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Concern about impact of 'tsunami' of Covid cases on children sitting transfer tests

More than 8,000 primary school pupils in P7 are registered to sit the AQE transfer tests
Seanín Graham

PRINCIPALS have raised concerns about the impact of soaring Covid-19 cases among children sitting 11-plus style tests over the next month.

Infections are highest among 10 to 14 year-olds across Northern Ireland and school heads have privately contacted trade unions about the scale of the problem ahead of the Association for Quality Education (AQE) exams, which will begin today and continue on the two following Saturdays.

A total of 8,289 primary school children been registered for the AQE tests.

One principal told The Irish News his school had been hit with a "tsunami" of positive cases and "was not alone".

Last week, more than 5,000 children were registered to sit the GL Assessment. The majority of these pupils were from Catholic primaries.

Many children sit both the GL and AQE exams to determine if they will get a place in a grammar school. The tests were cancelled last year due to the pandemic.

Graham Gault, who heads up the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) in the north, said it had been approached by school leaders with concerns about mounting Covid-related pupil absences.

"Principals are reporting very significant concerns in relation to the processes of transition from primary to post-primary, particularly for those children hoping to transfer to a selective school," he said.

Graham Gault from NAHT

"Because it is not currently clear how special considerations in relation to Covid diagnosis or isolation will be interpreted by boards of governors, principals are encouraging parents to gather evidence of anything that impacts upon their child during the next few weeks in case it is of relevance during any appeal process that may come in future.

"If any agreed interpretations exist, we appeal to AQE to make them clear to parents as soon as possible."

Covid cases in the north have rocketed by nearly a quarter in the past week and are "most marked" among 11-15 year-olds, according to a Department of Health modelling paper.

Due to the surge, a rise in the number of 'special circumstances' applications are expected to be submitted by parents of affected P7 children sitting the test.

Mr Gault criticised the contract tracing arrangements in schools, which came under the responsibility of the Public Health Agency in September to limit the huge numbers of children missing school.

Previously principals criticised the arrangements in which they were mainly left to track down pupils who had come into contact with a positive case - as “unsustainable”.

The union chief is also strongly opposed to academic selection and said transfer tests "do not define a child's worth or value".

"I have to take this opportunity to again remind parents that there are many, many educational routes open to children over their coming years and that it is so important to maintain a sense of perspective over what these transfer assessments actually mean. They are entrance tests to some schools.

"It is up to us all to keep the messaging for our children healthy and proportionate."

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