Academic selection 'cruel segregation'
Teaching union official claims grammar school testing is form of apartheid
The continuation of educational selection in Northern Ireland has been described as academic apartheid by a leading teaching union.
Avril Hall Callaghan, general secretary of the Ulster Teachers' Union, was speaking as thousands of pupils in grammar and secondary schools across Northern Ireland sit down to exactly the same GCSE and A-level exams. Ms Hall Callaghan described the use of entrance examinations by grammar schools as "cruel segregation of children".
She said: "What is the point of filing children into academic have and have-not boxes at 11 when they will all be working towards the same exam papers at 16 and 18 and when so-called non-grammar schools often have results any grammar school would be proud of?
"You really have to ask what the motivation is for continuing this downright cruel segregation of children - a segregation which often leaves those who are deemed 'non grammar material' decimated and at odds with any desire to learn going forward.
"Too often teachers in non-grammar schools spend the first couple of years trying to rebuild the children's confidence and convince them they have bright, successful futures and that in fifth year they'll be sitting exactly the same exam papers as their peers in grammar schools - so the academic apartheid at 11 is worthless, utterly disingenuous."
She questioned the motivation of grammar schools in continuing to use academic selection when children who attend non-grammar schools often go on to be just as successful in their GCSEs and A-levels as grammar school counterparts.
"We need a system which values all children equally and where all children have equal access to the highest quality of education," she added.
"All schools are working within the same curriculum towards the same exams so why do they need to be streamed by such a blunt mechanism as academic selection at this age?
"As Northern Ireland embraces the concept of learning communities and shared learning and more schools work together to maximise resources, we are going to see the lines between grammar and non-grammar schools increasingly blur to the extent where any such boundaries become anachronistic."
So far only two grammar schools have voluntarily stopped using academic selection - Loreto College in Coleraine and St Patrick's College in Armagh.
Earlier this year, Loreto College in Omagh and Omagh Christian Brothers School indicated they plan to have stopped using academic selection by 2020.
There are two sets of unofficial tests, which around 14,000 P7 children sit each year. Most controlled grammars use the AQE system and most maintained schools use the GL system. Children across Northern Ireland who sat the transfer tests will find out whether they have been successful in obtaining a place at the school of their choice this weekend.