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Chief examiner in dark over bid for common transfer test in Northern Ireland

By Michael Sheils McNamee

A row has broken out after claims that the bodies that run Northern Ireland's two transfer tests had agreed to create a common exam.

The BBC reported last night that a draft proposal had been agreed by the Association of Quality Education (AQE) and the Post-Primary Transfer Consortium (PPTC), which operates the GL Assessment test widely used by Catholic grammar schools.

The proposal would go through an lengthy consultation and any change would be unlikely to come into effect for at least two or three years, it was reported.

In a joint statement to the BBC, AQE and PPTC said that "encouraging progress" had been made.

"Provisional agreements on the financial model which could support an assessment offering access to all grammar schools, the style of test paper and the number of separate tests were presented by the negotiating teams in the last fortnight to the groups' respective AGMs," they said.

However, the chief examiner of AQE said last night he had been unaware of the latest developments.

"I was shocked by what I witnessed on yesterday's BBC Newsline programme," Dr Hugh Morrison said. "I designed the AQE test model and have worked entirely free-of-charge for AQE for the last decade.

"It was a test designed for all the children of Northern Ireland irrespective of the school they attended. The Catholic schools then broke away and adopted the GL test.

"Despite requesting that I be involved in the dialogue between AQE and PPTC, and receiving an assurance that this would be so, the negotiations took place without my knowledge."

Despite the controversy, DUP education spokesman Peter Weir described it as a "major step forward".

"Until now most pupils entered one test or the other effectively reducing choice, and for those who entered both, around 2,000 pupils each year were faced with the stress of five separate exams over five separate Saturdays," the former Stormont Education Minister said.

"The end is now in sight for those facing five tests, with most students only facing two one-hour tests, with the protection of those who were unwell of a third test to ensure they were not disadvantaged.

"While others have sought to try to impose ideological abolition of transfer tests, or unrealistically bridge the chasm between pro and anti-selection positions, we have consistently supported the right of schools to select on the basis of academic ability, and recognised the reality that some form of selection is here to stay."

It is understood the proposal incorporates elements of the two existing tests mixed with longer English and Maths questions.

However, Stephen Elliot, chairman of the Parental Alliance for Choice in Education - which strongly backs the AQE assessment - said: "It will be deeply disconcerting for parents to learn during the final days of the school year that they must spend their summer holidays uncertain of the future arrangements for a transfer testing system delivered without flaw for the past nine years."

Under the draft proposals, families would be expected to have to pay £20 for their children to sit the tests, although there would be an exemption in place for children entitled to free school meals.

Separate tests were brought in by AQE and the PPTC after the state-run 11-plus exam ended in 2008. In February 2017, the AQE and PPTC issued a joint statement that they wished to pursue a common test.

At the time the two groups said they believed it would be in the "best interest of the pupils, parents and schools".

Belfast Telegraph

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