Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2011/2012

Date: Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings: 
Mr Mervyn Storey (Chairperson) 
Mr Dominic Bradley (Deputy Chairperson) 
Mrs Mary Bradley 
Mr Tom Elliott 
Mr Trevor Lunn 
Mr Nelson McCausland 
Mr Basil McCrea 
Miss Michelle McIlveen 
Mr John O’Dowd 
Mrs Michelle O’Neill 
Mr Edwin Poots

Witnesses:
The Minister of Education (Ms Caitríona Ruane)
Mr Paul Brice } 
Ms Dorothy Angus } Department of Education 
Mr Jackie McMullan }

The Chairperson (Mr Storey):

I intend to conclude this meeting at 10.25 am, as the House will meet at 10.30am. Regrettably, we must send our condolences to another family who have been plunged into sorrow and awful grief.

I find it very difficult to continue to engage in the normal processes of the House while families have been plunged into such sorrow; therefore, with the agreement of the Committee, we will spend the next few minutes considering the issue before us and then suspend the meeting and go to the House. It will be in the minds of some Members today that there will be a slightly longer suspension of business to reflect the very serious situation that we have with the murder of a member of the PSNI.

Minister, with those comments and the very unfortunate and sad circumstances under which we meet, we have come together this morning to discuss the letters sent to you on 20 February and 2 March 2009. We received your response at 9.30am today, and I think that the response can be summed up in four words: “I will not agree.” That is very regrettable. However, Minister, I will give you the opportunity to make some opening comments before we proceed.

For those Members who have arrived late, we will conclude this session at 10.25am to go to the House, where we will show our respect to another family who are grieving the loss of a very dear loved one.

The Minister of Education (Ms Ruane):

I wish to extend my condolences to the family of the police officer, and I agree that it is important that we go to the House. I know that these are difficult circumstances, but I look forward to discussing the guidance this morning.

I had prepared a statement, but since we have only 25 minutes for discussion, it is not appropriate to use all of it. The statement is too long, and members would not have an opportunity to ask questions. Instead, I will make a few opening comments.

As members know, last year’s transfer test was the last 11-plus. We tried to reach a consensus on the way forward, but, unfortunately, that did not happen. Consequently, my Department has issued guidance on Transfer 2010, and members should have received a copy of that document. Under Transfer 2010 and in future, children will move from primary to post-primary education under a much fairer system. People here know that academic selection is very unfair and is part of an outdated system that we had in the past. Fortunately, however, we are moving on. We need a child-centred education system that delivers for all our children.

In a letter dated 20 February 2009, the Chairperson — an Cathaoirleach — asked me, on behalf of the Committee, to

“reconsider the use of the CCEA test that your Department commissioned as an interim compromise arrangement”.

For the reason that I have already outlined, I will not do that. The commission of the CCEA test has been cancelled. It was commissioned as a contingency to give all involved the options that might enable us to agree a legislative framework for Transfer 2010 and beyond — the challenge that the St Andrews Agreement Act 2006 presented to all of us. As I said, twice I presented proposals to the Executive for just such a legislative framework. Those proposals reflected my party’s opposition to academic selection and acknowledged the views of educationalists, but they were ignored.

I had been prepared to commission a test that was based on the revised curriculum. Post-primary schools using such a test to admit pupils would have done so on the basis of falling numbers of children being admitted by such a route over a three-year period: 50% in the first year, 30% in the second year and 20% in the third year. The compromise approach could have worked only in the context of a legislative framework. Any test operating outside such legislative support would enter a legal minefield, as those in some grammar schools who propose that approach are now finding out. In reality, that meant that the other parties — the DUP in particular — would have to sign up to a compromise approach. Let me reiterate that there will be no state-sponsored test.

I am grateful for the letters from a group of parents of P6 pupils and a primary-school principal that the Chairperson enclosed with his letter of 20 February 2009. An Cathaoirleach will not be surprised to hear that I agree with the views of the primary-school principal who urged the Chairperson to engage in a broader and more imaginative fashion on the issue of post-primary transfer than he has done in the past. The Chairperson may also be surprised to hear that I agree with those who expressed to him and the Committee their disappointment in an unregulated system of transfer. I did not want it either; that is why I spent so long in developing compromise proposals and repeatedly sought engagement on them.

Bhí orm cinneadh a dhéanamh, de cheal comhaontaithe pholaitiúil agus tá critéir leagtha amach agam anois ar chóir a úsáid do pháistí atá ag aistriú go hiar-bhunscoileanna ón bhliain 2010 amach. In the absence of political agreement, however, my Department has published guidance that provides a set of admissions criteria that are already widely used. In his letter of 20 February 2009, the Chairperson also asked me to clarify a statement that I made in the Assembly on 2 February 2009. My Department cannot provide a test for use in an admissions context without a legal framework that defines its use. Simply making a test available without a legislative framework that defines its use would be highly irresponsible.

There are other things that I want to say; but rather than take up the small amount of time that we have, I am happy to take questions from members. Go raibh maith agat.

The Chairperson:

Thank you, Minister. It is obvious that you are aware of the correspondence that we received and which we set out for you. There were 460 letters from parents in Londonderry, petitioning you as the Minister, expressing “total dissatisfaction” with the situation. We also copied to you the letter that we received from the parents who are involved in School Transfer Options for Pupils (STOP), whom I, and other members of the Committee, met. You will note that they do not represent one particular view of selection or non-selection and the future of post-primary transfer. They say that an unregulated system of transfer is the least desirable outcome for children, parents and schools. Those are the views of the Committee.

Those are the views of the Committee and the views that we continue to hear. Minister, you hear them as often as we do. The correspondence that the Committee received from you today, however, suggests that you are still unprepared to consider an interim arrangement; you have pulled down the shutters on that. Your statement says that the commission for the test has been cancelled and that the test was commissioned as a contingency to give to all involved the options that might enable us to agree a legislative framework for Transfer 2010 and onward. Surely, the view was that we would seek an interim arrangement to put in place an agreed process of transfer.

Minister, you believe that if you repeat ill-founded and unfounded statements people will, all of a sudden, believe them — you fall into that trap continually. Perhaps you come from that political tradition. However, facts are stubborn. To say that academic selection is inappropriate and inadequate flies in the face of the educational analysis of those from a respected educational point of view. They bring forward clear and substantial evidence that academic selection is neither inappropriate nor inadequate. It may not be politically agreeable for you to support it — and I understand that, just as it is not politically agreeable for me to support the segregated and fragmented education system that we have in Northern Ireland. The insistence of some people on an isolated education costs the taxpayer in Northern Ireland millions of pounds. I accept the right of those organisations to do that, but it has to be set against the facts.

Minister, it is regrettable that you have come to the Committee and repeated something that is not the case. This morning, you said that we are moving on. What are we moving to? Are we moving to a situation that you have said you do not want? Are we moving to a situation that we have said we do not want? Are we moving to a situation that parents have said they do not want? Are we moving to a situation that teachers have said they do not want? Who wants this? You continue to persist in not listening.

I have to make reference to Mr Poots, but not my colleague Edwin. Stanley Poots is a school principal who wrote to me and the Committee. We are concerned that he claims to represent several schools, but he does not represent the number of schools that he claims to, and I will be pursuing the issue with him.

In this room this morning, we have parents who have taken the time to come here because they are concerned and worried. They will take no heart from a Minister who, yet again — despite all that has been said and the concerns of us all — is prepared to threaten teachers, to threaten boards of governors, to threaten on the issue of funding, to threaten to bring in the inspectorate, and to threaten on how education will be governed in the future.

Minister, you need to take time to reflect that your tenure, when it ends, will not be judged for bringing about change for the benefit of education; it will be judged for bringing about confusion, division and further segregation. More groups have been isolated from the system.

Your officials told the Committee that the Bill has inadequacies, that it is not fit for purpose and must be amended; you told the Governing Bodies Association (GBA) the same thing in a letter. Yet we had been told that it was a wonderful piece of legislation; that it was all about change. Clearly, it is leaking like a sieve.

As Chairperson of the Committee, I have said that we will make sure that there are changes for the benefit of education not for the benefit of your political ideology. We have a long, long way to go. As you have unfortunately decided to say that we are moving on and have ignored the concerns of many people in Northern Ireland, I will not ignore the folder of concerns that we have on the education and skills authority (ESA) Bill. I will not adopt your attitude and say that it is inappropriate, it is inadequate, we are sorry, this is how it is, and we are moving on. I assure you that we will get it right. You might have got it wrong, but we will get the ESA Bill right. Unfortunately, you will have to pick up the pieces of your decisions, which are not in the best interests of education.

The Minister of Education:

Your confrontational tone is disappointing. There are educationalists in the room, and I think that they would like to see us working for the benefit of all children. That notwithstanding, I was at the first meeting between my party and yours in the Long Gallery when Dr Paisley spoke about the working-class children whom the DUP represents and the working-class children whom Sinn Féin represents. At that meeting, Dr Paisley and my party leader pledged that we would work together for working-class children. I will continue to do that.

You said that facts are stubborn — they are indeed — and we need to consider them: last year, 10 children from the Shankill Road transferred to grammar schools; the figure for Rathcoole was 25, for Sandy Row it was 11, and for the New Lodge it was 16. We must create a system that is fair for all those children. At the moment, we do not have a fair system. The facts are that 12,000 young people leave our school system without English and maths GCSE. Every time I ask people whether they would like that to be their child, they say that they would not. If we want a fair system for our own children, we must want it for all children.

I submitted proposals to the Executive in May 2008; both unionist parties refused even to discuss them. I submitted them again a couple of weeks ago, but the DUP refused even to put them on the agenda. I have asked the Committee for proposals; to date, the only proposals that I received were stated party positions. I had hoped that the Committee might have reached consensus, but it has not. That is unfortunate.

A very important debate is going on, and I am glad that educationalists, trades unions’ representatives, principal teachers and parents are here to listen to it. That debate is going on right across the North of Ireland. There are 1,238 schools in the various sectors in the North; a small minority of them are blocking change. I cannot allow a small minority of schools to do that. You alleged that I am threatening schools. I am absolutely not threatening them — nothing could be further from the truth.

I applaud the educationalists who have stood up for the interests of children right across the North: in Coleraine, Lisburn, west Belfast, Derry and Tyrone. We should not be putting them down in the way that I have heard here today. We need to listen to all sides in the debate; and I am listening.

However, I have moved the situation forward, because I am Minister for 100% of our children, and I have brought forward strong proposals in the form of Transfer 2010, which members have already seen. Transfer 2010 will mean that, for the first time ever, equality will be at the heart of our education system.

I am happy to discuss the review of public administration, but I thought that we were to discuss Transfer 2010 today. With respect to the Chairperson, we should stick to that agenda, because that is what the Committee asked me to talk about. However, I am happy to talk about the RPA if other members wish. Go raibh maith agat.

Mr D Bradley:

Maidin mhaith duit, a Aire, agus tá céad míle fáilte romhat. You said that all schools are obliged to have regard to the guidance that you issued on Transfer 2010. However, is it not the case that all schools, to a greater or lesser extent, already have regard to that guidance in so far as they use some of the admissions criteria in your menu of recommended criteria. In fact, non-selective schools already apply many of those admissions criteria, so the situation will, to all intents and purposes, be no different for them. However, the likelihood is that selective schools will be free to ignore your criteria, as they will use academic criteria and then use some of your criteria towards the end of their menu. Unfortunately, it seems that your guidance adds nothing to the situation and has been a futile exercise.

The Minister of Education:

Go raibh maith agat. I agree with you that the vast majority of schools throughout the North — not just post-primary schools, but primary schools — use the current admissions criteria, although there are some differences. I have introduced free school meals criteria and social justice criteria, because I listened very carefully when people talked about disadvantage in the system and about ensuring that there is equality of access.

Many good non-selective schools in our system operate the Transfer 2010 guidance, but I will not pre-empt it. There is a consultation process in place, and we should not presume that any schools will introduce breakaway tests or that they will break away from the system. I have been clear about the difficulties that schools face. Many grammar schools now have a much greater understanding of the legal minefield in setting a test: child-protection issues, equality issues, human rights issues and employment law. It is a very complex process. I have advised against their opting out of the system, and I hope that they listen to that advice.

We still have time, and we all need to use our good offices to ensure that all schools work with the Department of Education on our Transfer 2010 policy. I look forward to working with the member’s party on Transfer 2010. Sin an méid.

Mr D Bradley:

How will your Department assess the extent to which schools have regard to the guidance?

The Minister of Education:

Schools cannot disregard the Department’s guidance. In other words, it is an important document for schools to consider when developing their admissions criteria and in performing their role in the admissions process. If a board of governors does not comply with the duty to have regard to guidance issued by the Department under article 16(b) of the 1997 Education Order, the Department can issue a directive under article 101 of the 1986 Education and Libraries Order requiring them to do so. The Department can use article 101 when it is satisfied that a relevant authority has acted, or is proposing to act, unreasonably. Rather than focus on schools that may or may not operate outside the system, we should work with the education system and the schools that want to work within it. We should be using this time to ensure that all schools adhere to the guidance; if they do, Transfer 2010 will be a smooth transition.

Mr D Bradley:

I am still not sure how you will assess whether schools have had regard to the guidance.

The Minister of Education:

Do you want me to repeat what I said?

Mr D Bradley:

No; there is no point, because what you said was not clear.

The Minister of Education:

As I said, it is a legal minefield for schools to depart from departmental guidelines, and schools are becoming increasingly aware of that. There is equality legislation, human rights legislation, child protection law, trades union and employment law. It is important that we all adhere to the guidance and use our good offices to encourage schools to work within the system and not move out of it.

The Chairperson:

The bell has gone for the House to sit. The House may suspend for 15 or possibly 20 minutes. If it is agreeable, the Committee may meet until 11.30 am. Several Members wish to ask questions, and I do not want to curtail them. The Committee will reconvene after the suspension.

The meeting was suspended at 10.26am and resumed at 11.00am.

On resuming —

The Chairperson (Mr Storey):

The meeting was originally scheduled to last from 10.00 am to 11.30 am. Is 11.30 am still the deadline?

The Minister of Education:

We could continue until 11.45 am or 11.50 am, given the circumstances.

The Chairperson:

We will pick up from where we left off. I have a list of members who want to ask questions, so we will try to get through as many questions as possible, after which other members can indicate whether they want to ask a question.

Mr Lunn:

Minister, a few months ago, you came up with a compromise proposal — your 50%, 30%, 20% arrangement — and you may remember that we gave it a reasonable welcome as it was the first compromise offered by anybody in the debate. It involved a test that would be set by the CCEA, which you had commissioned. However, it was not accepted, and it was not even allowed to be discussed by some of the parties present, which was a pity. Whatever way we got here, we have reached the point whereby my party, and all the other parties around the table, are prepared to accept a compromise solution involving a CCEA test — and we put that to you in our letter dated 20 February.

In the meantime, you have come up with guidelines, and there has been a dispute as to whether they are enforceable, legally or otherwise. We are again faced with an unregulated system of chaos. It seems a pity that even though, in the space of a few months, you have offered a compromise, and the other parties involved have offered a compromise, we have not managed to get all the ducks in a row, if you like, and compromise at the same time.

It seems that you — or the Department — have taken the view that it is now the guidelines or nothing. The attitude seems to be: we offered it; you would not even allow it to be discussed, therefore on your own heads be it. That attitude does not seem to be very constructive. As I understand it, the CCEA still has time to prepare a test. At one time, not long ago, you were prepared to go down that route. The Committee is now prepared to go down that route. Why, then, can we not just go down that route?

The Chairperson:

Minister, before you answer that question, I want to clarify a point that has been made repeatedly. For the record, when the Minister’s proposals first came to the Executive, it was not the case that parties did not agree to discuss them. The Minister would not allow her proposals to be discussed along with other proposals. I repeat my point: if you say a thing often enough, it becomes part of folklore in Northern Ireland. I know that the Minister has repeatedly said that we would not discuss her proposals. The DUP, the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party were all happy to discuss the Minister’s proposals and other proposals at the Executive meeting — because, as we now know, at that stage there was not a consensus. That needs to be put on the record.

The Minister of Education:

First, in response to Mr Lunn’s question; I brought forward compromise solutions and proposals, and members of the Executive refused to discuss them at the Executive meeting in May. The DUP and the UUP refused to discuss them, as we all know. When I brought them forward again, the DUP refused even to put them on the agenda.

The Chairperson:

Minister, will you just clarify —

The Minister of the Environment:

Sorry — if I could just finish my answer to the member’s question: all members deserve their place. As I said, I brought forward compromise proposals that went against my principles; because, as is no secret to members, I am totally opposed to academic selection.

My question is this: as far as those who are pro-selection are concerned, how have they compromised? Some parties, but not all, asked for an interim solution. However, when I presented such a solution, two parties refused even to discuss or legislate for it. I have been very clear that in order for there to be a test, there would have to be legislation. It would be irresponsible to bring forward a test without legislation. That leaves us where we are now. Transfer 2010 provides a chance, for the first time, to have a fair and equal system in which all children have the same opportunity.

I have already answered the questions asked today by you, Cathaoirleach, on two occasions. Your party refused to discuss the proposals that I, as Minister of Education, brought to the table. You can dress it up with different facts, but that is what happened, and that is what people must understand. We cannot allow the situation to continue in which young people are failed in their thousands. I am not prepared to allow that to happen, nor to allow an extremely small minority of schools to block change for all children.

The Chairperson:

Minister, members know from your activities in Colombia that you have had a difficulty with telling the truth about some issues in the past. You will, therefore, have no difficulty in repeating something that is totally untrue. I do not know how many times you have to be told, but let me make it clear: you know that your party blocked the paper coming before the last meeting of the Executive because you did not want the paper on the Maze to be brought before them.

Let us stick to the facts: you do not like facts, and we know that you have a problem with them. You said, as Minister, that you would not allow yourself to be the Minister for inequality and that you do not want a system of educational apartheid to continue. You are now the Minister for educational apartheid in Northern Ireland: you are creating further division. The consensus around the table is that there should be a CCEA examination paper. You pulled the shutters down when you said that there would be no such paper and no interim arrangements. In your response to the Committee, you now describe such arrangements as a “contingency”. Therefore, you never regarded them as anything other than a contingency, a blocking mechanism or diversionary tactic.

We can achieve consensus on one issue before leaving the room today — that there should be an interim arrangement in order that we can achieve a proper, fair system of transfer. However you, Minister, will make the decision before you go out the door today: will you block progress and continue to be the Minister for apartheid, or will we have a fair system of education in Northern Ireland? Trevor, do you wish to ask another question?

The Minister of Education:

Before I —

The Chairperson:

Trevor wants to comment.

The Minister of Education:

There are comments —

The Chairperson:

Minister, I am the Chairperson of this meeting and therefore —

The Minister of Education:

Excuse me. Comments were made that —

The Chairperson:

Minister, I am the Chairperson of this meeting. I am saying that Trevor will speak now, and you can then respond.

The Minister of Education:

There are comments that I need to respond to. People resort to personal abuse and to scraping the barrel when they have failed policies. There is not consensus in the Committee about an interim proposal, so let us put that to bed.

The Chairperson:

Let us put it to the test.

The Minister of Education:

You wrote to me as the Chairperson, Cathaoirleach, of the Education Committee, and you said that not all members supported such an arrangement. Let us be clear: we should stop playing games.

The Chairperson:

The majority —

The Minister of Education:

I would also like to say — through the Chairperson — that we should not resort to personal abuse. Trevor, gabh mo leithscéal.

The Chairperson:

Thank you — I will regain my position as Chairperson of the Committee. People will see the attitude that you display, Minister. If you come before the Committee again, you will be subject to its rules. As Chairperson of this Committee — and you can look in whatever direction you wish — neither I nor any member of the Committee will be treated by the Minister, or another member, with disdain or disrespect. I ask that when you come to the Committee you to respect the Chairperson — even though we all might make unpalatable suggestions. I will now call on Trevor to respond.

Mr Lunn:

Thank you, Mr Chairperson, and thank you, Minister. I can see that we are going down a well-trodden road.

I merely want to clarify one matter. The Minister said that the problem with the CCEA test, or part of the problem, is that there is no legislative basis for it. It is perfectly clear from the Committee’s letter and from the remarks that have been made at today’s meeting that that legislative basis could be obtained easily. It is not a sufficient reason not to proceed with the CCEA test.

The Minister of Education:

For 18 months, I worked to build consensus. You know that I brought the proposals to the Executive on two occasions, and you know what happened. I have been very clear, and I will say it again: given the fact that parties chose to block the matter from the Executive agenda, there can be no test. We now need to move forward using Transfer 2010 and the guidance that my Department has issued. Time has moved on, and we are where we are.

Apartheid was mentioned. The 11-plus has created a system of educational apartheid in which working-class communities have been seriously disadvantaged. I will not allow that to continue.

Mr McCausland:

I want to raise two points. The Minister referred to the words “abuse” and “equality”. It is an abuse of political representatives in working-class communities in Belfast to suggest that they do not care and that they are prepared to tolerate underachievement.

I remind the Minister that she attended the Committee on 1 October 2008, when the issue of transfer to post-primary education was on the agenda. On 6 October 2008, the Committee wrote to the Minister asking a series of questions about underachievement and inequality. We did not receive an answer. The Committee wrote again on 20 November 2008 asking for answers to the questions about underachievement and social and structural inequalities in the education system.

We wrote again on 23 January 2009. Four months have elapsed and we still have not had the courtesy of a response to any of our letters. Why has the Minister not answered the fundamental questions that were put to her at the Committee meeting and that were submitted to her in writing thereafter? Why did she not bother to respond to the Committee’s letter? When will she respond to the letter? Will she answer those questions now, particularly the question about a descriptive list of the social and structural inequalities in the school system and information on how they are being addressed?

The Minister of Education:

My comments and proposals regarding underachievement are on record. I always answer the Committee’s questions, and I can send —

Mr McCausland:

Four months is a long time to wait.

The Minister of Education:

I can send the Committee a list of the number of times that it has written to me, the number of questions that it has asked and a detailed list of my responses. Rather than us —

Mr McCausland:

Mr Chairperson, may I have an answer to the question? There is no point in my asking questions if I do not get answers. When will the Committee receive a response to its letter, and why has that letter not been answered?

Mr Paul Price (Department of Education):

The questions asked were about underachievement and standards, therefore they relate to part of the Department that I am not here to represent. However, I think that the answers are complex.

Mr McCausland:

With respect; the questions that I asked were put to the Minister in a letter addressed to the Minister. Why did the Minister not answer?

The Minister of Education:

I would like Paul to answer for me.

Mr McCausland:

It does not seem as though he can.

Mr Price:

The answer is that the answer is coming.

Mr McCausland:

Good.

Mr Price:

We apologise for the delay, but the answer is very complex. It will be an extended paper, in all likelihood, and it will be coming as soon as possible.

The Chairperson:

On that point, Paul; if this is very complex, it goes to the very heart of what the Minister continually trots out every day, every week and every month. She continually tells us that there are inequalities in the system and that she wants to address them. Therefore, she must know what those inequalities are. You are telling us now that they are so complex that it has taken the Minister and the Department four months to answer our question, yet the Minister is able to say that there is a problem.

The Minister of Education:

I will try to answer the question without being interrupted. I have set up a task force on literacy and numeracy. We have set up policies in relation to targeting underachievement. I have established a taskforce on Traveller education. We have also commissioned a comprehensive review of the common funding formula in relation to how we target disadvantage, because currently, we are not targeting to the appropriate degree of social need.

We also have a review of special needs and inclusion. That policy is ready to go to the Executive and, as you will know, it deals with the issue of underachievement. I look forward to a discussion with the Executive on the review of special needs and inclusion.

The Chairperson:

Departmental officials came before the Committee last week to discuss the common funding formula: no review has been instigated — they have been carrying out a scoping exercise. This issue is months away. You have said that a massive amount of work is being done on the common funding formula and that there is a review — it is a very limited review.

We have been waiting for a review of special needs since 2006. You accused my party and me of blocking the issue a few weeks ago when you know that you had got a response to the special needs policy. We are still waiting for that to come before the Executive. You have not brought it to the Executive.

The Minister for Education:

I would like to respond to that. The special needs and inclusion policy is with the Executive at the moment. I very much look forward to discussing it with all parties, including yours, Mr Chairperson, and I hope that it will be on the agenda of the next Executive meeting. It is essential that no one plays politics with special needs and with some of our most vulnerable children. I very much look forward to its being on the agenda of the next Executive meeting.

Mr McCausland:

I would like to raise two further points. The four-month delay in answering our letter has been detrimental to the discussion on these issues. Is it normally the practice of the Department to send an acknowledgement or a holding letter? On three occasions, letters have been sent. There has not even been an acknowledgement or a holding letter. Is that correct?

The Committee Clerk:

Yes.

Mr McCausland:

That is correct; there has not even been an acknowledgement. Why was that not done in this case? In addition, when we are told that we will get an answer shortly, how soon is shortly?

The Minister of Education:

I will look into that. We will certainly take on board any comments that the Committee has to make in relation to that.

Mr McCausland:

I have made my comments.

Mr Elliott:

Thank you for that, Minister. Your achievement in creating a lot of division, uncertainty and frustration — not only in this education system, but in the wider community, among parents and teachers — is unchallenged in the Assembly. It is creating significant frustration. Do you realise the frustration that it is creating and the pressure that that uncertainty it is putting on parents and teachers?

There is no clarity about the situation. Teachers are being pressurised to do nothing but make arrangements for the transfer mechanism that you have put in place for the children who are now in p6. However, a large percentage of teachers feel under pressure to follow through on a testing system. A compromise is needed. That idea seems to be coming forward, and I do not know whether you are prepared to accept it.

Where do you get the idea that working-class families and children are being disadvantaged by the current system? I do not want to hear the argument about the children on the Shankill Road because I have heard it thousands of times. That is not what I am seeing. The system is not perfect — it needs some tweaking and improvement — however, that does not mean that the baby should be thrown out with the bathwater. It does not mean that the whole system should be torn down and replaced by proposals that are practically unworkable.

Does the Minister realise the views of the community? I know that she will say that she has met people here, there and everywhere, but we also meet people every day of the week.

The Minister of Education:

I have attended all the teachers’ conferences. I attended the conference of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO). This week, I shall attend that of the NASUWT. I have met the UTU, and a leading member of that organisation wrote to the Chairperson of the Committee. Teachers love the revised curriculum. They do not like academic selection, and they did not like the distortion of the curriculum over the past number of decades. They have seen how it has disadvantaged children.

We will have to disagree on your point about inequality. There is a significant gap in achievement between those who are most and least economically and socially disadvantaged. The figures show that 54% of young people leave school with at least five GCSEs at A to C grades, including English and maths. For high-income families, the figure is 60%, compared with 27% for low-income families.

With respect, I suggest that Mr Elliott’s party studies the figures carefully. I shall start with middle-class areas. Last year, in Holywood, 77 children went to a grammar school. In Hillsborough, 79 children went to a grammar school, as did 214 children from the Malone Road. Only 10 children from the Shankill went to a grammar school, as did 11 from Sandy Row, 25 from Rathcoole and 16 from the New Lodge. It is beyond me how anyone can say that a class system and apartheid is not at work here, because it obviously is.

We must move with the times. The rest of Ireland has a non-selective system, which is achieving very well. Scotland, England, Wales, most of Europe and the rest of the world have moved on. In the past, our children were taught to do two one-hour tests in English or Irish — depending on the language through which they learned — and sciences. Other children had a very broad curriculum.

We must listen to educationalists, teacher’s unions and people such as John Platt in Coleraine, Stanley Poots, and Frank Bunting from the INTO. Those people know what they are talking about, because they have been working in education and have been at the coalface, and they are crying out for change.

The Chairperson:

Minister, do you think that it would it be good for you to listen to parents? Perhaps you have forgotten about them and are quite happy to have a selectively chosen trio of supporters around you. Remember that the individuals that you have named do not agree with everything that you say and do.

The Minister of Education:

I did not say for one moment that they did.

The Chairperson:

Minister, you are continually selective. Work carried out by the East Belfast Partnership on the allocation of children to grammar schools showed that 54% of the children at Grosvenor Grammar School came from the inner lower Newtownards Road. So that you know, that is a socially deprived, working class unionist area. How will you provide for children from that area and ensure that parents have choices?

You have published guidance, but when your officials appeared in front of the Committee a few weeks ago, they told us that guidance is only guidance and that it has no legislative authority. How will you provide for parents who want a choice? You have taken choice away. How will you answer the Northern Ireland Commission for Catholic Education when it publishes its report, having concluded its work on Friday 6 February? We will wait and see what it will say. How will you tell the Roman Catholic maintained grammar schools that you have listened to their concerns and have dealt with the issues that they have consistently raised? Now, I have —

The Minister of Education:

You asked me questions —

Mr Elliott:

I want to make a point that is linked to the issue that the Chairperson raised. Minister, I am keen to understand how you believe that your proposals will tackle underachievement and give preference to children from socially-disadvantaged backgrounds. I cannot see where or how your proposals can achieve that. As the Chairperson rightly says, parents no longer have a choice.

The Minister of Education:

There were a couple of questions there. I am listening to parents, and I have met parents across the North of Ireland. I went to public meetings in order to hear directly from parents and have discussions with them.

The Chairperson:

In St Mary’s?

The Minister of Education:

I was interested in what parents were saying to me. Across the board, they told me that they wanted a fairer system; they wanted to ensure that all children have opportunities; and they wanted standards for all children in our system. That is what we are going to do. My Department will focus closely on standards.

In answer to Tom Elliott’s question, we have looked at how to ensure fairness in the system. We can achieve that fairness through free school meals entitlement, which will ensure that the disadvantages of the past will not affect children now. That is a very important initiative. The review of the common funding formula will be a major undertaking, which will put targeting social need at its core. We put more money into primary schools in the recent round of allocations; there was an increase last year and again this year, and we will continue to do that. Members will know that my Department has carried out a yearly review. However, the review of the common funding formula will be comprehensive and will operate on the basis of objective need, right at the heart of where the money needs to go.

I have been out and about on the Shankill Road, north Belfast, Coleraine and Derry. I have been right across the North in every single community. Those communities are crying out for change. The people who do not see that are pretending that that is not the case and choose to work for a small minority of schools. They must take a broader view. That was the view that was expressed by the primary-school principal who wrote to the Chairperson, and I share that view.

The Chairperson:

Edwin can address some of the issues that were raised in that letter.

Mr Poots:

First, it is offensive to say that one third of the post-primary sector is a small minority in the education system. Those schools are a critical and crucial element of our education system.

The Minister said that she had no legislative competence to introduce the CCEA test. What legislative competence do you have for the guidance that you have published?

The Minister of Education:

In answer to your first comment, we have 1,238 schools. We are changing the education system for all our children at every level in that system. For too long, the whole education system — preschool provision, primary schools and post-primary schools — was geared towards a single test. Thankfully now, that is no longer the case. We now have Transfer 2010, which is a much fairer system. We cannot allow a small minority of schools —

Mr Poots:

Again, Minister, you are repeating yourself.

The Minister of Education:

We cannot —

Mr Poots:

Excuse me — you are saying that it is a small minority of schools. We are not talking about a small minority of schools. We are talking about one third of the post-primary sector; it is not a small minority of schools.

The Minister of Education:

If you would just let me answer the question rather than getting annoyed.

Mr Poots:

You are being wholly inaccurate.

The Minister of Education:

Perhaps, you do not like my answer.

Mr Poots:

It is wholly inaccurate.

The Minister of Education:

The reality is —

Mr McCausland:

An answer would be a miracle.

The Minister of Education:

I will start again. We have 1,238 schools. Our entire curriculum, across preschool, primary and post-primary provision, has been distorted by the transfer test. Thankfully, that will no longer be the case.

It is a small minority of schools. I look at the education system in its entirety: the review of special education needs and inclusion, how objective need should be dealt with and literacy and numercy. Transfer 2010 is one of many policies that we have. It is a small minority of schools, and, at this stage, they realise the difficulties that they will face if they opt out or break away from the system. There is still time for them to reconsider.

I was also asked about the legislative basis for the issuing of guidance. The legal basis for the 11-plus is ended; there is no legal or moral basis for it. A growing number of grammar schools now knows that testing at the age of 11 is a legal minefield, with all sorts of human rights, equality, child protection and employment issues. The legislative basis for the issuing of guidance has been published, and it is highlighted in the document that members have. I am sure that the member has read it. “The Legal Status of the Department of Education’s Guidance on Admissions” states that:

“This guidance is issued by the Department of Education under Article 16B of the Education Order, 1997 — as amended by Article 30 of the Education Order, 2006 —which states:

(1) The Department may issue, and from time to time. revise such guidance as it thinks appropriate in respect of the arrangements for the admission of pupils to grant-aided schools and the discharge by:

i. Boards;

ii. The Boards of Governors of grant-aided schools;

iii. Appeal tribunals constituted in accordance with regulations under Article 15(8); and

iv. The body established by regulations under Article 16A(6),

of their respective functions under this part.

(2) The guidance may in particular set out aims, objectives and other matters in relation to the discharge of those functions.

(3) It shall be the duty of

v. Each of the bodies mentioned in Paragraph (1); and

vi. Any other person exercising any function for the purposes of the discharge by such a body of functions under this part,

to have regard to any relevant guidance for the time being in force under this Article.”

We also have a revised curriculum. It is a statutory duty, and primary schools want to teach it because they believe that it is a good curriculum. I will be supporting primary schools, and I note what some of the unions have said about teaching to breakaway tests or to schools that choose to operate outside the system.

Mr Poots:

Minister, you have outlined sets of criteria for admissions, many of which are already in place in high schools and grammar schools. I see nothing that prohibits schools from adding further categories to that list.

The Minister of Education:

I have explained the legal framework within which Transfer 2010 is working, and that is the legal framework on which I am operating.

Mr Poots:

There is nothing to prevent a school from adding a further category.

The Minister of Education:

The 11-plus has gone. I will repeat what I have said already: a growing number of grammar schools understands that testing at the age of 11 is a legal minefield involving human rights, equality, child protection and employment issues; we also have equality legislation and disability legislation. If all schools adhere to the guidance, we will have a smooth transition for Transfer 2010.

Mr Poots:

The Minister may wish to clutch at straws and delude herself that grammar schools will not apply some means of academic testing; she may also be clutching at straws by believing that primary schools will not co-operate. Mr Stanley Poots — a namesake of mine, but not a relative as far as I know — was not speaking on behalf of the 30 primary schools in the Lisburn sector. I sit on the board of governors of three primary schools, all of which are preparing children in conjunction with the local grammar schools.

In the same sector, members of other schools’ boards of governors contacted me to say that their schools are preparing for a test. Mr Stanley Poots took neither that information nor the letter that has been mentioned to his board of governors; therefore, he did not speak with the authority of the board of governors that employs him. The Minister may clutch at the straws offered by people such as Stanley Poots; but when the time for testing arrives, the facts will become clear.

What happened at the Executive meeting must be clarified. The Minister brought her proposals to that meeting, and no one refused to discuss them. A request was made that a series of proposals be discussed, but the Minister refused to allow discussion of any proposals other than hers. The fundamental flaws in her strategy were that she was not prepared to discuss proposals from any other party and that she refused to allow the establishment of an education subcommittee.

An Executive subcommittee deals with water charges, for example, and other subcommittees have been established to deal with other critical issues. It is her intransigence in not seeking to build consensus that has led to the present critical situation for the parents of all young children who are due to move from the primary to the post-primary sector in the coming years. I am one of those parents.

The Minister of Education:

In response to your first comment, the guidance for primary schools is, as they requested, extremely clear. Primary schools do not want to teach pupils to take a test because they do not consider that to be educationally sound. As for preparation for a post-primary school’s entrance test, paragraph 23 of the “Academic Admissions Criteria” in the guidance states that primary schools should note that:

“this cannot be required of them and that the Department strongly recommends against it. Indeed, all primary schools are covered by statutory obligations to deliver the primary curriculum as defined in Articles 4-9 of the Education Order 2006. The Education and Training Inspectorate will also continue to monitor the quality of teaching and learning, in the context of, the revised curriculum in primary schools. “

I hope that the member is not suggesting that primary schools go against their statutory duties; I am sure that he is not. I ask him to encourage primary schools to adhere to the revised curriculum rather than make threatening comments about it.

When I brought proposals to the Executive meeting, there was a refusal to discuss them. I do not know why people wanted such an important issue to be discussed at subcommittee level; I wanted the proposals to be discussed by the highest authority — the Executive. Your party refused to do so. A few weeks ago, to add insult to injury, the DUP refused even to put my proposals on the agenda.

The Chairperson:

The Maze did not appear on the agenda either.

The Minister of Education:

I asked the Committee to reach consensus on proposals, and I asked the DUP for proposals. To date, I have not received consensual proposals from the Committee, and I find that disappointing.

Mr Poots:

People power is important in Northern Ireland. The Minister may think that she can bully parents, but she will fail miserably. Seven children have already been withdrawn from a school because it would not prepare them for the test. Schools can teach the revised curriculum and prepare children for a test that includes maths and English; both subjects are, in any case, part of that curriculum to Key Stage 2. The addition of a couple of tests in maths and English, therefore, does not deviate from the teaching of the revised curriculum.

Whether the Minister likes it or not, parents will remove their children from schools that are not prepared to assist them in getting what they want for their children.

The Minister of Education:

I am a great believer in people power. I have travelled throughout the North and the island of Ireland, and there is tremendous support for equality in the education system.

I will continue to work with people right across this island — north, south, east and west — to make sure that we can bring about a progressive education system for all our children.

The Chairperson:

Minister, how can you come to this Committee and continually make statements about inequality when you have had a letter from this Committee for four months to which you have not replied? Your officials told us that it is a very complex matter, but it is not a complex matter for you; it falls off your tongue without even a degree of conscience.

There is inequality in funding; you are absolutely right. There is inequality in how the controlled sector is treated compared to other sectors. However, be assured, Minister — and you can write this down or I will give this to you in writing and I will sign it — that by the time we are finished with this process, we will have achieved equality in transfer, the ESA and the scrutiny of the Department of Education. No longer will one group be privileged above another; if it is equality you want, it is equality you will get. It takes you four months to answer a letter on the issue of equality. It is a complex matter, but we will deal with it.

Among the questions on the criteria for Transfer 2010 is one on how the criterion for free school meals will work. You say that you want to give clarity to primary schools. The response to question 12 on the free school meals criterion states that:

“The operation of this criterion will be within the standard application process. Schools and parents will be given further information on this in due course.”

Further information is always needed; nothing is ever clear, whether circulars or guidance from the Department. The response always states that more information will be provided. How will that work? When will schools receive that information?

The Minister of Education:

First, I welcome to your commitment to equality, and I look forward to working with you —

The Chairperson:

Real equality.

The Minister of Education:

Let me answer the question. I welcome your commitment to equality, and I look forward to working with you on the basis of equality. In the weeks and months ahead, we will see how we will do that.

I respectfully suggest that you not inflame the situation by issuing threats. In relation to free school meals —

The Chairperson:

Will you clarify what the threat was, Minister?

The Minister of Education:

Would you like to talk about free school meals?

The Chairperson:

Minister, I am the Chairperson. Please answer the question. What was the threat that I issued?

The Minister of Education:

A few minutes ago, when talking about the ESA and the RPA you used a very threatening tone. Let us put the interests of our children first. We should not play politics with important issues such as the RPA —

The Chairperson:

Do not be patronising, Minister.

The Minister of Education:

We must put our children and equality at the centre of Transfer 2010 and of the review of special needs and inclusion. I welcome the fact that your commitment to equality has been put on record today. Paul, will you outline how free school meals will work?

Mr Price:

The operational aspect on the detail of the free school meals criterion is still to come. The document says that we need to develop an automatic and secure method in the applications process by which free school meals applicants are identified as such. We will be looking to the operational part of Transfer 2010 to develop that with us.

However, the recommended first criterion for schools is that they admit free school meals applicants according to the rate at which they apply. All that is left unclear is the mechanism that will determine how that works.

The Chairperson:

How will we address the inequality of the current provision for applications for free school meals? There is no even playing field on that issue. Many people consider there to be a social stigma even to applying for free school meals. How will your guidelines ensure that the process is fair?

The Minister of Education:

First, we must make allocations according to objective need, and free school meals are an objective need that we are considering.

The Department will play its role, but it is not the responsibility of the Department alone to ensure that people get what they are entitled to. Therefore, I respectively suggest that the Chairperson and, indeed, all members of the Education Committee, encourage those who are entitled to free school meals to apply for them.

Members will be glad to know that we have also extended the provision of grants for primary-school uniforms; in the past, grants were available only for post-primary school uniforms. Last Friday, having listened to parents’ concerns about the economic downturn, I announced that we are extending the grant to parents of primary-school children. That is a good-news story. Let us all show leadership by encouraging people to sign up for free school meals if they are entitled to them.

Mrs M Bradley:

I welcome the good news for parents about grants for primary-school uniforms.

The unregulated system of academic selection is placing the primary-school sector under a great deal of pressure from parents, who are in despair about where, or whether, their children will get a school place. Parents are giving schools flak to prepare their children for tests, but no one knows what tests to prepare them for; meanwhile, schools are under pressure from you and your Department not to prepare children for tests. They are caught in the middle. Although post-primary schools need not follow your guidelines, have you not left them in the lurch without support? I believe that you have.

I received a letter. I do not have time to read it in full, but your colleague John O’Dowd has a copy, which I am sure he will let you see. Perhaps you have already seen it. It comes from a mother who wants to know at what point parents will have to apply legal pressure to prevent their children from being used as guinea pigs. Minister, there is deep despair among parents and primary-school principals and teachers. What are you going to do to help them out of that situation?

The Minister of Education:

First, thank you for your comments about the primary-school uniform scheme; it is a good initiative.

Secondly, you spoke about the situation of some, or perhaps many, parents; however, the vast majority of parents want change, because the present system is failing many children. It seems strange that you appear to be supporting independent, breakaway tests. On 13 May 2008, when I brought out the compromise proposals, your colleague Dominic Bradley said that it had the hallmarks of a DUP/Sinn Féin deal and, more important, he accused me of a climbdown. We must ensure that we have a fair education system. Dominic was a teacher, and, like many of our teachers, he taught in a non-selective sector, so he has seen the effects of academic selection on young people’s morale. We must show leadership on this matter.

You mentioned parents who say that they want their children to do independent, breakaway tests; however, I have not heard you speak about the parents who are delighted that the system is changing. Rather than attempting to pick holes in Transfer 2010, I would have expected a party that supports the ending of academic selection to join with my party in showing leadership, because our children need leadership.

Mr D Bradley:

We will still have unregulated academic selection.

The Chairperson:

I shall attempt to draw this to a conclusion. Again, Minister, you make broad, unsubstantiated statements; that has become part of you, so I suppose it is what we must expect. You make broad statements about parents wanting change. However, when your predecessor Martin McGuinness was allowed — with no control from the then failed Executive — to abolish academic selection arbitrarily, the Department of Education commissioned the largest survey ever to be carried out, and it clearly indicated that 62% of parents and teachers want some form of academic selection.

However, because of the controls that now exist in the Executive you have been unable to abolish academic selection. There is more concern among the public now about where you are taking education; you are creating further division and confusion.

You said that the Committee has not reached consensus. Although I cannot speak for all parties, I can ask them whether there is consensus. Most parties in the room can agree on a CCEA paper. You said at the start of the process that you could not set a test for the revised curriculum, although you changed that stance. I laughed earlier when you mentioned testing in schools in a manner that suggested that it is an awful thing. Schools continually test, yet you were so dismissive of that. That is what schools are about. Perhaps you prefer children to play in sand.

A CCEA paper based on the revised curriculum that would not, in your own words, distort the revised curriculum could be used as an interim arrangement. After all, the Northern Ireland Commission for Catholic Education, the Governing Bodies Association, the Catholic Heads Association, parents, teachers, trades unions, and political parties are saying — and you have said it yourself — that they do not want an unregulated system.

In light of that, the challenge is whether you will allow the Committee to flesh out proposals, because you said today that you will not agree to the Committee’s request to reconsider the use of a CCEA test. Will you reaffirm that opinion and close the matter to allow the press to send that message to parents, some of whom are in attendance today? You will now make that decision. Are you saying that you will close the matter and that you are not prepared to engage with the Committee?

The Minister of Education:

I am surprised by your comments about testing in schools. Primary schools have a revised curriculum, and educationalists understand that children should not be tested in primary school. You need to be careful about playing with words. There are, of course, tests in post-primary schools.

The Chairperson:

There are tests in primary schools, too.

The Minister of Education:

An Cathaoirleach — the Chairperson — will be aware that those schools are regulated by a body that has a great deal of experience of GCSEs, A levels and various other tests. Primary schools do not test anymore.

The Chairperson questioned whether I had authority. The 11-plus is gone. There will be no 11-plus next year. I am thankful for that and have no intention of reinstating it. The Chairperson is entitled to his opinion.

The Committee has not reached consensus, and the Chairperson must be careful not to misrepresent parties. I am interested in hearing from the SDLP, which accused me of making a climbdown in May 2008. What is that party’s position now? Does it support that so-called climbdown? Does it support bringing back the 11-plus? It would be useful to know its position for my deliberations. I will also be interested in hearing the view of my own party on the matter. It is important that we hear from all parties rather than have the Chairperson tell us that we have heard from them all. It is 11.53 am, but I can postpone my arrangements in order to hear from everybody.

The Chairperson:

We will flesh the matter out. Are you saying that if the Committee reaches consensus, you will agree with it; or is it your position that you have given us your response and will not agree to any further suggestions? Can you clarify that? There is no point in our going round and round in circles.

You have said it in the House, you have said it publicly and you have said it here today that you will not agree to our request. I have made a suggestion on how we could reach agreement, but you say that you would have further deliberations. Are you saying that you will agree if the Committee can agree a way forward?

The Minister of Education:

There are two parties from which I have not heard in relation to —

Mr Poots:

Two?

The Minister of Education:

If I could just finish, Edwin: there are two parties here — Sinn Féin and the SDLP — whose position on a test I have not heard. I would welcome hearing the SDLP members’ position: do they propose unlimited academic selection? What exactly are they talking about? The letter that came from the Committee did not have the support — from what I can see — of all parties here, so I would be interested —

Mr D Bradley:

Minister, you tell us that you do not know your own party’s view, so I am not surprised that you do not know the SDLP’s.

The Minister of Education:

I would like to hear your view, Dominic.

Mr D Bradley:

It is expressed in the Chairperson’s letter to you dated 20 February 2009. Paragraph 8 states:

“One member did have reservations with an interim CCEA test transfer arrangement in that it is a ‘stop gap’ measure and could take away from the need to work now for an agreed arrangement.”

That is the view that I expressed. I am surprised, frankly, that you do not know your own party’s view.

The Minister of Education:

I was asking that my party’s view be put on record in the Committee, because there is a misrepresentation that all parties on the Committee support an agreed position. It is only fair that my colleagues have the right to put on record —

Mr D Bradley:

They were present when that letter was agreed.

The Chairperson:

Minister, can you just please listen?

The Minister of Education:

I am welcoming Dominic’s clarification; it is my right to do that.

The Chairperson:

I will read this to you in English, Minister, in case you have any difficulties with it. In my role as the Chairperson of the Committee, there was no intent to misrepresent or mislead any member that a letter was being sent to you that contained some sleight-of-hand. Dominic has stated his position. Let me read further from paragraph 8:

“Two members reminded the Committee of your proposed compromise proposals for three year bilateral admissions which of course included the CCEA test.”

Those two members were the Sinn Féin members of the Committee. For you to say again that the Committee’s position is not stated proves that you do not even pay attention to the letter that you have just received, never mind not answering one from four months ago.

The Minister of Education:

I am glad that it is now clear; thank you. Go raibh maith agat.

Mr O’Dowd:

I apologise for being late. Since I have entered the room, you, Chairperson, have done yourself no credit whatsoever. If you wish to be the DUP spokesperson at the presentation by the Education Minister, you would be safer stepping aside from the Chair and allowing someone else to take it for that part of the meeting.

Sinn Féin’s position is — and I heard the Minister say that she wanted it stated for the record — that we do not support academic selection and neither do we support the introduction of a CCEA test. We supported the Minister’s compromise proposals, which, had they been adopted by all political parties, would have created a regulated transfer system. Dominic’s comments were a floundering attempt to present the SDLP’s position. I have been at numerous public meetings with Dominic, and the position of the SDLP depends on the audience. My position is clear —

Mr D Brady:

John, you have been at one public meeting with me, not “numerous”.

Mr O’Dowd:

We are not in favour of academic selection, whether or not it is through a CCEA test in the absence of political agreement.

The Chairperson:

Can I clarify the situation? The Committee can decide whether it is happy with me as Chairperson. I take my responsibility seriously, and I am happy to let the people of Northern Ireland decide whether that letter was a fair attempt at trying to get a resolution to a situation that affects every home in Northern Ireland.

My politics on the issue are unimportant; what is important, however, is ensuring that we have a fair education system for the children of Northern Ireland. The letter was fair in reflecting Sinn Féin members’ position. John, are you saying that you will agree to a CCEA paper as an interim arrangement?

Mr O’Dowd:

We will agree to a CCEA paper as part of a compromise position — a political agreement that was presented to the Executive and all the political parties in May 2008. That is the only way to move the matter forward. The unionist parties’ position has not changed one iota; they are talking about keeping the status quo. You can call it the CCEA test, the 11-plus test or the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) test — or whoever else wants to join the queue to present the test — but you are saying that you want to keep the status quo — sin é; that’s it. We do not agree with that.

The Chairperson:

Minister, there are no comments. Thank you for coming today. Is it your intention to reflect on those considerations or are you telling the Committee that you will not consider its request as outlined in the letter of 20 February?

The Minister of Education:

I always reflect on everything that the Committee says to me. I have been clear about Transfer 2010 — it is the Department’s policy. There will not be a CCEA test. We have to move forward now under Transfer 2010 in the interests of all our children, and I look forward to working with all the parties on that. Thank you all very much for your courtesy this morning.

Mr Storey:

Thank you, Minister.

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