Northern Ireland

Transfer tests may face legal challenge, warn lawyers

11-plus style tests are due to begin in January
11-plus style tests are due to begin in January 11-plus style tests are due to begin in January

TRANSFER tests to be held in grammar schools in January face a potential legal challenge.

KRW Law said it had been instructed by a member of The Post-Primary Transfer Test Coronavirus Concern Group.

The body is made up of P7 parents worried about the plans of grammar schools and test providers AQE Ltd and the Post Primary Transfer Consortium.

The woman said she was not anti-selection, anti-testing or anti-grammar school but during the pandemic "testing at primary school age should be abandoned in favour of safer methods of selection".

She said given the lack of direct classroom learning and disruption most children faced as well as continuing restrictions, it was regrettable that the education minister has not already scoped out alternatives.

"Allowing grant-aided schools and private providers to organise upwards of 100 separate test events throughout Northern Ireland, across four consecutive Saturdays in January, at the height of a pandemic, during peak flu season does not seem to be in keeping with the essence of the public health regulations," she said.

"Participation in the tests require some parents to travel significant distances to bring their children to test centres that are not their usual primary school setting; to sit in rooms for a prolonged period with pupils from other schools and class bubbles.

"Parents have asked for risk assessments from their test centres but very few have provided them. The ones we have seen lack detail, for example on any quantitative measurements of the individual school venues and the resulting limits on capacity, or requirements for air exchange and ventilation."

KRW Law said its client understood that transfer tests were not compulsory but that a child cannot currently apply to a grammar school which is using academic selection without taking an exam.

She will argue that non-academic selection should instead be used for children who have applied to sit tests.

"Children are anxious about coronavirus and have sacrificed so much to stay safe. They can't understand why, suddenly, mixing with large groups of children in unfamiliar settings is deemed safe," she added.

Chris Doran from KRW said the issue raised was the safety of children, their families and communities in a very unstable and unpredictable health environment.

"The mutated strain of the virus could introduce the need for far tougher restrictions. To put the safety of children and communities at risk to accommodate some grammar schools in their selection process is questionable where other selection processes are available," he said.

"The stance of the Department of Education and other agencies may be unreasonable and irrational which would be possible grounds for a legal challenge."