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Decade after end of 11-plus, transfer tests popular as ever with parents

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A pupil sitting a test

A pupil sitting a test

School principal Carol McCann

School principal Carol McCann

A pupil sitting a test

Unofficial transfer tests are growing steadily in popularity more than a decade after the abolition of the 11-plus.

Just under half of P7 pupils in Northern Ireland sit tests each year in the hope of securing a place at an academically selective grammar school.

In 2017/18, 12,285 applications were made for the 8,844 places at our 63 selective grammars. This increased to 13,101 applications for the 9,462 places in 2018/19.

Our data for tests sat in the last academic year reveals:

• Nine schools which use the AQE system did not accept a score below 100 in September 2019.

• Four schools which use the GL system did not accept a grade below an A in September 2019.

• 29 schools accepted AQE scores, while 26 accepted GL scores, and seven took either.

• Lagan College, which is partially selective, was the most popular first choice by far, with 472 applications for 200 places.

• Friends School Lisburn was one of the toughest schools to get into last September - the lowest score it accepted was 106 (AQE).

• Just three of the 63 selective grammar schools were not oversubscribed.

The AQE and GL tests received a total number of 13,101 entries in the 2018/19 academic year - 8,637 sat the AQEs and 7,620 sat the GL tests. An unknown number of pupils sat both tests.

There are 199 post-primary schools here, of which 63 are grammars that use academic selection for all or some of their Year 8 intake.

Leaders in the AQE and GL organisations said academic selection is still proving popular with parents, 12 years after the abolition of the old Department of Education-administered 11-plus by former Education Minister Caitriona Ruane.

Dr Darrin Barr, joint chief executive at AQE Ltd, said the number of pupils doing the AQE test this year fell slightly, but they still remain hugely popular.

"There were roughly about 100 less pupils sitting the test than last year, but the numbers were still about 10% up from three years ago," he said.

"That could be down to just demographics. Since it started there has been a huge increase.

"The number went up the last two years and have gone down slightly this year, and that would reflect the numbers in primary seven. There are quite large numbers of pupils who do both AQE and GL tests, so it's very hard to predict the numbers doing one on their own without the other one.

"There seems to be still quite an appetite for academic selection into grammar schools. We can't see a waning in the interest in it at all.

"We have certainly not detected any reduction in the public's enthusiasm for academic selection. AQE will continue to provide the test as long as there is a market for it and the moment."

Carol McCann is chair of the The Post Primary Transfer Consortium (PPTC) which runs the GL assessment and is also principal of St Dominic's Grammar in Belfast.

She said unprecented numbers of pupils sat this year's test - a total of 7,620 pupils.

"A record number sat the GL Entrance Assessment in 34 PPTC schools," she added. "This represents an increase of almost 12% over the past three years.

"It's solely down to parental choice that the Transfer Test continues to be popular.

"The high numbers sitting the exam would indicate that parents appear to still be very supportive of academic selection."

To compile our tables we asked the grammar schools in Northern Ireland which use academic selection to determine their Year 8 intake to provide the breakdown of the AQE/GL grades/scores achieved by the pupils they admitted in September 2019.

The data gives a school's name, location, the highest grade/score/quintile/band it accepted and the lowest grade/score/quintile/band it accepted.

Other information includes the number of first preference choices a school received and total applications (including first, second, third choices etc).

Several schools have provided bands for the lowest and highest scores they accepted, as this is the method they used to select pupils.

Some schools accept both AQE and GL scores.

Belfast Telegraph