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UUP's ditching of transfer tests for ongoing assessment 'will increase stress on children'

By Rebecca Black

Published 21/04/2016

Claims: Peter Weir
Claims: Peter Weir

The DUP has accused its UUP rivals of abandoning support for transfer tests.

The UUP has responded by questioning what Arlene Foster's party has done to solve the transfer test impasse.

This clash came after UUP leader Mike Nesbitt spoke of his support for "continuous assessment" instead of tests as the way for selective grammar schools to determine their intake.

Since the 11-Plus was scrapped in 2008 most grammar schools have used unofficial tests to decide who to admit each year.

Around 14,000 P7 children sit unofficial tests each year set by the competing bodies AQE and GL.

The DUP has pledged support for finding a single test system.

The UUP election manifesto says that it would like to see a deadline of two years to devise a new method of transferring Year 7 pupils based on continual assessment during the course of their primary school education.

Mr Nesbitt confirmed to Radio Ulster's Stephen Nolan Show that he would support the use of continuous assessment instead of tests, saying the current system is not working well.

"Testing is examination, this is assessment, this is getting a feel for a child, under all sorts of circumstances, not on the day they go in to sit the exam," he said.

DUP education spokesman Peter Weir claimed the UUP proposal would "worsen" the situation for P7 pupils.

"There is no doubt that the current situation is not perfect, and an agreed single transfer process is clearly desirable, but the UUP proposals are a populist attempt to nominally support academic selection while moving away from any transfer tests by supposedly having some form of transfer by continual assessment within two years," he said.

"However, in trying to have their cake and eat it, with such an unspecified proposal they are ignoring practical considerations which show little grasp of educational realities on the ground and the detrimental impact of their proposal."

Mr Weir claimed continual assessment throughout primary school could worsen stress.

"Continual assessment of primary school pupils can only mean one of two things," he claimed.

"To be objective, then every pupil in Northern Ireland will have to sit a range of exactly the same tests at intervals in primary schools over their time at the school, with some form of cumulative score determining an academic profile.

"Thus the stress of a couple of transfer papers at age 11 would be replaced by the stress of a series of exams, possibly from the age of four upwards, knowing that each one would count towards a secondary place.

"The only alternative would be continual assessment within schools by primary school teachers, in effect, writing out a report on each pupil.

"Such a process would be burdensome and entirely subjective, with the danger of favouritism.

"It would also leave comparison between pupils of different schools impossible for any post-primary, which would turn places into either a lottery or force post-primary schools into their own individual entrance exams, thereby simply multiplying the number of exams any primary school pupil will do."

UUP education spokeswoman Sandra Overend said: "The last nine years have seen Sinn Fein fail to address educational underachievement, but let it occur not by lottery, but by destiny," she said.

"It is the same groups of people who failed generation after generation.

"For a party that promised no more ministerial solo runs, the DUP have let Sinn Fein run rings around them."

Belfast Telegraph

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