Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Mr Mervyn Storey
Chairperson, Committee for Education

Ms Caitríona Ruane
Minister of Education
Department of Education
Rathgael House
Balloo Road
County Down
BT19 7PR

Ref: 008/08/C/39

20 February 2009

Dear Minister,

  1. At Wednesday’s meeting (18 February 2009) of the Committee for Education, it was agreed that I write to you to request that you reconsider the use of the CCEA test that your Department commissioned, as an interim compromise arrangement- as clearly there is consensus across the board that an unregulated system of transfer is not the preferred option.
  2. The Committee discussed two items of correspondence in relation to transfer arrangements, before agreeing to this request. It was agreed that these (a letter from ‘STOP’ and a letter from Mr Robert Poots, Principal of Dromara Primary School - see attached) be copied to you as they clearly display that there is no consensus on the way forward.
  3. As Chairperson of the Committee I met with representatives from ‘STOP’ (School Transfer Options for Pupils) who consider that ‘an unregulated system of transfer is the least desirable outcome for children, for parents and for schools’ and ‘believe that the only immediate solution out of the current chaos is for the Minister of Education to reinstate an interim CCEA exam and that it be adopted by all schools who propose to introduce their own exam’.
  4. During the Committee’s discussion on this, the point was made that the Northern Ireland Commission for Catholic Education, the Catholic Heads Association, and the Governing Bodies Association (NI) have all recently made it clear that they are very concerned with an unregulated system of transfer and some interim solution using the test commissioned from CCEA is necessary to allow a period of time to develop a properly regulated transfer system.
  5. It was also pointed out that the Alliance Party’s press release of 6 February 2009 saw ‘a test set centrally by CCEA and based on the revised curriculum’ for a ‘short period’ ‘to try to move forward through agreement’ . This would ‘avoid the education system falling into chaos’.
  6. The point that the CCEA test was being developed so that it would not distort the teaching of the revised curriculum was highlighted. The Committee previously received confirmation from CCEA that work on the test was on schedule and could be available for delivery from Autumn 2009. The Committee noted the reference to the CCEA test in your statement to the Assembly on 2 February 2009. The Committee requests that you clarify the point you made that ‘My Department cannot provide a test for use in an admissions context without a legal framework defining that use’. The clarification should also be addressed in the context of the Committee’s proposal that you re-consider the interim use of the CCEA test.
  7. The second item of correspondence discussed was a letter of 5 February 2009 from the Principal of Dromara Primary School. This displays an alternative viewpoint on transfer, but also shows quite clearly, when taken alongside, for example, the letter from ‘STOP’, that there is currently no consensus on the issue. Although Mr Poots’ letter did not comment directly on the unregulated transfer system, the Committee has recently been copied a number of letters (some 460 in all) petitioning you as Minister of Education expressing their ‘total dissatisfaction with the situation’.
  8. Committee members, during the discussion, expressed no dissent to the point raised by the ‘STOP’ correspondence that an unregulated system of transfer is the least desirable outcome for children, for parents, and for schools. 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. Two members reminded the Committee of your proposed compromise proposals for three year bilateral admissions which of course included the CCEA test.
  9. However, the Committee agreed to put this request (as outlined in paragraph 1 above) to you and I would ask you to give it your full and urgent consideration. I wrote to you on 4 February 2009 requesting you to come before the Committee as soon as possible to discuss your Transfer 2010 Guidance. This request would obviously be something the Committee would wish to discuss with you, alongside Transfer 2010 Guidance.
  10. Grateful for your response to this letter and my letter of 4 February 2009 as soon as possible please.
Yours sincerely
Mr Mervyn Storey MLA
Chairperson, Committee for Education