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Grammar schools and entry applications

Your newspaper does sterling work in publishing important data about schools and schooling. Unfortunately, in her feature on the transfer procedure (News, January 27), your journalist failed to interrogate with sufficient rigour the rich material she collected from schools.

The front page headline - 'Getting a grammar place is tougher than ever' - was incorrect. In 2016, around 500 fewer children sat the AQE and GL transfer tests than in 2015. Given that the number of places available in grammar schools varies little from year to year, it is more likely that it will be easier to get a grammar school place in 2017 than 2016.

The article also contained misreadings. Test results were only released on January 28, so it will be some weeks before school principals know who has applied for a place.

The score/grade needed for a place may be extrapolated from previous intake, but no school will specify a grade, or a score, for entry a year ahead.

Secondly, it is claimed in the article that "every single selective grammar school was over-subscribed for the 2016/17 academic year", yet the figures show that eight grammar schools did not fill their places by first preference applications.

If a school fails to fill its intake quota, under open enrolment it must accept all first preference applicants, regardless of test scores.

Thirdly, the data shows that 12 grammar schools accepted children from every grade, or band, issued by AQE and GL. That is, they accepted children who achieved scores, or grades, in the lowest bands of achievement in the tests. There is no reason to expect that situation to change in 2017. This contradicts the opening thrust of the feature that claims, "Getting a place is tougher than ever".

In fact, a closer look at the data would show that places in some non-denominational, single-sex schools are particularly easy to gain, regardless of score, or grade.

Despite these concerns, may I thank you for keeping educational issues alive in difficult times.

DR JN MORTON

Belfast

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