Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Northern Ireland Families in High Court challenge on test process

Caitriona Ruane

It is expected that thousands of registrations will be made for children to sit their respective transfer tests

Two Northern Ireland families are going to court this week to challenge the new transfer test process being used by grammar schools.

In what could be a landmark case, the families are seeking leave to apply for a judicial review after their children were turned away from two grammar schools.

A girl is challenging the decisions taken by St Patrick’s Academy in Dungannon and a Southern Education and Library Board tribunal, which upheld the school’s decision. The other case centres on a school in Londonderry.

The children’s cases have been joined together but will be supported by two separate legal teams. Their application is due to be heard at Belfast’s High Court tomorrow morning.

The solicitor representing the girl’s case is Jarlath Faloon.

Her primary school is due to appear as a witness. She recently started at a secondary school but plans to take up the grammar place if she wins the court battle.

Mr Faloon said: “The issue in the case is that Caitriona Ruane and the Department of Education’s directive to primary principals was that they should not participate in academic selection but the grammar schools’ criteria was all about the parents getting educational evidence from the principals.

“In this case, the girl was affected by personal circumstances on the day of the tests but the primary principal felt they could not give any information to the grammar school. The school felt straight-jacketed by the department’s guidance. We went through the tribunal and it held for the school so the case is against the tribunal and the Academy.”

Mr Faloon said it was a test case and he claimed that the current system of unregulated transfer was unfair to children.

“We have the Department of Education trying to discourage any academic selection and the grammar schools on the other hand continuing to use it. It is not right,” he said. “The situation needs to be clear.”

Ms Ruane warned schools of the risk of legal action if they went ahead with their own entrance exams. Many primary schools went against the department’s guidance to help P7 pupils prepare for the new tests and many also provided information on children’s previous school test results to post-primary schools if their performance was affected on the test days by, for example, illness or a bereavement.

The 67 schools which ran their own entrance tests also sought independent legal advice on their admissions criteria.

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