Northern Ireland news

Doubt over transfer test as more grammar schools pull out

11 plus Transfer test. Story Simon Doyle.

GRAMMAR schools are withdrawing in growing numbers from a planned transfer test next month - casting doubt that it will take place at all.

As executive ministers argued yesterday about staging entrance assessments, several more schools revealed they were pulling out.

The Association for Quality Education (AQE) intends to hold a single exam for P7s on February 27.

The first of its three postponed papers was due to be taken today by more than 8,000 children.

Amid demands to call off all tests on health grounds, the executive discussed the issue yesterday but broke up without agreement.

While ministers were debating, several grammar schools revealed they would no longer hold the delayed, single AQE paper.

Royal School Dungannon, Campbell College in Belfast, Belfast Royal Academy and Victoria College in Belfast have all joined Strabane Academy in opting out.

Lagan College in Belfast decided previously it would not use any test scores.

That leaves 28 of the 34 AQE schools, although it is expected that more will follow.

The Post Primary Transfer Consortium has already cancelled its exams.

Its member schools, which are mostly Catholic grammars, are now devising alternative admissions criteria, which will be published by early February.

Following calls from Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Alliance for tests to be cancelled due to the Covid crisis, First Minister Arlene Foster last night defended her party's support for an exam.

"It is a legal right for people to choose to go to a selective school, and the way to do that is through academic selection, therefore they will make the decision based on what comes forward on the public health agenda, probably at the beginning of February."

It came as health minister Robin Swann said modelling suggested the peak of the third Covid surge is expected in the third week of January.

With hospitals operating at capacity and being forced to cancel many operations, he said he has approved a "new regional approach to ensure that any available theatre capacity across Northern Ireland is allocated for those patients most in need of surgery".

Another 20 Covid-linked deaths were reported in the north yesterday and 1,500 new infections. There were a;sp more than 8,200 new cases in the Republic and 20 deaths.

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