Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Price parents pay for new tests

Parents across Northern Ireland are spending hundreds of pounds on preparation material and coaching for the new grammar school tests.

High street book stores here say practice papers for the new exams are ‘flying off the shelves’

Despite warnings from Education Minister Caitriona Ruane that paid schooling disadvantages poorer children, this newspaper revealed last month that many parents are paying up to £28 an hour for private tutoring.

Some also paid £370 for six-day exam preparation courses in Belfast.

Now it has emerged that practice papers have been “flying off the shelves” in book stores — bought by anxious parents keen to ensure their children are prepared for the controversial new tests.

Despite saying there is no need to teach beyond the normal school curriculum, schools involved in both grammar testing systems do advise parents where they can buy commercial products from.

PMP Publications offers practice papers for the English and Maths entrance tests run by 34 grammars represented by the Association for Quality Education.

A P6 Revision Pack and Summer Holiday Revision Pack are available online at a cost of £14.99 each.

GL Assessment — which is setting tests for 34 schools mainly within the Catholic maintained sector — has packs of practice papers on its website costing £9.99 each.

A selection of practice papers are also available from a range of high street book stores. Laura Perry, from Waterstone's Lisburn store, said: “The new practice papers have been flying out of the door ever since we got them in.

“Because it is a brand new system parents are making sure their kids have a head start before the new school term begins.

“They are making these papers bestsellers.”

A spokesman for Waterstone's said the situation was the same in all of their Northern Ireland stores.

A spokeswoman for Eason said: “The practice papers are absolutely flying off our shelves. Despite this, there is no problem with supply.”

A spokesman for WH Smith said: “The practice papers in our Belfast high street store in Donegall Place are selling well and we still have some in stock.”

Another cost faced by parents is £35 to register pupils for the AQE tests. However, if any child receives free school meals, their tests are free.

There is no charge to register for the GL Assessment exams.

Dympna Thornton, a mother-of-two from Larne, said that she has already spent a couple of hundred pounds on practice material and occasional tutoring for her son Conn.

“In our area, some primary schools ran summer schools and others sent home exam papers for the summer but at my son’s school nothing was sent home so we have had to source everything ourselves.

“If any new preparation material becomes available there is a kind of hysteria while all the parents rush to find out about it.

“One of the book stores I went to had no practice papers in stock at all and said they wouldn’t be coming back in again until the start of the new term.”

Mrs Thornton said that her son accepts what is happening.

“He realises that he has to go through this process,” she said.

“He wants to go to the same school as his sister because he can see how happy and fulfilled she is.

“That is his goal and he will do whatever he needs to do to get there. That is him pushing himself, not us.”

Mrs Thornton was a member of the Stop group — a parents’ group established in Larne which called on Education Minister Caitriona Ruane to retain academic selection until agreement was reached on a new transfer system.

The group has now handed the reins over to this year’s P6 parents.

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