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Record total of P7 children sign up for transfer exams

By Lindsay Fergus

A record number of P7 pupils registered for this year's GL assessment - despite more Catholic grammar schools signalling their intent to move away from academic selection.

The Post Primary Transfer Consortium (PPTC) runs the GL assessment - predominantly used by the Catholic grammars to determine their Year 8 intake.

This year 7,255 pupils applied to sit last Saturday's GL assessment - up almost 550 pupils on the 2009 figure when the unregulated transfer tests were first introduced.

There are also around 1,200 fewer P7 pupils this year compared to 2009.

The figures indicate that despite efforts by the Education Minister John O'Dowd and the Catholic Church to end academic selection, more parents than ever are exercising their right to send their child to a selective school.

The unprecedented figure comes as two more Catholic voluntary grammar schools follow in the footsteps of Loreto College, Coleraine, in abandoning academic selection.

St Patrick's Grammar, Armagh, and St Michael's Grammar, Lurgan, which selected at 14, have both moved to all-ability.

At least four more Catholic grammars have signalled their intent to either move away from or phase out academic selection including, St Mary's Christian Brothers' Grammar, west Belfast; Dominican College, Portstewart, and Omagh schools Loreto Grammar and Christian Brothers' Grammar.

Carol McCann, chair of the PPTC and principal of St Dominic's Grammar, Belfast, said: "7,255 have registered to sit the GL assessment - this is a record number of pupils registered with PPTC."

It is a similar picture for the Association of Quality Education (AQE), which runs the Common Entrance Assessment (CEA).

Again, more pupils than ever registered to sit its three papers, the second of which is this Saturday, at 7,276. That is up almost 250 compared to its first test in 2009.

AQE is preferred by the controlled grammar and non-denominational voluntary grammars - none of which is moving away from academic selection.

Billy Young of AQE has put the growing figures down to its record of success to date.

His sentiments were echoed by Michelle McIlveen, chairman of Stormont's education committee.

The DUP MLA said: "It is clear that parents are continuing to exercise their choice to send their children to grammar schools.

"The record numbers of children being entered into the GL and AQE tests highlights the bedding down of the current system.

"It should also be noted that under the new testing system there are less complaints than was the case under the previous 11-plus examination."

A combined total of the number of pupils sitting the two tests is 14,531 - 66% of all P7 pupils, up from 59% in 2009.

However, there are pupils who opt to sit both the GL and CEA tests.

Ms McIlveen added: "While the current system is working, this must be the last year in which two tests are offered.

"I would urge both testing bodies to once again enter talks to bring the dual tests to an end. With many children sitting both tests, it is long since past the time when resolution should be brought to this matter."

Commenting on the figures, the Education Minister said: "I caution against the claim that there is a rise on the numbers of pupils sitting the transfer tests as these figures could be used twice. Some children may choose to sit both AQE and GL tests.

"Supporters of selection claim the number of children entering the tests is evidence of parents exercising their 'choice'. I believe it is exactly the opposite.

"Parents do not choose to put their child through a test. That is forced upon them in order to gain access to certain schools.

"I will continue to strive for a system where it is the parents and not the institutions who choose which school a child goes to."

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