Northern Ireland news

Grammar transfer proposals to streamline testing under one single system

Grammar schools have until next week to submit views on the new single transfer test system proposals.
PA and Paul Ainsworth

A SINGLE transfer test for grammar schools could be introduced within two years - but principals are warning people against getting too excited.

It has been proposed that a common assessment should replace the unregulated exams run by private companies since the last sitting of the state-sponsored 11-plus in 2008.

The Post Primary Transfer Consortium (PPTC) and Association for Quality Education (AQE) have been in talks since 2017 about creating a single test.

It has been reported that grammar schools now have until September 29 to submit their views on the proposals.

The tests would be run by a new company, the Schools' Entrance Assessment Group (SEAG), the BBC reported.

Former education minister Peter Weir said yesterday the plans had "the potential to be a very positive step forward".

The new system would see a charge of £20 per pupil, except for those who eligible for free school meals.

Currently, entry to the AQE exams costs £60, or free for those eligible for free school meals, while there is no fee for the PPTC tests.

Transfer testing remains among the most contentious topics in education, with many opposed to any form of academic selection.

Although transfer tests have not taken place for two years due to Covid-19, the existing structures mean children can sit up to five exams if they enter both testing systems. Under the SEAG-run single system, they would sit just two exams.

Principal of St John the Baptist PS in west Belfast, Chris Donnelly, said some parents may welcome a new system, while it may present hurdles for others.

"For parents who want to keep their children's options open and would have previously chosen both test systems, then a single system would mean they would be happy their child only has to sit two exams, rather than more," he said.

He added that the proposal was "not something to get overly excited about".

"It's the existence of academic selection, which facilitates the tests, which are exacerbating the divides in our society, and leading to far too many kids leaving school with no or minimal qualifications," he said.

Members of the assembly education committee last night said transfer testing should be scrapped completely.

Sinn Féin MLA Pat Sheehan described the system as "cruel and traumatic" while committee chairman and Alliance Party member Chris Lyttle said it was "an unfair and unnecessary system of transfer for children, exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic".

Daniel McCrossan of the SDLP said he hoped the move would be a step on the path to ending academic selection "once and for all".

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