Belfast Telegraph

Monday 28 July 2014

Even the lowest grade can get you into grammar school

Two out of three took pupils who performed poorly in entrance tests

More than two-thirds of grammar schools in Northern Ireland this year admitted pupils who achieved bottom grades in unregulated transfer tests, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

Of 64 grammar schools, 44 (69%) accepted pupils with grades C and D in the GL Assessment and quintiles four and five in the AQE tests this September.

Just two grammar schools admitted pupils who achieved the top grade only.

This will once again raise questions over the validity of the tests which the Education Minister wants axed. John O’Dowd said: “The high number of schools accepting a broad range of grades, including the lowest grades, begs the question I have been asking. If a school is admitting all abilities through a test, what is the purpose of the test?”

The findings, revealed in response to Freedom of Information requests submitted by this newspaper to the grammar and some integrated schools, come just days after it emerged talks are to be held in a bid to establish a single test.

Some of Northern Ireland’s best known schools accepted more lower grades than higher, according to the statistics.

  • Campbell College, Belfast accepted almost the same number of pupils (40) in the top three quintiles as the bottom two (37). It also took in an additional 33 pupils using other criteria.
  • Foyle and Londonderry College accepted more pupils in the bottom quintile (54) than the top three (46).
  • St Mary’s Grammar School, Belfast took more C and D grade pupils (88) than A and B (66).
  • St Patrick’s Grammar, Armagh, admitted more pupils with grades C and D (59) than A and B (58).

All 68 grammar and integrated schools used the results of the two tests taken by P7 pupils.

The figures come as 6,725 primary seven pupils prepare to sit the second of three AQE tests this Saturday in the hope of securing a grammar school place next year.

The single GL Assessment, taken by 6,982 pupils, was held last Saturday.

From the information provided to us at least 12 grammar schools accepted the bottom grades — Ds or in Q5 — meaning one in every five accepted students who achieved the lowest possible grade. That is good news for the thousands of parents hoping to secure a grammar school place for their child.

However, principals from two top grammar schools have defended the use of testing as a means to determine their intake.

Ballymena Academy principal Ronnie Hassard, chairman of the Post Primary Transfer Consortium (PPTC), said: “The experience of the previous two years — and of the lead into transfer 2012 — indicates there continues to be a strong parental demand for the post-primary education provided by schools in membership of the PPTC. The entrance assessment, sourced from GL Assessment, has been proven to provide a fit-for-purpose and accessible platform.”

Principal of Methodist College Belfast, Scott Naismith, whose school uses AQE, said: “The procedure ran smoothly and efficiently and the college remains committed to working towards a single assessment system.”

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