Northern Ireland news

Teachers support archbishop's call to cancel 11-plus

Transfer tests have been postponed for two weeks

TEACHERS have endorsed a call from the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland to cancel 11-plus exams.

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.

Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin said cancelling the exams this year would be in the best interests of children.

He urged schools to use non-academic criteria to admit pupils in September 2021.

Education Minister Peter Weir said there was no "viable alternative to put in its place", however.

The Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) welcomed Archbishop Martin's call.

Northern Secretary Gerry Murphy said it was reflective of a similar demand in 2012 by the Catholic bishops in Northern Ireland for the abolition of academic selection.

A small number of Catholic grammar schools have since dropped entrance exams.

"INTO welcomes the bishop's intervention and we are only sorry it has taken a pandemic to get us to this point. Given the current difficult circumstances we are hopeful that this will not fall on deaf ears that the previous call did," Mr Murphy said.

"A necessary suspension would allow school staff, parents and pupils time to prepare properly for the challenges of returning to school in September, and the putting in place the necessary, additional support for pupils that will be required after such a difficult break from `normal' schooling.

"Rather than looking for ways to facilitate this archaic system of social selection, there is an opportunity to adopt a new model. One which does not continue to disadvantage children because of their socio-economic background. One which does not label children as young as 10 as failures. A system that would give equity for all pupils in the final year of their primary school."

Mr Murphy said it was time for the all within the education community to work towards mitigating the harm caused to young people as a result of the use of academic criteria in transfer "and to finally consign academic selection to the dustbin of history".

Members of other unions also addressed the issue at the assembly education committee yesterday.

Justin McCamphill of the NASUWT said there had been no consultation with unions on the new 11-plus dates.

He said grammar schools needed to look at how they would admit pupils should the exams have to be cancelled.

It was unlikely that teacher assessment and predicted grades similar to GCSE and A-level exams could be used, he said.

"We are not prepared to go down the road of asking our members in primary schools to rank order pupils," Mr McCamphill added.

Geri Cameron on the NAHT said there was already a high degree of anxiety around academic selection, which had been enhanced this year.

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