Ulster Unionist Party Education spokesperson Danny Kinahan MLA has said that Sinn Fein spokesperson Chris Hazzard’s comments - repeated twice on broadcast media - that schools accused of preparing pupils for the transfer test were ‘misappropriating public funds’, are absurd and disgraceful.
Mr Kinahan said:
“Of all the arguments Sinn Fein could come up with to defend its Education Minister over the warning letters sent to primary schools about coaching for the transfer tests, the one being used by their spokesperson Chris Hazzard really does beggar belief.
“He has repeated an accusation that primary schools have been misusing their budgets in helping their P6 and P7 pupils prepare for the unofficial tests. The direct quote was, ‘this is the misappropriation of public funds’.
“These unofficial tests are in place because a Sinn Fein Minister abolished the official 11+ test with no post primary transfer method to replace it. It was Sinn Fein who privatised the transfer test. Mr Hazzard suggests that there is no need for a system to transfer pupils from primary to secondary schools. The logical implication of this is that every child should go to their nearest school. How on earth does that square with Sinn Fein’s repeated and aggressive defence of a separate Catholic school sector?
“The Ulster Unionist Party position on the unofficial tests is that they are the inevitable consequence of the arbitrary removal of the official 11+ without a replacement system in place. The current situation is not what we want to see in the longer term. We want a single transfer test for a two year period, to give a breathing space for politicians and educationalists to hammer out an agreed and fair method of post primary transfer.
“Mr Hazzard’s chosen comparison of test preparation with Minister O’Dowd’s approval of an Irish Medium secondary school is a bizarre analogy. The Ulster Unionist Party pointed out that the Minister’s decision was against official advice which questioned the viability and value of the project. I am fairly sure most Teachers and Principals will have a firm view on who is guilty of misappropriating public funds. Mr Hazzard should retract his comments and apologise to all the schools he has falsely accused. His comments are absurd and disgraceful.”