Northern Ireland news

Predicted grades for 11-plus exams 'not workable'

11-plus-style tests are due to take place in November and December

USING predicted grades and scrapping 11-plus exams this year would be unworkable and opposed by schools, assembly members have been told.

The two groups who operate the unregulated system of academic selection are coming under increased pressure to call off their assessments.

The tests will be held over four consecutive Saturdays in November and December - two weeks after originally planned.

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The Association for Quality Education (AQE) and Post Primary Transfer Consortium (PPTC) appeared before the assembly education committee yesterday.

Children’s Commissioner Koulla Yiasouma is among those who said it was not right to make 10 and 11-year-old children sit tests during a health pandemic when GCSE and A-level pupils were being protected.

She called on the same logic of predicted grades to be applied for children due to sit the transfer test.

The committee heard that this would not be possible, however.

AQE Chief Executive Darrin Barr said while primary schools gathered some data on English and maths, they were not geared up to academically select.

Using predicted grades at GCSE and A-level, he said, was a "no brainer" as secondary schools were data-rich.

"It is unfair to ask them to look at that. Going forward I do not think there would be any appetite," Dr Barr said.

Such a system was introduced in the 1970s, he added, but quickly ended.

The PPTC's Carol McCann, principal of St Dominic's Grammar School, said there would be "huge antipathy" from primary schools to be asked to provide data.

The committee was told if tests could not proceed for reasons including a second surge in Covid-19, then the responsibility for selecting children would fall to individual schools.

This would be "far from desirable" members heard.

A request to stage the exams in January next year was ruled out as it would require the entire official transfer process to be delayed.

Transfer forms typically need to be completed by parents by the first week of February and post-primary places are allocated in May.

The committee was told that it was not in the private companies' gift to seek a delay to the Education Authority and Department of Education's transfer timetable.

Education Minister Peter Weir said there was "no other option" other than to hold the assessment before Christmas.

Earlier, several members expressed concerns that staging tests at all would mean wealthier children whose families could afford tuition having an unfair advantage over those from socially deprived backgrounds.

Committee Chairman Chris Lyttle disagreed with claims that there was widespread support for academic selection.

He said an increase in entries over the last 10 years was not an endorsement.

"Popularity should not be conflated with support," he said.

Children had to sit the exams, "whether they like it or not", if they wanted a grammar school place.

Mr Lyttle added that he had been inundated with correspondence from parents questioning the insistence on pressing head with the tests during Covid-19.

The committee was also told that a common assessment would not be in place for at least two more years.

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