St Patrick’s Grammar School in Armagh will stop using entrance exams to select pupils with immediate effect.
The creation of the new mixed-ability secondary school will mean an existing college – St Brigid’s – will now be wound down.
St Patrick’s will be allowed to increase its pupil numbers to accommodate those who would have typically attended the nearby St Brigid’s.
Opponents of academic selection view the move as significant and say they now expect other Catholic grammar schools, which have so far resisted demands to change, to follow suit.
They say the fact that St Patrick’s governing body chairman Cardinal Sean Brady is the leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland should encourage more schools to abandon academic selection.
Education minister John O’Dowd, who is an opponent of academic selection, approved the change.
He said: “We have already seen two schools, Loreto College in Coleraine and the newly amalgamated grammar school in Lurgan, remove the use of academic criteria for the admission of pupils.
“I commend the governors of St Patrick’s Grammar for taking this important step which will benefit all the young people of Armagh.
“The time has long passed for grammar schools to begin the process of ending selection by academic means. The weight of evidence and opinion is now gathering pace firmly against the practice.”
St Patrick’s, meanwhile, says it now plans to develop its new school on its existing site, rather than move onto a proposed shared campus in Armagh city.
The proposal for the single, shared site had won support from Catholic, state, grammar and non-selective schools.
The Educational and Community Village Consensus group says it is disappointed but adds that all schools will continue to consider how best to take forward the bid for shared education in the city.
“The decision by St Patrick’s College not to relocate but remain on its current site does not jeopardise the plan to submit a proposal for shared education in the city,” the group said.