Free online learning to help transfer test pupils `catch up'
PUPILS preparing for 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 small, questions are being asked about why public money is being used to help pupils taking private exams.
The Department of Education has no role in the unregulated system of academic selection, although minister Peter Weir is a supporter.
Several initiatives including free devices for disadvantaged children and summer catch-up schemes have already been approved to help deal with the impact of lockdown on education.
This new drive is aimed at only one year group.
Information published by the department makes no reference to grammar school entrance assessments. However, it specifies that the children that can benefit from free online learning tools are those going into P7.
Experts told The Irish News that it appeared "fairly obvious it is all about the 11-plus".
Grammar school entrance tests will proceed in November and December, although some have suspended their exams.
Parents had voiced concerns that their children, having been at home since March, would not be ready to sit papers in November.
Now, Mr Weir has decided to provide access to online literacy and numeracy software "for use by children in Year 6 (going into Year 7 in 2020/21 academic year".
The department said the suggested packages were IXL and Mathematics Mastery, although others were available.
"IXL offers a free trial for four weeks after which schools, if they wish, can avail of the licence for up to one year with costs covered by the Department of Education. Mathematics Mastery is free to use," the department said.
"The optimum timing of this is for schools to determine. The nature of the suggested online resources provides an opportunity for children and their families to access additional help with literacy and
numeracy during the summer period, in advance of the new school year, which can assist with making up for any ‘lost learning' as a result of Covid-19. Such engagement by parents is optional."
Schools can choose to use the online package they feel best meets the needs of their pupils. Up to a maximum of £10 per P6 pupil will be paid. Those who have already purchased packages will be reimbursed.
Mr Weir said the summer months provided an important opportunity to help support young people.
"The main purpose of these initiatives is to resource schools to support and build confidence in children, ensuring they are ready to engage in their learning," he said.