Northern Ireland news

Hopes school's scrapping of transfer test 'causes ripple effect'

There have been calls to abandon these assessments for a second year because P6s have faced significant upheaval

A CATHOLIC grammar school has become the first to scrap this year's transfer test - paving the way for others to follow.

In a move that has been roundly praised, St Mary's Christian Brothers' Grammar School in west Belfast, said it would not use academic selection.

Parents and primary principals said they hoped this would cause a ripple effect.

All entrance exams were cancelled for P7 children due to disruption to their education.

There have been calls to abandon these assessments for a second year because P6s have faced significant upheaval.

They will only return to classrooms on Monday for the first time since December.

St Mary's, a member of the Post-Primary Transfer Consortium (PPTC), took its decision due to mental and emotional stresses faced by P6 pupils.

In a statement to BBC News, the governors said the school was usually oversubscribed and used academic selection to allocate places.

"In the light of the current unprecedented mental and emotional stresses on both pupils and parents, the board of governors wish to focus on the health and well-being of the current Primary 6 cohort," governors said.

"Due to the current challenges faced by these young people, the board of governors have decided it will not take part in the PPTC transfer tests and will not use an academic selection criterion for 2022/23 school year."

While the move is expected to be temporary, the Edmund Rice Schools Trust, which is responsible for schools formerly owned by the Christian Brothers religious order, is fully supportive of permanently ending testing at 11.

A previous attempt to end academic selection at St Mary's failed.

Draft proposals brought forward in 2014 recommended the creation of a single post-primary involving St Mary's and neighbouring Christian Brothers School (CBS). St Mary's later rejected the plan saying it wanted to continue using entrance tests. CBS has since been merged into All Saints College.

Diane Dawson, principal of Braniel PS in east Belfast, applauded the latest decision.

"St Mary's are really leading from the front and with such pastoral care for our Y6 pupils." she said.

"Praying all grammar schools will follow suit and this will be a domino effect."

West Belfast MLA Pat Sheehan, a member of the assembly education committee, commended the leadership shown by St Mary's in acting early and decisively.

"They are recognising the unprecedented mental and emotional stresses faced by our children and young people due to the pandemic," he said.

"This is a welcome move and I hope other schools will put the needs of children first and follow suit.

"It's heartening to now see schools having these conversations and looking at alternative ways to proceed with post-primary transfer in the midst of this public health pandemic. Cancelling the tests now would save children from months of anxiety and stress."

Entrance exams are due to take place in November.

PPTC schools are continuing to consider re-introducing IQ-style assessments to replace English and maths transfer tests.

It was reported that schools were asked to bring back verbal reasoning, due to continuing Covid-19 disruption on face-to-face learning.

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