Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Exams body accused of discrimination

A body which oversees grammar school transfer tests has allegedly refused to make reasonable adjustments for a special needs pupil, the High Court has heard.

The child's parents have issued proceedings against the Association for Quality Education, claiming discrimination on the grounds of disability.

It is believed to be the first case of its kind since the group began unofficial exams in place of the abolished 11-plus.

The child at the centre of the legal challenge is among thousands of pupils due to begin this year's AQE assessments on Saturday.

They will sit three test papers at grammar schools across Northern Ireland.

The child, who cannot be identified, has been assessed by an educational psychologist as having “unique” circumstances, a judge was told.

No further details of the disability involved have been disclosed.

According to the child's lawyers, an offer of an extra 15 minutes to complete the one-hour test is insufficient.

Additional access arrangements were also regarded as unsatisfactory.

Mr Justice Treacy, who is hearing the attempt to judicially review the AQE, commented: “At the heart of this case is the (alleged) failure or refusal to make what is characterised as reasonable adjustments.”

Stewart Beattie QC, appearing for the child's family, confirmed: “Yes.”

He argued that it would not be possible to lodge a discrimination allegation at a tribunal because it could take months to reach a decision.

“The difficulty we have in this particular case is that the process starts on Saturday,” Mr Beattie pointed out. To that extent there is an element of urgency about it.”

The court heard how the AQE, as a private body, does not believe it can be subjected to judicial review proceedings which examine the lawfulness of decisions or actions by a public body.

But the child's legal team are arguing that by overseeing tests for publicly-funded grammar schools its can be scrutinised by the court.

Mr Justice Treacy has adjourned the case until Friday when further submissions will be made.

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