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Mum whose child sat five transfer test papers calls for single system

By Rebecca Black

Published 03/02/2016

Deirdre Taggart and daughter Shannon, who sat five tests
Deirdre Taggart and daughter Shannon, who sat five tests

A Belfast mother whose daughter sat five different transfer test papers has appealed for a single system.

Deirdre Taggart's eldest daughter was one of the last to sit the official 11-plus before it was abolished by former Education Minister Caitriona Ruane in 2008.

But her youngest daughter Shannon was faced with sitting five tests in order to maximise her choice in the mixed Glengormley area where she is from.

Currently the unofficial tests that P7 pupils must sit to secure a place at most grammar schools are run using two different systems.

The Association of Quality Education (AQE) run one set of exams, mostly used by controlled grammar schools. This involves three different papers, of which the best two marks are taken for the final results.

Most Catholic maintained schools use the GL Assessment system, which involves two papers.

A small numbers of schools accept either system.

One of these is south Belfast based Victoria College.

Its headmistress Patricia Slevin has called for one form of entrance assessment to be established.

It is understood that talks may take place later this year over establishing a single system.

More than 14,000 children in P7 received the results of their transfer tests on Saturday.

Some 7,772 pupils sat the AQE exam, and 6,803 pupils sat the GL test.

Children who received results from either or both tests must now wait until May to find out whether they have secured a place at the school of their choice.

The Belfast Telegraph revealed last month that all but one grammar school in Northern Ireland was oversubscribed and each year they are asking for higher and higher grades. Four maintained schools only accepted As in the GL Assessments while the highest mark at AQE was a staggering 130.

Pupils take AQE tests on three separate Saturdays, while they take GL tests in English and Maths on the same day.

Shannon Taggart did both the AQE and GL tests - five papers in total.

Deirdre said Shannon wanted to sit both test systems to maximise her choice of schools in the area.

In her primary school in Glengormley, up to 10 other children sat both tests.

"It went on for a long time, took up a lot of weekends but she wanted to do both tests," she said.

"She thought the GL tests were a bit trickier as they were multiple choice and a lot of the choices were very similar."

Shannon got 99 in her AQE and a B2 in her GL tests and is hoping for a place at Dominican College in Fortwilliam.

Deirdre's eldest daughter sat the official 11-plus before it was scrapped in 2008 and said that system was much better. "It needs to go back to that, my oldest got to sit the 11-plus in her own school and it was a much better system," she said.

"The schools now try and help by bringing the kids up to get used to it, but it was far better when they could do the test in their own school.

"I definitely think the system is not right at the minute."

Comber woman Lucy McCreery's daughter Lauren received 120 in her AQE tests and now hopes to secure a place at Strathearn Grammar School in Belfast.

"Lauren was OK, she took it in her stride and she did well," she said.

"They get three chances and one of them can be discounted so they can have an off day, but it also means they have to do it three times," she said.

"Lauren was lucky as her tests were in Regent House which is familiar to her as she goes to their prep department.

"We won't hear if she has got into Strathearn until May but we think her marks were high enough to get in. She has always wanted to go there, when she visited their open day she just loved it."

Meanwhile Bangor woman Caroline Murphy's son Jake received 96 in the AQE test and the family is currently making up their mind which schools to apply for.

The Clandeboye Primary student missed the first test due to going into hospital for an operation which meant he had to perform strongly in both of the remaining two.

"His older brother goes to Bangor Academy but Jake wants to go to Strangford College, he really liked it when we visited and they play football there," she said. "It is going to be a hard wait until May to find out where he will be going."

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