Families are stressing out over the transfer test – but does it really matter?

Getting your child ready for the transfer test can be a daunting task for any family. The child is stressed, the parents are worried and ultimately there is pressure all round, but it doesn't have to be this way, writes Leona O'Neill

Children who go to all-ability schools have exactly the same education as those heading for grammar schools

On Saturday children across the north sat the transfer test, the results of which will determine the type of school they will have access to.

No pressure, but the marks they receive for sitting a test on a dull Saturday in November will determine the next steps in their young life.

A good mark will ensure they can go to a grammar school of their choice – if that’s the road they want to take. A less than good result will mean that they can choose between a variety of all-ability post primary schools.

Twice now I have been down this road – and twice is has been a nightmare for my sons and for myself. As I look forward to – in much the same manner as I would look forward to sticking forks in my eyes – my youngest son taking this journey, I still believe that 11-years-old is much too young to test children on academic ability. But unfortunately for us, it’s the situation we find ourselves in.

If your child was one of the ones taking the test on Saturday, my heart goes out to you. For your child is only now emerging from months of hell, doing endless sample papers, comparing marks with their friends, worrying about low scores, feeling proud about high scores and working at the weekend. As a mother, you have been worrying about your child having their head stuck in books when they should be out playing.

And then the child facing the incredibly stressful task of entering an exam hall in a strange school with the weight of their future, their parent’s hopes and their own dreams weighing heavy of their shoulders, while trying to remember everything that they have learned.

While this is going on in the exam room, parents will no doubt have been pacing the floors at home, perhaps worrying about what will happen if their child doesn’t make the grade and 'ends up' in an all ability school.

As a mum who has been down this road twice, I’m going to let you into a little secret, everything will work out just fine.

My eldest son did not sit the test, like many kids his age he struggled with it. He wanted to go to the local grammar school that his friends were intent in going to. I got him a tutor and the child spent two nights a week with her as well as working on tests all day in school. I honestly thought I was doing the right thing to get him into a ‘good school’ and have a chance of a ‘good future’. In doing this 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.

I could see my son getting stressed, and I had a vision of the future where, when his tutor – the crutch that was carrying him through the test – was taken away. I could not stand over the fact that he could struggle for seven years at school.

In the end we decided together as a family 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 at St Joseph’s boys school for five years now and is thriving. He loves school, is challenged daily, is extremely intelligent, works hard and has definite and sure aspirations for a future career, and dreams which are nurtured by his teachers. His confidence is high in a school whose ethos is achievement for all. They have honed in on his talents and pushed him to run with them. I have not for one single second regretted him not taking the transfer test.

My other son decided he wanted to sit the transfer test. I told him no stress, no tutors, no staying in weekends to study. 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 three years now. His school experience is exactly the same as his brother’s one.

Many attitudes over post-primary schools are built on the foundations of snobbery and that those attitudes need to change. This testing process at the age of 11 does not happen in the Republic or in England and people get along in life just fine.

For all those facing a nervous wait now on transfer results, 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 grow and thrive wherever they are planted.

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