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Damaged image

This advertisement appeared in the Antrim Guardian last week three days before the closing date for parents/guardians applying for this year’s 11-plus entry tests.

Of immediate note is that the three schools mentioned, Ballymena Academy, Slemish College and St Louis Grammar School are all members of the Post Primary Transfer Consortium (PPTC).

There is no mention of this important fact in the advertisement. The PPTC commissioned GL Assessment to provide the multiple choice tests for which they paid approx £350,000. The group then claimed that the tests were “free”. Finbar McCallion of the GBA spend time over the summer trying to convince the public that a common test would result.

The advert in the Antrim Guardian makes no mention of the PPTC, GL Assessment or the fact that the tests are multiple choice. The reason underpinning this reticence is that behind the scenes the GBA, the Governing Bodies Association are attempting to persist with the fallacy that a common or single tests will unite the two groups the AQE and the PPTC. Nothing could be further from the truth.  The two tests only came about when the PPTC and the Catholic schools majority of the GBA refused to offer the AQE tests to their schools. In effect the 11-plus transfer system was both sectarianised and devalued. It should be remembered that the Catholic hierarchy have committed to end academic selection in their schools by 2012. Any multiple choice exam based on the revised curriculum serves the PPTC  purposes but in effect misleads AQE parents and according to one well placed source “devalues education”.

The individual behind the false claim of a common test is Finbar McCallion, former headmaster and GBA chairman. Mr McCallion  promoted the Education First campaign.The campaign, set up by the Governing Bodies Association (GBA), was officially launched at the Linenhall Library in Belfast. Finbar McCallion, chairman of the Governing Bodies Association, said:

“We agree that the 11-plus must go but we accept that it is incumbent upon the main interests in this debate that we all have a responsibility to assist in the development of an alternative – one which best matches our children with the most appropriate education.”

In case MrMcCallion has missed the news due to illness in the family post The St Andrews Agreement – academic selection by valid and reliable testing remains legal for admission to grammar schools.

In 2002 the chairman of the GBA, representing grammar schools in Northern Ireland returned to his job following a so-called row over comments made by senior Catholic bishops.

Finbarr McCallion took the decision to withdraw his resignation from the Governing Bodies’ Association over the weekend after he received a unpublished letter from the bishops. (this letter remains secret).

“Mr McCallion stepped down last week after Bishop John McAreavey, chairman of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, said that selection in schools should end as soon as possible.”

And Bishop Donal McKeown said that grammar schools could not continue in their current form, given an expected demographic downturn and low numbers.

Recently Mr McCallion has been aided in his efforts on a common test by Ronnie Hazzard of Ballymena Academy and Dermot Mullan of Our Lady &  St Patrick’s College, Knock.

Good luck with that gents – parents are on to you.