Northern Ireland news

`Clarity' promised by AQE over transfer test as it brands Derry bishop's comments 'defamatory'

AQE yesterday again confirmed the test is still scheduled to take place

THE Association for Quality Education (AQE) has promised "greater clarity" over its plans to hold a single transfer test on Saturday February 27.

It made the statement shortly after calling on Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown to retract and apologise for comments made in a BBC interview.

Speaking on Sunday Politics Northern Ireland, he described the transfer test process as "big business", saying when it "becomes a major element in educational decisions I think, perhaps, we've lost the point".

In a statement to the broadcaster the AQE directors said this "statement completely lacked accuracy and was pejorative in tone".

"The statement made by the bishop and broadcast by the BBC was highly defamatory not just of AQE Limited but also of those individuals who are the members of AQE Limited and of those who serve it as its directors and officers, carrying, as it does, the clear innuendo that such persons are acting from motives of pure self-interest.

"AQE Limited does not engage in `business', in the normally accepted meaning of that word. It does not carry on its activities with a view to making a profit.

"It is a company limited by guarantee and so does not have shareholders and hence pays no dividends.

"The members of its board of directors are not remunerated and perform their roles voluntarily.

"The fees which it charges to parents do not cover the costs which AQE Limited incurs in producing and administering the Common Entrance Assessment; the shortfall is made up by the schools which use the Common Entrance Assessment.

"In light thereof AQE Limited would call upon the bishop to retract the statement which he made on 10 January 2021 and to issue an appropriate apology to AQE Limited."

Bishop McKeown said he had raised an issue which resonated with many people, but had no further comment.

AQE yesterday again confirmed its test is still scheduled to take place next month, adding that its directors "understand the frustration of schools, parents and the children around this highly complex matter and give our assurance that further clarity will be provided at the very earliest opportunity".

It indicated there are "ongoing discussions with our stakeholder partners".

Some schools already have said will not be using the test to determine entrance this year, while the Post Primary Transfer Consortium, which runs tests for many Catholic grammars, has cancelled its papers due to the Covid pandemic.

On its website AQE says it "exists to seek to improve the lot of all children in Northern Ireland, not just those with academic gifts" and was established to provide grammar schools in Northern Ireland with a method of maintaining academic selection, running assessment cycles "on a very tight budget".

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