Northern Ireland news

Decision on November transfer tests expected within days

Schools are considering a discussion paper that suggests using aptitude-based instead of English and maths assessments

GRAMMAR schools are expected to decide within days whether they will cancel entrance exams again later this year - or replace them with IQ-style tests.

Members of the Post Primary Transfer Consortium (PPTC) are considering a discussion paper that suggests using aptitude-based instead of English and maths assessments.

The PPTC, which is made up mostly of Catholic grammars, is one of two groups that run unregulated tests each November.

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

There have been calls to abandon them for a second year because P6s have faced such upheaval.

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

Some governors told The Irish News that there is a need to make decisions now to avoid causing anxiety.

They pointed out that there had been considerable disruption to learning and the pandemic had not yet gone away.

It is understood that the PPTC wants schools to state their positions by the end of the month.

In a paper, it said in "an exceptional year", aptitude tests would be "much fairer" than traditional maths and English entrance assessments.

It also said primary pupils had experience in using such tests.

GL Assessment, which provides the English and maths papers for PPTC, also produces verbal and non-verbal reasoning tests.

Schools are expected to say whether they will stick with English and maths, switch to reasoning, or cancel exams again.

St Mary's Christian Brothers' Grammar School in west Belfast was the first to announce it would not use academic selection to award places next year.

There is likely to be much focus on other members of the Edmund Rice Schools Trust, which is responsible for schools formerly owned by the Christian Brothers order.

The trust is supportive of permanently ending testing at 11 and it is anticipated its schools will take a similar position to St Mary's.

Abbey CB Grammar in Newry and Christian Brothers' Grammar in Omagh were among the first to opt out of last year's exams.

In addition, there are already plans in place for Omagh to phase out academic selection. In 2020, it reduced the proportion of Year 8 places awarded based on test scores to 75 per cent.

The St Mary's decision has been roundly welcomed.

Sean Mahon, chairman of St Mary's board of governors, said during this "unforgiving pandemic", the school continued to offer a high standard of teaching and learning.

"In normal times, our students from Year 8 to Year 14 would have available an extensive range of extracurricular opportunities," he said.

"For a significant number of years, the school has been oversubscribed and has utilised an academic selection criterion in allocating places available for its Year 8 intake.

"However, 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 wellbeing of the current Primary 6 cohort.

"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."

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