Northern Ireland news

More grammar schools abandon academic selection without tests

The cancellation of all transfer tests means contingency criteria have been devised

AN increasing number of grammar schools whose entrance exams have been cancelled have abandoned efforts to retain academic selection.

The cancellation of all transfer tests means contingency criteria have been devised.

Schools were told they could use non-academic criteria or "alternative data as a proxy for academic selection".

Unions are against plans to award places based on results from mock transfer test papers and primary school assessments.

This prompted some schools to move forward end of year assessments for P7s even though the Department of Education has said this is not permitted.

Amid calls to ensure fairness from lawyers, unions and the education minister, most schools are now planning to use non-academic criteria only.

A handful have, so far, maintained they will still use new forms of academic selection.

In a letter to parents, Dalriada School in Ballymoney said it was "delighted" its governors had "stuck to their guns" and would retain evidence of academic ability as its main criterion. Further details will be shared this week.

Royal Belfast Academical Institution will also ask for "academic evidence". This will include "practice tests taken by the applicant supervised under controlled conditions by a teacher". There is no reference made to who might have marked those papers - the teacher, parents or the child themselves.

Elsewhere, St Columb's in Derry has joined Thornhill College in the city by publishing non-academic criteria. It will first award places to applicants who have a brother already attending.

Bangor Grammar School told parents it would give preference to children who had registered to sit its entrance test.

Banbridge Academy is adopting a similar approach.

The Northern Ireland Teachers Council (NITC), which is made up of five unions, re-iterated its position that principals and teachers should not participate in any activity relating to the potential selection of children based on academic criteria.

It said this included the organisation or facilitation of any assessments requested by parents or other schools, the rank ordering of children and/or responding to requests for any form of ranking or recommendation facilitating entry to a particular school.

"Whilst parents are entitled to request the results of any already completed standardised test pertaining to their child, schools should reject any request from parents or other schools to report any performance related assessment which is outside of the normal practice of the school," the NITC said.

"NITC maintains that the minister has it within his power to direct post-primary schools that they should not use such information for selection purposes. His avoidance of providing clear direction on this issue has resulted in further avoidable anxiety being placed on children and parents and intense and unfair pressures being placed on primary school principals to find solutions."

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