Education news

Grammar schools seek parents' views in online 11-plus meetings

Schools are under pressure to cancel 11-plus-style assessments

GRAMMAR schools will today hold virtual meetings with parents and campaigners ahead of decisions on this year's entrance exams.

Parents will be asked their views on issues including whether children should take tests in primary classrooms or if they should be held later in the school year.

Grammars are under pressure to cancel 11-plus-style assessments for a second year due to significant disruption faced by P6 pupils.

They only returned to classrooms last Monday for the first time since December and are due to go off on holiday again this week.

Education minister Peter Weir is also seeking clarity.

So far, four schools have said they will not use academic selection this year.

All four are members of the Post Primary Transfer Consortium (PPTC) - one of two groups that operate unregulated exams.

It has asked schools to consider a discussion paper that suggests using aptitude-based instead of traditional English and maths assessments.

In "an exceptional year", it said, aptitude tests would be "much fairer".

It also said primary pupils had experience in using such tests.

GL Assessment, which provides the English and maths papers for PPTC, also produces verbal and non-verbal reasoning tests, making a switch straightforward.

Schools are expected to say soon whether they will stick with English and maths, switch to reasoning, or cancel exams again.

As part of its preparations for 2021/22, PPTC - which is made up mostly of Catholic grammars- has invited groups and individuals to help inform its planning before final decisions are made.

It is seeking views on where the assessments should take place, the type of assessments, mitigations that could benefit pupils and the dates of the tests - November as in past years, or December/January.

Meetings will take place on Zoom today.

In a letter, PPTC chairman Barry Kelly said the educational experience for current P6 pupils "has been very different over the past year to that which would have been expected".

"The role of PPTC is essentially limited to provision of an entrance assessment for pupils who will be transferring to post-primary education," he said.

"It is the responsibility of individual schools, not PPTC, to determine whether or not they wish to use academically selective admissions criteria and also whether or not they wish to include GL entrance assessment outcomes in those criteria."

Meanwhile, Mr Weir has said he will be "seeking clarity" from transfer test providers in the next few days over their plans.

The Department of Education said the minister considered that the provision of certainty at this stage was in the best interests of children and their families.

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