Northern Ireland news

Schools warned of potential legal challenges ahead of admissions criteria publication

Lawyers have cautioned that unreasonable or unfair methods to select pupils will create problems

SCHOOLS that ignore guidance on non-academic admissions criteria are likely to face legal action, it has been warned.

Lawyers have also cautioned that unreasonable or unfair methods to select pupils will create problems.

Today, the Education Authority will publish information for all post-primary schools.

The cancellation of transfer tests means contingency criteria have been devised by the grammar sector.

Some schools have already shared their plans in response to calls from anxious parents.

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

Almost all, so far, have decided to follow the non-selective route.

A small number are planning to use results from transfer test practice papers or primary school English and maths assessments that were last taken when current P7 children were aged nine.

Several lawyers have warned against this. They say there is a duty to ensure fairness and that children are not discriminated against.

Schools must also "have regard to" Department of Education guidance which includes a list of recommended admissions criteria.

Mock papers or primary school assessments do not appear on this list.

So far, only two grammar schools have said they intend to use such data.

Meanwhile, the campaign group #BringItBackToPrimary said P7s were experiencing untold anxiety due to inconsistent entrance criteria being applied across selective schools.

Organiser Naomi McBurney urged Education Minister Peter Weir to ensure children in P6 were spared a similar ordeal.

"While all of this was absolutely avoidable with adequate forward planning, we simply cannot allow the same thing to happen to our P6 children. Lessons must be learnt and acted upon with expediency," she said.

"While we all hope that life will have resumed to almost normal levels by November 2021, this pandemic year has taught us that we cannot be sure of the next twist or turn with Covid-19. As it stands the current P6, P5 and P4 children have missed considerable face to face teaching time. We know this is detrimental to both their mental health and education attainment."

Ms McBurney said primary schools should be allowed to host the private transfer tests for the next three years.

"We owe it to our children and under-resourced school staff to maintain a level of certainty during the recovery period. As it stands, grammar schools have been given the legal right to admit pupils based on academic criteria and many exercise this right. With that in mind every child has the right to participate in the system that selects them," she added.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Northern Ireland news