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Grammars are 'forcing' thousands to take tests

Simon Doyle Education Correspondent s.doyle@irishnews.com

ACADEMIC selection only appears to be popular because grammar schools force thousands of children to take tests, the education minister has claimed.

John O'Dowd, pictured, was speaking at the annual conference of the Catholic Principals Association (CPA) in Cookstown yesterday.

The CPA represents the heads of Catholic primary and secondary schools opposed to 11-plus tests.

The group objects to any system of unregulated testing in which children are rejected by their Catholic grammar schools on the basis of a "dubious test which deems them to be unsuitable".

Exams are due to be held on four consecutive weekends starting today.

This is the sixth year that schools have run their own 11-plus style transfer tests, in defiance of consecutive Sinn Féin education ministers.

Schools remain split into two camps using either the Common Entrance Assessment (CEA) or multiple-choice papers set by GL Assessment.

Today, about 7,300 children will sit the first CEA paper - a record entry for that particular test and an increase of about 300 from last year.

The GL papers will be taken on November 15 with 7,255 applications having been received, up from 7,134 in 2013.

For the first time, it appears a higher proportion of eligible children are involved in the unregulated system - 65.7 per cent - than took the last regulated state test - 64.6.

Many children now 'double up' by taking both sets of papers, however, so it is difficult to say precisely how many pupils are involved this year.

Mr O'Dowd said while anxious children and parents prepared for the forthcoming tests, he wished to reassure them that they were not the high stakes exams they once were.

He added there was a role for the CPA in challenging selective schools on the need for testing and in ensuring that parents understood the same curriculum was delivered in all post-primary settings.

"Pupils can still follow their chosen path in life regardless of the result," he said.

"Supporters of selection claim the number of children entering the tests is evidence of parents exercising their 'choice'.

"I believe it is exactly the opposite. Supporters of selection also think that schools should be at the centre of our education system. I believe it is the children who will be at its heart.

"Parents do not choose to put their child through a test. That is forced upon them in order to gain access to certain schools.

"I will continue to strive for a system where it is the parents and not the institutions who choose which school a child goes to."

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