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Co Down Catholic grammars suspend selection for a year

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SDLP MLA Justin McNulty

SDLP MLA Justin McNulty

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

SDLP MLA Justin McNulty

Five Catholic grammar schools have announced they will not use academic selection for their 2021 intake.

The schools, which are all in Co Down, said the decision had been taken "in light of the current circumstances".

The schools involved are Abbey Christian Brothers' Grammar School, Our Lady's Grammar School, Sacred Heart Grammar School and St Colman's College in Newry, and St Louis Grammar School in Kilkeel.

In a joint letter to parents, the schools said they recognised "there has been disruption to the education of pupils since March 2020, including that of P6 pupils".

The letter also clarified that the decision was just for one year, in relation to tests due to be sat later this year for the September 2021 intake.

"Each school remains committed to its own ethos and academic focus on high quality teaching and learning," the schools' statement said.

Children who would have taken the entrance test in December will not now have to do so.

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The move comes after calls from a number of quarters, including the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, and the Children's Commissioner Koulla Yiasouma not to use tests due to schooling disruption.

SDLP MLA Justin McNulty welcomed the move as a "compassionate approach".

"This is strong leadership from the boards of governors and principals of the five Newry and Kilkeel schools in a move focused on addressing the issues faced by local communities in this time of crisis. It's a move that places trust with communities, teachers and parents," he said.

"This crisis means that many children have not had access to a level learning playing field.

"That's fine for those who can afford private tuition for their children, but those families who don't have access to that luxury should not feel that their children's life chances are diminished as a result.

"Children and young people are under immense pressure at the minute. There is no justifiable reason to make that worse."

Sinn Fein MLA Karen Mullan praised the decision.

"This is absolutely necessary to allow our teachers, school staff and of course children to prepare for a return to school, rather than the stress of a high-level exam," she said.

"Academic selection is wrong and unnecessary and puts undue pressure on children.

"I am hopeful that the other selective schools will follow the leadership and the example shown by the schools in Newry."

Education Minister Peter Weir said his focus remained on providing support to pupils in key transition years.

"For as long as academic selection is available as an option for schools to admit pupils to post-primary education across Northern Ireland, it is vitally important that there is a fair and transparent process in place for children undertaking selection tests," he told the Belfast Telegraph last night.

"My department has no role in the organisation of the transfer tests and it is up to individual schools whether they choose to use academic selection.

"I understand that, given the current situation regarding Covid-19, there is uncertainty and some understandable concern about the current planned tests in December 2020.

"The matter was given very careful consideration and I consider that the revised plans which are being put in place are the best available at this time," the minister said.

"In the absence of any alternative solutions emerging, I believe the onus is on [transfer test organisers] PPTC and AQE to reassure children that the testing process will be fair and reasonable, and managed as carefully as possible given the level of disruption to pupils' education this year.

"My focus remains on looking at ways that my department can provide vital support to all pupils in those key transition years.

"In addition, I also want to ensure that work continues to provide much needed support to vulnerable and disadvantaged children when schools reopen."

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