Education news

Principals furious with Peter Weir claim that cancelling 11-plus 'limits opportunities'

Peter Weir said the cancellation of the AQE assessment "severely limits parental choice and children's opportunities"

PRINCIPALS have reacted with fury at claims the cancellation of transfer tests will "limit children's opportunities".

Grammar and non-grammar heads hit out at education minister Peter Weir over his "insensitive" comments.

Mr Weir said he was disappointed that the Association for Quality Education (AQE) called off its assessment.

He claimed the move "severely limits parental choice and children's opportunities".

Head teachers said this undermined the success of the majority of post-primary schools that do not use academic selection.

The AQE planned to hold a single paper, rather than its usual three, next month.

All other exams had already been cancelled and some AQE schools had opted out.

With no admissions tests, grammars are devising contingency criteria.

Schools can use non-academic criteria or "alternative data as a proxy for academic selection".

Mr Weir said neither route was without its difficulties.

It was his comments on Twitter, posted after the AQE cancellation, that angered principals.

There are 127 non-grammar schools compared to 66 grammars.

Martine Mulhern is head of St Cecilia's College in Derry, an award-winning non-selective school.

"This year we were named UK Secondary School of the Year but here our education system will always deem us ‘second class’ because we are a secondary school and not grammar," she said on Twitter.

"Described by our own education minister as ‘limiting children's opportunities' - how dare he."

Deirdre O'Kane, principal of St Patrick's and St Brigid's College in Claudy, shared her own 11-plus experience in a video message for P6/7 children.

She said despite feeling "a failure", she enjoyed a first class education in a non-selective school and achieved great exam results.

"As principal of an exceptional non-selective school, I am saddened by such a disgraceful, insensitive remark. Having attended a non-selective school myself, I was not, 'limited'," she said.

"Removing a transfer test does not deny the opportunity for a child to be considered for a school. Indeed it enables all children to be considered - just using different criteria."

Foyle College was among the grammar schools that planned to use AQE scores.

Principal Patrick Allen said: "Life chances are limited by not making full use of the chances that you are given.

"We both have come across plenty of pupils who have benefitted fully from those opportunities and others who have not. Different schools present different paths for different pupils."

Jackie Bartley, principal of St Genevieve's in Belfast, said her non-selective school "certainly does not limit opportunities".

"We ensure our girls aspire to be their best and fulfil their aspirations," she added.

Mr Weir, meanwhile, has said there are "very major problems" with models put forward for academic selection without a test.

These include primary school standardised assessments and transfer test practice papers.

"About 90 per cent of primary schools would do some form of standardised test, which means you would have a number of applicants who would not have any data at all. Those who are doing tests are doing different tests, so there is a difficulty in terms of comparison. For some schools the last standardised test was in P5," he told the assembly education committee.

Mr Weir added that not every child took practice papers.

"You would be having data that would be available for some students but not others. They are not done in the same way, they are not marked the same way. The tests themselves are not necessarily the same standard or difficulty.

"They are all commercially available and there will be cases where someone has bought the practice test and done the practice test before they've done them in the schools."

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