Northern Ireland news

11-plus exams 'should be scrapped' this year

The #bringitbacktoprimary campaign has been backed by more than 6,000 parents

A GROUP campaigning to return 11-plus exams to primary schools has said the assessments should be scrapped this year.

The two organisations that 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.

It has been cautioned that this is dependent on schools returning in September, however.

The location of exam centres has been raised. Children typically take the papers at grammar schools, unlike the old state-sponsored 11-plus where they would attend a primary setting.

It is unclear how long social distancing will be enforced in classrooms when pupils return.

Education Minister Peter Weir said this was an issue for the two testing groups but added that if social distancing was still in place in November and December, then the exams could be spread over a greater number of locations.

This could include asking primary schools to host their own children, even though they have no official role.

While Mr Weir changed his department's policy to allow primary teachers to prepare pupils for entrance tests in-class, this varies from school to school.

The #bringitbacktoprimary campaign, which has been backed by more than 6,000 parents, argues that children should take the tests in a more familiar and comfortable setting.

Campaign organiser Naomi McBurney said she would welcome primary schools hosting the papers this year, if required.

"I would, however, say it needs to go one step further and all primary schools should host the tests for their P7 pupils. Parents have called for this prior to Covid-19 and this is definitely something that is needed now more than ever with the increased need for social distancing and the risk to health and further spread associated with clustering hundreds of children from different schools together to take these tests in November and December," she said.

"The campaign supports the call for the tests to be scrapped this year and an alternative method found to eliminate the stress and pressure facing our current P6 children and their families, however if that cannot be facilitated then the primary school setting is essential.

"Peter Weir has already made it clear there is no bar on the tests taking place in primary schools, therefore they must look at this as a viable option for this year and years going forward."

Primary school principals have said they are being treated with "a lack of respect" over the delay plans.

The Lisburn Association of Primary Principals said they were being left "open to blame for the pitfalls of this system that are vastly beyond our control".

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