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Parents in plea for just one entrance exam as multiple papers increase pressures

By Anna Maguire

A mother has called for an end to primary school pupils sitting multiple entrance tests because of the extreme pressure they cause.

Mary Oglesby from south Belfast has spent the last year coaching her son ahead of this month's entrance tests.

The 10-year-old, who she did not want to name, has already gone through three different papers for entrance into his choice of grammar schools.

Mary chose to register her son for the CEA and GL tests, set by State-controlled and Catholic grammar schools, so he would have the opportunity to chose which school he attends.

But she believes the current system of selection is damaging children who, at 10 and 11, are too young for the potential disappointments of academic selection.

"If the post-primary schools could come together and come to an agreement to have just one test, in one examination centre, it would take so much of the pressure off," she said.

"It's been very stressful. I was taking my son through practice papers during the summer, so you are having to ask him not to go to football or other things. But you want your children to be children and have fun. I felt like I was the one sucking up the pressure.

"My next child will be at this stage in four years time and I hope by that stage something has changed," she added.

"It's very difficult because you cannot ask your child's school – and my son's school is very good – how well they are prepared for the test. I walked out of the school where the test was being held on Saturday and a wee girl was walking in in tears."

Her views have been echoed by other parents, who spoke of the stresses of tutoring their children ahead of entrance tests.

In an online survey carried out by social enterprise Amazing Brains NI, parents called for a change in the rules to allow schools to prepare pupils for unregulated entrance tests.

Five years after the 11-plus was scrapped, more than six out of 10 parents have cited the pressure of coaching their children for multiple papers for grammar schools.

Nearly 70% of 350 parents polled pointed to the stress of managing their child's revision ahead of the entrance tests. A third of parents who took part said that there was more stress in their house as a result of preparing for the transfer test – with one describing the stress as worse than receiving a cancer diagnosis.

More than half (58%) called for support in keeping a sense of perspective during the process.

A total of 350 parents responded to Amazing Brains' online survey last June.

Of those parents, 258 planned to register their child for the test. A further 50 decided against it.

Parents said the selection process "encourages snobbery and class divide", while others described testing children at 11 as immoral and damaging.

Since the last 11-plus in 2008, schools do not prepare pupils for entrance tests. But teaching groups and politicians point to schools where preparation continues outside school hours.

Amazing Brains called for more transparency around 'coaching'.

"Many parents called for schools to be allowed to prepare children given their expertise and for a condensing of GL and AQE papers," a spokeswoman said.

BACKGROUND

On Saturday, thousands of pupils sat two GL papers, which are used by Catholic maintained grammars. Increasing numbers of children are sitting the unregulated tests. The alternative CEA admission test is used by state controlled grammar schools.

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