Parents must make up their own minds on transfer test – I firmly believe it's wrong

It's stress-fest – sorry, transfer test – time again and 11-year-old children across the north (nowhere else, mind) will be up the walls with worry over it as you read this. But if parents stepped back and took stock for a moment, they might realise there is an alternative, writes Leona O'Neill

It was wrong of the education system to demand such things of someone so young and it was wrong of me to listen to them and put my son through it

NEXT Saturday children across Northern Ireland will sit the first of the transfer tests that will decide which schools they can have access to.

The results of that test will determine the next steps in their young life. A good mark will ensure they can go to the grammar school of their choice, if they want to.

A less than good mark will mean that they can choose between a variety of all-ability post primary schools.

I have been through this process twice now, and twice it has been a total stressfest.

My heart goes out to the parents navigating their way through this hell as we speak.

For their child will have spent the last number of months doing sample papers, comparing marks with his friends, worrying about low scores, feeling proud about high scores, working at the weekends and having their head stuck in books when they should be out playing.

And their parents will be worrying about what happens if their child doesn’t make the grade and 'ends up' in an all ability school.

I’m going to let you into a secret. If you child doesn’t ‘do well’, as in doesn’t answer set questions on a test, it does not make them any less of an intellect than those who can retain information and write it on a piece of paper.

If your child finds themselves at the door of an all-ability school next September, I guarantee that they will be absolutely fine, have exactly the same education as those heading for grammar schools, and have exactly the same prospects in life.

My oldest son did not sit the transfer test. The whole process leading up to the test was stressing him out so much it was affecting his sleep and his enjoyment of school and life.

He spent months working on test papers, working extra lessons with a tutor and worrying ceaselessly over results. It was one of the most stressful periods of my life.

I felt like I had to ‘help’ him navigate this monumental, life-changing moment, get him into a ‘good school’ and give him the best chance of a future. And in doing so I almost crushed his confidence altogether.

It was wrong of the education system to demand such things of someone so young and it was wrong of me to listen to them and put my son through it.

In the end we decided together that he shouldn't take the test and placed his destiny in the hands of one of our city's finest post-primary secondary schools.

He’s been there four years now and is thriving. He loves school - apart from the getting up in the morning bit.

He is challenged daily, is extremely intelligent, works hard and has definite and sure aspirations for a future career. They have nurtured his love of IT, they have encouraged his artistic flair and they have lit a spark for English and writing, no easy task for a child with Dyslexia.

I have not for one second regretted him not taking the transfer test.

My other son decided he wanted to sit the transfer test. I told him that was fine, only if he didn’t put even one iota of stress upon himself. I told him there was going to be no tutor and no staying in at weekends studying and no stressing, that we’d leave that until his GCSEs and A-Levels.

I told him that he could just do his best and that will be good enough.

He did the test, scored highly and went to a grammar school, where he has been for two years now. His school experience is exactly the same as his brother’s one – very good and very fulfilling.

He’s doing extremely well, working hard, has subjects he loves and has strong ideas of what he wants to be when he grows up.

I was talking the other day to a man whose daughter is due to set the test in the coming weeks. I asked him how things were going and he told me that she was ‘intelligent’ so she’ll do well and get to grammar school.

I wanted to say to him that that’s not really how it works, that our all-ability schools are packed to the rafters of amazingly intelligent children who achieve stunning results in their GCSEs and A-Levels and go on to set the world on fire.

I wanted to tell him that many attitudes over post-primary schools in Northern Ireland are built on the foundations of snobbery and that those attitudes need to change.

I wanted to tell him that this testing at 11 process does not happen in the Republic or in England and people get along just fine.

But I didn’t. I just smiled and wished them well.

People have to make up their own minds.

For all those facing the tests this month, know that everything will be OK.

Know that there are amazing teachers and amazing schools and your child will be perfectly fine. Know that your child will thrive wherever they go. And good luck.

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