Education news

11-plus views sought by Stormont education committee

Parents and teachers are being asked their views about the system of transfer

THE committee that scrutinises the work of the education minister is seeking the views of teachers and parents on post-primary transfer.

Grammar school entrance tests will largely proceed this winter, although some have suspended their exams.

Parents have voiced concerns that their children, having been at home since mid-March, will not be ready to sit papers in November.

Pupils due to take the transfer tests are to be given online English and maths support for free to help make up "lost learning".

The Department of Education has said it will cover the cost of software packages - for children moving from P6 into P7.

While the funding is expected to be relatively low, questions are being asked about why public money is being used to help pupils taking private exams.

The department has no role in the unregulated system of academic selection, although minister Peter Weir is a supporter.

He, and assembly education committee chairman Chris Lyttle, have been at odds over plans to press ahead with 11-plus tests this year.

Now the committee has launched an online survey to gather the opinions of parents and teachers.

The short survey asks parents how they feel about their children taking the post-primary transfer tests following the Covid-19 lockdown period.

It also is seeking to gauge their level of concern and whether they believe too much preparation time has been lost.

Issues including a possible second wave of coronavirus and access to computers or other home-based support are also addressed.

The dozen schools that have suspended their tests for a year will use non-academic admissions criteria only. These will be made public later this year.

The survey asks parents to rank they fairness of non-academic criteria including awarding a proportion to places based on free school meals, feeder primaries or home parishes.

It also asks them to state their preferred approach for post-primary transfer 2020/2021, whether the tests should go ahead on the scheduled dates, be pushed back to January, or scrapped altogether.

A proposal to delay the exams until January has already been rejected as it would cause too much disruption to the overall system of transfer.

If delayed until January, some pupils would be left without post-primary places deep into the next school year.

Critics say it is right to reject such a move, especially because 60 per cent of children in Year 7 transfer into schools that do not rely on entrance exams.

Mr Lyttle has repeatedly called for the suspension of transfer tests for post-primary admissions in 2021.

"I do not believe non-resit, high stakes tests are a fair or necessary way to transfer Year 7 pupils to a common curriculum in Year 8," he wrote in The Irish News.

"However, regardless of one's fundamental position on the matter of transfer tests as a whole, surely it goes without saying children have accessed education in an unequal way during this pandemic."

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