The Governing Bodies Association has sharply criticised the Education Minister for a core policy that could lead to legal challenges for schools as a result of official guidance.
Largely rejected by the Grammar sector, the policy of Transfer 2010 advised schools to simply remove academic selection from amongst their entrance criteria and instead follow a menu of options set out by the Department of Education.
The representative body for all Voluntary Grammar schools in Northern Ireland has, however, obtained legal advice demonstrating that had a school simply followed the lead of the Department they could be vulnerable to legal challenge.
After commissioning a legal opinion from counsel, Director of the Governing Bodies Association, John Hart, said:
“The GBA is deeply concerned that the Minister of Education and her Department “guided” grammar schools to take actions of questionable legal validity and calls for a full inquiry into the administrative and legal practices of the Department under the current Minister. It is the clear and unavoidable duty of the Department to ensure that schools are properly guided on the requirements of the law”.
“It is clear from the advice we have received that to make significant changes schools have a duty, established in legislation, to conduct a process of extensive consultation. They must seek the views of Governors, Trustees and Parents before making an official application to their local Education authority in the form of a document known as a ‘Development Proposal’.
“However, Transfer 2010 makes absolutely no mention of the phrase ‘Development Proposal’ on any one of its 39 pages. It would appear that either the Minister was unaware of the requirement or felt it too minor an issue to mention.
“The unfortunate irony is that if a school had followed the Minister’s guidance in the absence of a Development Proposal it is likely that it would be the school, rather than the Department that would be open to legal challenge.
“The very least the Minister could do now is explain to any school that did make changes according to her guidance as to how she intends to offer them legal protection in the event of challenge?”
He argued, “It was clear from the start that Transfer 2010 was driven more by political ideology than prudent policy-making, something which may have distorted the normal checks in the process which should have spotted this gaping legislative hole.
“The considered approach of our schools is now firmly vindicated.
“The Minister abandoned her responsibilities by removing long-standing arrangements for transfer in the absence of an agreed way forward. By contrast the sector has now moved beyond her and the GBA is fully committed to the process of finding a one-test solution and commend the considerable efforts of Principals within the Association for Quality Education and the Post Primary Transfer Consortium.
He said, “Having been firmly rejected last Autumn by nearly 14,000 families who chose to sit entrance tests, the credibility of Catriona Ruane’s flagship policy of Transfer 2010 now lies in tatters.”