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Schools reaffirm their support for academic selection

By Rebecca Black

Principals of some of Northern Ireland's leading grammar schools have underlined their support for unofficial transfer tests - as Education Minister John O'Dowd again urged them to stop academic selection.

Today the Belfast Telegraph exclusively reveals that 10,000 parents in Northern Ireland opted for a selective grammar in 2013, and that demand is so great, it is outstripping supply.

The figures, obtained from the schools via Freedom of Information Act requests, relate to the current batch of Year 8 pupils who sat the Post Primary Transfer Consortium's (PPTC) GL Assessment and/or the Association of Quality Education's (AQE) Common Entrance Assessment in November/December 2013. In our Transfer 2015 supplement - free with today's paper - we reveal which scores/grades selective schools accepted in 2014.

This year 65 schools are featured, 36 of which used the AQE method of assessment and 34 the GL Assessment method. Five schools accept both tests.

The GL grades being accepted ranged from A to D, and the AQE scores ranged from 129 to 69.

Grammar school principals have praised the unofficial transfer test system, despite Mr O'Dowd urging them to stop selection.

Moore Dickson, principal of Belfast Royal Academy, said AQE arrangements are "very good", while Eugene McCullough, principal of St Michael's College, Enniskillen, claimed: "The whole process was flawless."

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, Mr O'Dowd said it was "unnecessary for a small number of schools to ask prospective pupils to sit an unregulated test before they will be considered for admission". He added: "I strongly believe that these tests are little more than a clever marketing tool; a barrier that schools put up to make them appear exclusive to only certain pupils."

Background

In 2003 then Education Minister Martin McGuinness announced plans to end academic selection at 11. Caitriona Ruane followed through and the last official transfer test was held in 2008. Since then grammar schools have come together to form two systems of unofficial transfer tests. Around 10,000 children sat these tests in 2013.

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