Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Northern Ireland schools in tests dilemma

Academic selection adopted 'because of fear of falling rolls'

Pressure from middle-class parents and fears over falling pupil numbers are compelling schools to comply with academic selection, despite their opposition, a survey has revealed.

A poll carried out by the Catholic Principals' Association (CPA) highlights the dilemma faced by primary schools, four years after the 11-plus was axed.

The group, which is openly opposed to academic selection, surveyed 400 Catholic maintained primary schools on their feelings about academic selection.

Of the 115 (28%) primaries which responded, 80% described ongoing selection as "socially divisive" and "morally and ethically wrong". Just over 60% said they believe the Catholic school system will be damaged irreparably if selection continues indefinitely.

The findings come as little surprise to grammar schools, which have steadfastly kept selection despite appeals to abandon it from the Department of Education and Catholic Bishops.

Tomorrow, 7,274 children will sit the first paper of the GL test (which is used by maintained Catholic grammar schools) – just over 600 more pupils than sat the test in 2009, a year after the 11-plus was scrapped.

The numbers registered for the test have increased steadily year-on-year.

The survey reveals the catch-22 situation faced by primary schools largely opposed to entrance tests for post-primary schools.

Around 70% of schools said they feel pressure to comply with academic selection because not to do so could result in falling pupil numbers. Competition from neighbouring schools is also a significant factor.

Since the last 11-plus in 2008, schools do not prepare pupils for entrance tests for grammars.

However, more than 70% of schools who responded to the survey said that pupils could not achieve their potential in admission tests without receiving coaching in their primary schools. Michelle Corkie, CPA chair, said the association believes that some schools are offering tuition outside school hours for pupils preparing to sit entrance tests.

"That's not in every area, but certainly there are pockets of that practice, and that's coming from parental pressure," she said.

Sean Rogers, SDLP MLA on the Assembly's education committee, and a former primary school principal, agreed.

"I know of some schools that are offering this preparation time for the test after school," he said.

"If school A is not going to take anything to do with the test and school B will, which school are you going to send your child to?"

STORY SO FAR

More than 30 Catholic maintained grammar schools use the GL admission test. More that 7,000 children will sit the first paper of that test tomorrow. The Association for Quality Education (AQE), a consortium of State-controlled grammars, use the CEA admission test. Of Catholic grammar schools, all but Loreto College in Coleraine, still set entrance tests.

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