Grammar schools 'have nothing to fear'

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Grammar schools have nothing to fear from proposals around shared education, the chairman of the ministerial advisory group told the Education Committee, on 15 May 2013.

Prof Paul Connolly described the group's report as "a challenging and ambitious roadmap for advancing shared education".

He said the heart of the report relied on schools collaboration "on a level we haven't seen before", and that the group saw shared education as a driver for change.

Prof Connolly said there was widespread agreement on the first 17 recommendations in the report and they could easily be adopted without reference to the final three recommendations on academic selection.

He called for the establishment of a representative body involving all the main parties to advance the recommendations.

Education Committee chairman Mervyn Storey of the DUP was concerned that the ministerial group had not been representative of all the educational sectors.

"There is a lack of trust out there. Nobody trusts anybody," he said.

Mr Storey said the debate over academic selection was not just a political issue.

"It's not just about us and the Shinners having a dingbat about selection," he said.

Prof Connolly said the composition of the group was a matter for the minister, and he added that research showed there was a problem with selection.

He asked the committee members if they did not see that "kids from a poor background have very little chance to get into grammar school".

Pat Sheehan of Sinn Fein saw practical difficulties with pupils moving between school sites.

"In my narrow mind it sounds like it could turn out to be a logistical nightmare," he said.

His party colleague, Chris Hazzard, said the report was "definitely ambitious".

The UUP's Jo-Anne Dobson asked the professor for his opinion of the Dixon Plan, which operates academic selection at age 14.

He replied that there was a lot to be said for selection at 14.

It meant that primary schools were "not teaching to the test", but some parents might be using it for a second chance for selection at 14 if the child had not been successful at 11.

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