I thank the Member for his question. My Department provides guidance to, amongst others, principals and boards of governors of post-primary schools on the arrangements for transfer from primary to post-primary. Information is contained in a number of circulars, the most recent being 'Circular 2016/15 - The procedure for transfer from primary to post-primary education'. The circular includes information and advice on a range of issues and lays out the respective roles of the Department of Education, the Education Authority, post-primary schools, primary schools and parents. It provides information on boards of governors’ statutory obligations to set admissions criteria to be used in the event of a school being oversubscribed with applicants. It also provides examples of criteria that my Department recommends and recommends against. How a school sets its criteria will determine a rank order of pupils for each school. The circular also provides advice on areas such as the age that a child is eligible to transfer to post-primary education; the process for setting admissions and enrolment numbers, and the process for varying those numbers; how the admissions procedures should operate; the arrangements for admissions appeals; the exceptional circumstances procedure; and the operation of waiting lists.
As the Member can see, it is not only comprehensive but complex. Boards of governors have a legal duty to have regard to the Department’s guidance when setting admissions criteria.
For the record, I declare that I am on the board of governors for Priory Integrated College in Holywood. Over recent times, the Minister has said that there needs to an alternative proposed to academic selection and the transfer test. The Department issued it. After months of disrupted learning, why does the Minister not advocate that all schools follow the guidance that has already been issued by his Department?
Sorry, I did not say that there should be an alternative to academic selection, and I am sure one of the Members sitting opposite would be very quick to point that out. I have said that some of those who are advocating the setting aside of a transfer test, for instance, for this year, have not provided an alternative. That is different.
Ultimately, it is within schools' powers and constraints to apply their own admissions criteria. I have raised concern about some of the schools that are seeking to move away from academic selection for next year. At present, what they suggest as the most likely route is one that seems to be based on the pupil's connections with the school. For example, a sibling at the school, their mother or father went to the school or a staff member at the school is a parent. That runs the danger of places at those schools being selected, effectively, by the old school tie, a hereditary grammar school place. Anyone making an argument that that is a fairer system to the complexities or constraints of a test is not providing a sensible solution.
I am aware that there will be some schools of a bilateral nature that may move between having a percentage of their pupils who are non-selective and some who are selective. In many ways there is a logic that if they want to adjust between those criteria then that is perfectly fine. However, the point is that I do not believe that a fair alternative has not been provided. I support the right of schools to use academic selection when they are oversubscribed, and I also believe that the use of academic selection has, overall, worked well for our society and our school system.