decide whether their educational aptitude and preference was academic or vocational.

The council stated that it was of paramount importance that children should be treated equally, irrespective of their academic achievement.

"It is also important that each child is facilitated to find the most appropriate educational pathway and that there should be adequate provision and opportunity for pupils to change pathways," it added.

The support of the Protestant churches for the Burns review will strengthen Mr McGuinness's argument for the abolition of the 11-plus.

The UUP and the DUP are highly sceptical about the proposals, believing that they will undermine grammar schools. They also contend that the grammar schools could not cater for the number of students seeking to move from primary to post-primary education if the test is abolished.

While favouring the ending of the 11-plus, the Catholic Church has concerns about how the reform might affect its grammar school sector.

Mr McGuinness yesterday met a group of post-primary principals to discuss educational reform.

A spokesman for the principals commented: "The 11-plus system is deeply flawed and steps must be taken to reduce the negative impact it has on many of our children and their education, including the distortion of the primary curriculum. We welcome the guiding principles that underpin the Burns proposals and particularly that each child should be valued equally."