Northern Ireland news

Grammar schools abandon academic admissions criteria following legal advice

With entrance exams cancelled, schools were forced to devise contingency plans

GRAMMAR schools have abandoned efforts to use alternative forms of academic selection after seeking legal advice.

With entrance exams cancelled, schools were forced to devise contingency plans.

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

Lawyers warned that anyone who ignored guidance on non-academic admissions criteria were likely to face legal action.

Admissions criteria for all post-primary schools have been published by the Education Authority.

They reveal that the majority have taken the non-academic route.

In letters to parents, several said they sought advice before deciding what methods to use.

They added that the difficult and trying events of recent months had reinforced the case for using transfer tests in future.

In Belfast, Rathmore, St Dominic's, Aquinas, Our Lady and St Patrick's, Dominican College and St Malachy's will all give preference to children who registered to sit entrance exams. After that, they will prioritise pupils who have siblings attending.

Lumen Christi in Derry, St Mary's in Magherafelt and St Joseph's in Donaghmore have similar criteria.

Assumption in Ballynahinch and St Louis in Ballymena have also listed proof of test entry as their top criterion. Instead of siblings, Assumption will then give priority to feeder primary schools while St Louis will select those who list it as first preference on transfer forms.

Royal Belfast Academical Institution and Dalriada School in Ballymoney are among a small group that plan to select based on academic ability.

They will use results from mock transfer test papers and primary school assessments, which were last taken by children when in P5.

Slemish Integrated College in Ballymena, one of two bilateral schools that use tests to award some Year 8 places, is also asking parents to upload "evidence that shows that the child may be suited for an academic pathway".

Lagan College in Belfast said it would use "all-ability entry criteria for 100 per cent of the admissions criteria for entry into Year 8 in September 2021".

In a statement, Aquinas Grammar School said it extensively explored "every potential option".

"Given the disparity in the range of information available from primary schools, and having sought legal advice, the schools involved decided not to use academic selection as part of the school admissions criteria for September 2021," it said.

"This has been an extraordinary and abnormal school year and therefore it was agreed that such a challenging learning environment would require an exceptional and one off response reflecting the unique circumstances of this time.

"However, we firmly believe that the fairest means of selecting children for oversubscribed schools is by way of testing. If anything, the very difficult and trying circumstances of recent weeks and months have reinforced this conviction. We therefore intend to return to this fair and equitable means of selection for the intake of September 2022."

Bloomfield Collegiate in Belfast also told parents that legal advice regarding inconsistencies of data from primary schools "have led all controlled grammar schools, and the overwhelming majority of voluntary grammar schools, deciding not to use any academic data for admission this year only".

"The school recognises that the challenges of this year will not allow a number of P7 pupils who would, normally, be admitted to Bloomfield Collegiate and, again, appreciates the anxiety, frustration and hurt felt by some."

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