Lost generation grinding toward `educational vanishing point'
THOUSANDS of children will today sit the first of this year's 11-plus exams, with teachers warning of a "lost generation" of pupils.
Record numbers of P7s are due to take the Common Entrance Assessment (CEA), with the rise in entries meaning a small group cannot sit transfer tests at their first choice assessment centre.
A majority of grammar schools have been running their own entrance exams since the last state-sponsored 11-plus was held in November 2008.
Schools largely remain split into two camps using either the CEA or multiple-choice papers set by GL Assessment.
The number of entries have been increasing every year, although the exact number of pupils taking the tests remains unclear as many do both.
This year, around 8,100 pupils have entered the CEA, which is run by the Association for Quality Education (AQE), compared to 7,725 in 2016.
A total of 7,255 children have applied to sit the GL Assessment, up from 6,851 last year. That will involve separate English and maths tests on November 18.
The second and third CEA papers will be taken on November 25 and December 2.
The Department of Education's own policy group earlier this year criticised the negative effect of the tests.
Ulster Teachers' Union (UTU) general secretary Avril Hall Callaghan said since then there had been no workable government in Stormont.
"Our children, Northern Ireland's next generation, a potentially lost generation, is being left to flounder," she said.
"While politicians seem unable or unwilling to reach an accommodation which will take Northern Ireland forward our education system grinds ever closer to the vanishing point. Instead of engendering a future of possibilities, our politicians allow children to drown in a system which sees too many turned off education by the time they're just nine or 10.
"The decision to enter a child for the transfer test is taken in P6 so if a child knows they are not sitting the exams they can lose all motivation. Education becomes something for all the other children and not them."
Ms Hall Callaghan added that the department's policy group agreed that academic selection concentrated lower-achieving pupils, often from socially deprived areas, into a small group of 11-16 schools and reflected a divided society in terms of religious background, social class, ethnicity and disability.
"It stated that this social and educational system tolerated and even perpetuated poverty," she said.
"Our entire education system is being allowed to stumble along towards an ever looming vanishing point."