Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Tests are the only way to a grammar, officials admit

The continuing confusion surrounding the transfer by children from primary to post primary schools in Northern Ireland following the abolition of the 11-plus deepened when the Department of Education admitted there was little chance of children getting into a grammar school unless they sat an entrance exam.

Pupils in P7 this year will be the first to make the move to a post-primary school without the 11-plus which the department has abolished .

Sinn Fein Education Minister Caitriona Ruane ordered the scrapping of the selection system, arguing it was wrong to brand any child a failure at the age of 11.

However she did not come up with an alternative system and grammar schools, both Catholic and Protestant and including those run directly by the state, feared for their future and have banded together and introduced their own entrance exams.

Primary school teachers have been told not to prepare children for the new exam, which will be sat in grammar schools later this term, rather than in the child's own primary school as it was under the 11-plus system.

In a guide to parents issued yesterday giving advice on how the transfer system will work, the department admitted publicly for the first time that a child was unlikely to get a grammar school place unless he or she sits one of the unsanctioned tests.

Much of the Transfer 2010 leaflet for parents is dedicated to the exam the department makes clear it does not support.

It said if parents wanted children to go to one of the schools using an entrance test, they could apply without the child sitting the test. But it admitted: “You should be aware, however, that your application is unlikely to be successful.”

The DUP, which opposed the ending of selection, said the minister's humiliation was unfolding day by day.

Education spokesman Mervyn Storey said: “Despite the education minister's two-and-a-half years of bluster about how she was going to get rid of academic selection, she has been reduced to producing a document for every Year 7 pupil and their parents reminding them not to miss the deadline for grammar school entrance exams.”

He said he regretted the use of multiple tests by different schools, and blamed the minister for the confusion caused. Mr Storey said his party would continue to push for a single common assessment regulated by the department.

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