The Church of Ireland has urged Northern Ireland politicians to find the best way forward for our children in the ongoing education transfer debate.
The Rev Ian Ellis, secretary to the Church of Ireland Board of Education (NI), issued a statement on Wednesday November 5 along with the Rev Trevor Gribben, Presbyterian, the Rev Trevor Jamieson, Methodist and Bishop Donal McKeown, Roman Catholic.
At a press conference in Presbyterian Church House, Belfast, the four clergy made their comments from a position of pastoral care while also reflecting the "deep unease" among parents and teachers and the growing "sense of frustration" within the churches and within society that no political agreement over post-primary educational transfer arrangements seems within reach.
"Our primary concern is pastoral, particularly for those immediately affected by the failure to reach agreement around new transfer arrangements to post-primary schools,” they said.
"It is also of concern that Year 6 children are increasingly likely to become anxious or distressed as they pick up on adult confusion about the type and number of any tests in the future."
And the churchmen warned of the risk of heading into ‘an abyss of unregulated arrangements.’ "It is clear that there are strong yet unreconciled convictions about the best system of education for the future,” they said. “Each viewpoint seems to cancel out the other and, in the absence of consensus we risk heading to an abyss of unregulated arrangements."
However in their statement there is support for "workable" proposals already suggested that would mean important decisions regarding education would be made at 14 rather than 11.
These proposals, they say, offer "a new way forward" leading to "the disappearance of academic selection at age 11 and the use of criteria to access certain courses and pathways at the age of 14 which could include, amongst others, academic criteria."
While the church spokesmen said they do not consider these proposals as the "final word" they felt they were "worthy of detailed consideration" which "may form a basis for ongoing discussions leading to an increasing degree of consensus about the contentious issue of transfer arrangements.”
The statement concluded with a plea to politicians from the church spokesmen to find the best way forward for all children. "We ask our politicians and others, to stand back from established positions and to create the space necessary so that, through dialogue between those with different outlooks, the best way forward may be found for all children."