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No 11-plus tests for `grammar stream' colleges

Integrated schools creating `grammar' streams will be prevented form using 11-plus tests

INTEGRATED schools are attempting to create new `grammar' streams - but will be prevented from using 11-plus style selection tests.

North Coast Integrated College in Coleraine is among those making about one third of Year 8 places available to "academically able" pupils.

Strangford, Sperrin and Dungannon integrated colleges are also using primary school reports and test results that "reflect high academic ability" to determine places.

Observers have questioned this new approach, however, and pointed out there is no consistent invigilation across primary schools.

Many primary schools allow their own teachers to prepare for, invigilate, and mark tests, which can lead to inflated scores, they claim.

In addition, it is understood that scores from tests taken in primary school can play no part in the selection of pupils.

While academic selection is typically the preserve of grammar schools, it exists, albeit to a significantly lesser extent, in the integrated sector.

Lagan College in Belfast and Slemish College in Ballymena are `bilateral' - a synonym for comprehensive. Such partly grammar, partly secondary intermediate schools continue to use transfer tests to admit about one third of first years.

There are to be no entrance exams of any kind at North Coast, Strangford, Sperrin and Dungannon. The schools will instead look at a range of evidence including the scores of Progress in Maths (PiM) and Progress in English (PiE) tests, which are taken annually and allow staff to track the progress of children in key areas.

Ahead of the state-sponsored test being wound up, the Irish News reported that non-grammar schools might have had power to set own tests in future. At that time, the Department of Education confirmed that in the absence of new legislation, non-grammar schools could set admissions tests if they wished. This would have seen schools that relied solely on non academic entrance criteria such as geography and family, also controversially use testing.

No school outside the grammar sector introduced selection tests, however.

Some grammar schools have abandoned selection over the same period including Loreto College in Coleraine and St Patrick's Grammar in Armagh.

Legal opinion states that any "significant" change in status requires a formal development proposal and extensive consultation. Changing from academic admissions to exclusively non-academic criteria would represent a such a change.

Similarly, a non-grammar school would be expected to publish a development proposal if it was to introduce admissions tests.

A department spokeswoman said last night that the integrated schools made clear in their admissions criteria "that academic ability and the score a child receives in any test plays no part in the selection of pupils".

"What the schools are doing is streaming pupils. This is something many schools, both selective and non-selective, do without reference to it in their admissions criteria. The term `grammar stream' used by the schools is not one approved, endorsed, or recognised by the Department," she said.

"Should any of the schools wish to introduce academic selection, a development proposal would be required."

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