Academic debate on 11-plus

The abolition of the controversial 11-plus examination by Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness will remain an enduring legacy of his tenure as Minister for Education in the North of Ireland, despite apparently contradictory claims by the DUP.

Speaking at a press conference after the St Andrews document was outlined, DUP leader Ian Paisley said his party had secured the future of academic selection in the North of Ireland.

Meanwhile, British Direct Ruler Peter Hain has confirmed the intention remains to abolish the 11-plus, which pits eleven-year-old children against each other for access to secondary education.

But he has also confirmed that the British government agreed with the DUP that the Belfast Assembly would decide if another form of academic selection could still take its place - if local power-sharing is ultimately restored.

“What we did undertake in an agreement with the DUP and Ian Paisley is that we would lift the ban on academic selection in legislation on November 20 and leave it for the parties in the assembly to negotiate the way ahead themselves if the St Andrews’ agreement is implemented,” Mr Hain said.

However, this is considered unlikely, as an assembly would be unlikely to gain the necessary cross-community support to agree a new form of academic selection.

Mr Hain also confirmed the 11-plus was “dead and buried” -- and if the agreement “unravels”, the British government will end academic selection entirely.

The DUP’s Sammy Wilson insisted academic selection would remain on the books, thanks to the side deal with the British government.

“The situation is that unionists are not going to vote for changes in academic selection, so it will remain despite what nationalists say,” he said.

Former Sinn Féin education minister Martin McGuinness, who was responsible for bringing about an end to the 11-plus and is opposed to academic selection, said DUP “spin” did not change the fact the exam had been abolished.

“If we have a fully-functioning assembly up and running this would of course be an issue to discuss and debate and that is right and proper. It is also right and proper that ministers retain executive authority and ministerial power,” he said.

However, Sinn Féin last night said they had not seen the document agreed between the DUP and British government, which was not published as part of the St Andrews Agreement.

SDLP assembly member Dominic Bradley said no-one had seen the letter and “no-one knows what the contents of it are”, but added that all the parties agreed the 11-plus “must go”.

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