Education news

No punishment for 11-plus coaching in last four years

Many schools have retained the right to use academic selection, but children now have to undergo different unregulated tests

JUST a dozen primary schools were warned about coaching for unofficial 11-plus tests over the last four years - and not one was punished.

Education minister Peter Weir has lifted a ban on preparing for tests in class time, saying the policy shift removes "any perceived threat to primary schools" supporting children through transfer.

Up until now, schools have been warned against distorting the curriculum by facilitating unregulated tests "in any way".

The new DUP minister, however, issued new guidance that told primary schools they could now prepare children.

It has since emerged that no action was ever taken against any school for coaching in the last four years.

There are 815 primary schools in the north. Since May 2012, 12 were warned about using class time to prepare pupils for grammar school entrance exams.

Observers have suggested the number is so small because either coaching was not going on, or a blind eye was being turned to it.

Some schools refused to help prepare children for the tests, which have been used by grammar schools for the past eight years, but others have offered assistance.

"Since May 2012, the department has written to 12 primary schools in relation to coaching for transfer tests," a department spokeswoman said.

"The schools were asked to provide assurances that they had had regard to the department's guidance on post-primary transfer and to confirm that they were fulfilling their statutory obligation to deliver the curriculum.

"The revised guidance that has now issued to schools removes any ambiguity in relation to coaching and provides schools with a clear direction going forward."

Mr Weir said he issued the new guidance, a 180-degree shift from previous Sinn Fein ministers, to reflect "widespread public support" for the retention of academic selection.

While the number of test entries are increasing, fewer pupils sit transfer exams now compared to the last year of the state-sponsored 11-plus - down to about 59 per cent compared to 65 per cent in 2008.

Teaching unions are unhappy with the policy change.

Gerry Murphy of the INTO said the fundamental purpose of unregulated tests was to help the minority of post primary schools choose pupils.

"The value of the grade gained from the unregulated tests only determines a pupil's place in the queue, as schools chose pupils from the higher grades before progressively drawing from lower grades in an effort to meet their capacity," he said.

"Reference is made in the department circular to social mobility as a justification for the use of academic selection. This assertion does not accurately reflect the reality of the situation where about three times the number of pupils in receipt of free school meals attend non-selective post-primary schools."

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