Feelings are running high among parents of children at Academy Primary School in Saintfield, Co Down, who were quick to express their frustration at the confusion surrounding the current unregulated transfer system.
We took our school transfer petition to Saintfield and secured strong support from the parents arriving to collecting their children.
Our Sit Down, Sort It Out campaign is calling for Executive talks in a bid to reach political agreement on a new school transfer system.
It does not call for academic selection to be retained or scrapped — this will be up to the politicians to decide.
Academy Primary has been preparing children for the new tests. Out of its 60 primary seven pupils, 47 are doing the tests set by the Association for Quality Education (AQE) and one is sitting the tests set by GL Assessment.
One mother felt so strongly about the transfer uncertainty that she moved her two children in primary four and primary six from one primary school which had a policy of not preparing children for the tests, to Academy Primary.
Principal Stephen Moore said the children of the school and their parents were his priority.
“We have been doing what we need to do to get the children through the tests, irrespective of what the minister (Caitriona Ruane) says. I feel I am most answerable to children and parents.”
He said many parents wished to retain academic selection — but added that it was regrettable that two separate testing systems have emerged. One is catering mainly for Catholic grammar schools and the other for schools attended by mainly Protestant pupils.
“Now with 7,000 sitting the AQE and 6,500 sitting GL Assessment, we have a Protestant transfer and a Catholic transfer. It’s as if we’ve gone back 10 years.”
Dr Emma Adair spoke to the Telegraph as she picked up her two children, who are in P4 and P6. She said the situation was “shocking”.
“I think they have messed up a system that was working anyway.”
Mother-of-three Lynne Keery said the lack of clarity was “horrendous”.
“My son Jack is in P6 and I feel really sorry for P7s this year. They are total guinea pigs. The Assembly has let people down so badly. They have left us just not knowing. I also feel sorry for the school principals and teachers. It is our children’s future which is really uncertain.”
“The politicians really need to sit down and really talk about it.
“It’s only by reading the Belfast Telegraph that I find out what’s going on.”
Alan Harland, the father of P6 twins Ross and Elaina from Saintfield, said: “The school is really doing its best but when we have no goal or certainty, it really is a problem.”
Mother Wilma McMillan said: “It’s an absolute disaster. It’s so unfair for the children. They are under pressure, parents are under pressure and the schools are, too, because nobody really knows what is going to happen.
“I just want to give my daughter the chance to achieve whatever she is capable of achieving. She will be sitting the AQE. It’s hard for the children, because they are aware of what is going on.”
Another mum was concerned about the implications of the emergence of two separate tests. “It divides everybody on religious grounds.”
Another said: “You don’t take something away unless you have something to replace it with.”