Northern Ireland news

Proceeding with 11-plus is 'unbelievable'

The Catholic Principals' Association has appealed to grammar schools to suspend the use of entrance exams

THE heads of Catholic schools have said it is "unbelievable" that transfer tests will go ahead this winter.

The organisations that operate the unregulated system of academic selection are coming under increased pressure to call off their assessments.

Children will sit papers over four consecutive Saturdays in November and December - two weeks after originally planned.

Archbishop Eamon Martin has appealed for a suspension to the exams.

However, Education Minister Peter Weir has said there was no "viable alternative to put in its place".

Now, the Catholic Principals' Association (CPA), which represents the views of about 230 Catholic primary and secondary schools, has written to the minister to highlight its concerns.

It said the phased approach to reopening in September would place huge challenges on schools to meet everyone's needs.

There were numerous concerns that most schools shared, it said.

These included the risk of infection of staff and children, enforcing social distancing, cleaning, parent support for reopening and financial assistance for schools.

"We cannot be side tracked from this work to give more emphasis to teaching children in preparation for a set of transfer tests," said CPA chairman Kieran O'Neill.

"The children have already missed so much teaching and learning time and potentially, through a phased approach to returning to school, they will continue to do so.

"To that end, we are extremely concerned around the process of the transfer tests. The process, as we know it, is undoubtedly a stressful one for all the children involved and given the current climate, it is unbelievable that the transfer tests will continue as normal, albeit with a two week delay as the seemingly acceptable solution."

Mr O'Neill said P6 children will have missed 12 weeks of school.

"Even with the outstanding efforts of our teachers to adapt and provide remote learning opportunities, the full time/face-to-face teaching has not happened and the children have missed a large percentage of their learning. To assume that all the children will experience the same educational approach at home would be wrong," he added.

"This pandemic means that many children will be, increasingly disadvantaged by the current crisis in spectacular ways.

"Decisions must be taken to do what is in the best interests of all our children not some."

Mr O'Neill said the CPA agreed with Archbishop Martin's call to suspend the use of transfer tests.

"We agree that now is the time for the boards of governors of the grammar schools to meet and agree the criteria for their schools that will make this possible," he said.

"There are examples across the dioceses of grammar schools that have abandoned academic selection successfully. It can work, even with maintaining the grammar school status. We have been placed in a position in all our schools to make new and unprecedented decisions over the last few months and we continue to do so on a daily basis moving forward.

"It is in this current climate of innovative thinking that the decision to suspend academic selection and the transfer tests must be taken."

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