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Transfer test policy U-turn gets mixed response

By Ann W Schmidt

Published 08/09/2016

Jacqui Reid, the deputy general secretary of the Ulster Teachers' Union
Jacqui Reid, the deputy general secretary of the Ulster Teachers' Union

There has been both support and opposition for Education Minister Peter Weir's relaxation of a ban on primary schools preparing pupils to sit unofficial transfer tests.

The Belfast Telegraph revealed yesterday that Mr Weir has allowed primaries to prepare children for the tests within school hours if they choose.

Principals who support the move said that it would remove stress from students and parents, and would allow schools to help their pupils without fear of getting in trouble with the Department of Education.

Ralph Magee, principal of Andrews Memorial Primary School in Comber, Co Down, said it would allow him to respond to the realities of the education environment in Northern Ireland.

"Over 90% of our children go to grammar school - I have to serve our parents and our children," he explained.

But those opposed to the move claimed that it would add to teachers' workload and cause a shift away from the current national curriculum.

Jacqui Reid, the deputy general secretary of the Ulster Teachers' Union, said the reversal would distort the curriculum.

"In Northern Ireland, we have a very good, wide curriculum (but) the test narrows it down," she claimed.

But Grieg Savage, the principal of Lisnadill Primary School, disagreed, saying the rule change would allow teachers to have more control over how students prepare for tests.

"It will not have an impact on our curriculum," he added. "It just gives the children focus."

Although he supports the reversal, Mr Magee said the education system as a whole needed to be reviewed.

"Nobody is necessarily arguing that academic selection is right at age 11, but it's the reality for me," he added.

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