Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 3 September 2014

MLAs ‘should be ashamed of transfer fiasco’

Northern Ireland's politicians should be ashamed of the unregulated school transfer process experienced by thousands of children this year, it has been claimed.

Ulster Unionist education spokesman Basil McCrea made the claim as P7 pupils across the province wait for 13,700 exam results from new transfer tests to arrive at their homes tomorrow.

Over 7,000 children sat the exams set by the Association for Quality Education (AQE) for 34 schools catering mainly for Protestant children and 6,700 young people sat the GL Assessment tests at 34 other schools, mainly Catholic grammars.

Scores will be issued for the AQE candidates while grades — similar to the old 11-plus system – as well as scores, will be issued to the GL students.

The schools are using academic selection to determine their Year 8 intake, against the advice of Education Minister Caitriona Ruane.

Secondary schools will continue to determine their intake using non-academic admissions criteria.

Today, the Telegraph is publishing an essential results guide for parents. And we are reissuing our call for politicians to agree on a new system in time for this year's P6 pupils to transfer. A total of 10,000 people signed our Sit Down, Sort it Out petition last year.

Weekly talks involving four of the main political parties are continuing to take place at Stormont – but they have been boycotted so far by Sinn Fein.

Alliance Party education spokesman Trevor Lunn said today: “As the day approaches for the release of the transfer test results we can only hope that when the dust settles and our children hear their fate, most of them will end up in a school of their choice. What is beyond doubt is the appeals mechanism will be tested.

“Even by Northern Ireland’s standards, this issue has been left to ferment into a potent problem for too long.”

Mr McCrea said: “The Northern Ireland Assembly should be ashamed of what pupils, schools and families were put through this year.

“Talks on education — akin to the policing and justice talks — should have been taking place well before now.

“Time is running out for this year's P6s so all parties must get their heads together to come up with an acceptable way forward to give stability back to schools, children and their families.”

Billy Young, from AQE, said: “There is general agreement that ideally there should be one system of testing in the |future, if at all possible, for all schools seeking to retain academic selection. Parents will be informed about this.”

Ronnie Hassard is principal of Ballymena Academy and chair of the Post Primary Transfer Consortium (PPTC) — its 34 member schools signed up for the GL Assessment tests.

He said: “The reality is that to set up new testing arrangements we would need to make a decision by the end of this month.”

Harry Greer, principal of Harmony Hill Primary in Lisburn, said: “There is no doubt that this year’s process has been more uncertain for parents and it must remain a priority for our politicians.

“My advice to parents would be to remain calm. The only major change is that the results will come in a different format which makes predicting the chances of getting into a particular school more difficult.

“Parents should be reassured, however, that, as always, their primary school principal will be at their side assisting them through the process.”

Meanwhile, 38 Catholic primary school principals from the Armagh, Cookstown and Dungannon areas issued a statement this week confirming their support for the Department of Educations policy to end “academic selection/rejection”.

They called for “this year's debacle” not to be repeated.

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