All four parties (Alliance, DUP, SDLP and UUP) involved in this talks process are committed to building consensus and agreement in order to overcome the current deadlock around post-primary transfer and to find a sustainable long term way forward.
During our discussions over recent weeks we have been encouraged by the progress we have made, the common ground we share and the prospects for future consensus. We acknowledge the significant differences in our starting points on this sensitive issue and are aware of the amount of work still to be undertaken, but as a first step we are able to outline six key areas of agreement between our parties.
1. We recognise the necessity for a short-term interim solution to provide the best possible protection for transferring children and to alleviate pressures currently faced by schools, especially primary schools. We agree this could involve the implementation of the curriculum based CCEA test previously proposed by the Minister, to be used for a time limited period.
2. We will request that the Northern Ireland Assembly Education Committee consider the key proposals emerging from these cross-party talks.
3. We have agreed to establish a group comprised entirely of education practitioners to work in parallel with this cross-party group, advise on an ongoing basis and in doing so have regard to international best practice.
4. We recognise the need for the further development of area-based planning and the work of learning communities in order to provide support for local options.
5. We are aware that within the necessary broad structural principle of area based planning it is important that there is not an excessive number of options which could cause confusion. We recognise that there is currently a mixed provision of options and it is unlikely that a one-size-fits-all approach to transfer will be acceptable.
6. Whilst we have differing views on transfer solutions, we agree on the need to address educational underachievement and ensure equality of opportunity for all children.
We are establishing an advisory group of education practitioners which will be asked to provide options that will appeal to the widest possible constituency and take into account the political and legal context of the current impasse.
It is our intention that the educator group work in parallel with our ongoing discussions. While their proposals will not bind any party we hope their guidance will provide us with viable options for consideration in our pursuit of a solution to the unacceptable transfer stalemate.