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Ministerial Meetings

Education – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 2nd November 2009.

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Photo of Alan McFarland Alan McFarland UUP 2:45 pm, 2nd November 2009

4. asked the Minister of Education to detail any discussions she had with other political parties during the week beginning 12 October 2009.  (AQO 277/10)

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

Ní raibh aon phlé agam le páirtithe polaitíochta eile le linn na seachtaine dar tús an 12 Deireadh Fómhair 2009.

I had no discussions with other political parties during the week commencing 12 October 2009.

Photo of Alan McFarland Alan McFarland UUP

I thank the Minister for her reply. Does she believe that the transfer procedure solution can be found without her or Sinn Féin meeting the other parties to discuss the issue? Will she give the House a commitment today that she and Sinn Féin will meet other parties to discuss the issue and to find a solution to the transfer issue?

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

As the Member will be aware, I have spent a huge amount of time during the past two years in discussions with all the education sectors and political parties. I brought my proposals to the Executive on a number of occasions. Indeed, the Member’s party, together with the DUP, refused even to discuss them.

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

I had to take action. I am the Minister of Education for all children, not just a small minority. I have to ensure that all our children are treated with equality and with respect. The 11-plus is gone; it will not come back, nor will there be any alternative exam that would put children through the ordeal of sitting two one-hour tests. There is no need to test children. It does not happen in the rest of Ireland at 10 years of age; it does not happen in England, Scotland or Wales; and it does not happen throughout Europe and the United States — [Interruption.]

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

Therefore, we need to move to a situation in which all our children are treated with equality, have opportunities for education and receive the education to which they are entitled, without having to sit two one-hour tests.

Those who clamour for the return of the 11-plus or for an alternative test should consider carefully how such tests affect children in working-class communities, be they nationalist or republican, loyalist or unionist, or newcomer children. I will tell Members how it affects them: it discriminates against them. It is not possible to test children at 10 years of age without discriminating against those communities. Thankfully, we now have transfer 2010, and the vast majority of children will move to post-primary education on the bases of equality, fairness and good international practice.

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

I will not take points of order during Question Time. The Member may raise a point of order after Question Time.

Photo of Pat Ramsey Pat Ramsey Social Democratic and Labour Party

Will the Minister confirm again that she is open to an agreed solution on the transfer procedure? If so, will she confirm that she will meet with the education spokespersons of the parties that are represented in the Chamber?

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

It is interesting that the SDLP appears to be departing from a 40-year policy of opposition to academic selection. The UUP, along with its colleagues in the DUP, previously refused even to discuss the transfer procedure at the Executive table. I took action that will be to the benefit of all our children and young people.

We are creating a system that is based on equality and on making sure that every child gets a fair chance. I will continue to do that.

If the SDLP has departed from its policy, it should explain why to its electorate. Perhaps the SDLP should question why it is linking up with a party that actively supports academic selection. The Tory Party, which is in coalition — although I do not know what the right word for it is — with the UUP, is opposed to academic selection and has put that opposition on record. The electorate would be interested to hear answers to those questions.

Photo of Trevor Lunn Trevor Lunn Alliance

The Minister will be aware that there are ongoing talks among four other parties that are represented in this Chamber. Three or four meetings have been held, and her party has been invited to send a representative to each of those talks. In the spirit of trying to find an agreed solution, would she not consider it worthwhile to at least allow a representative of her party to attend those talks, which are non-binding?

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

I made it clear that I have had meetings on many occasions with all the different political parties about transfer 2010. I brought the issue to the Executive, and I stated already that they refused to discuss it. The place for policy formation is in the Executive and in the Education Committee. We had the bizarre situation in which the Committee could not agree consensus proposals, but the very people who sat in the Committee and could not agree then went into another room and thought that they could sit down and deal with the issue. The Committee has failed to deal with the issue.

Some members of that working group said that they needed more time. I bring to their attention a News Letter’ article dated Tuesday 8 September 1964. That headline article read: “Moves soon to replace qualifying”. It detailed how the Ulster Government were:

“moving fast to find a satisfactory replacement for the controversial 11-plus examination.”

Let us not waste any more time on this issue. The key task is to bring forward fair proposals, and we have done that through transfer 2010. Children will not have to go through the hoop of doing two traumatic one-hour tests to decide whether they get into a school. Those days are gone.