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I'll not be blocking next month's transfer test, Education Minister Weir says

Minister claims criticism of AQE's plan as a bid to stop academic selection


Exam time: A boy sitting a school test

Exam time: A boy sitting a school test

Exam time: A boy sitting a school test

The Education Minister says he has no intention of stepping in to stop transfer tests for Primary 7 pupils next month despite calls for the exam to be abandoned.

It comes after Peter Weir announced that A-level, GCSE and AS-level exams will not be taking place this year.

It remains the intention of one of two private examining companies, the AQE, to hold a single rescheduled test on February 27 following the cancellation of exams which had been due to take place this month.

There has been mounting criticism of the AQE decision.

But despite calls for Mr Weir to intervene, the minister said he "will not be the one stopping academic selection".

And he rounded on critics of AQE, accusing those who are against academic selection of using the Covid crisis to further their ambitions to see the transfer test scrapped for good.

"Let's not beat about the bush, that is clearly the case," the DUP minister claimed.

Strabane Academy became the first AQE school to abandon this year's transfer test, saying it will instead rely on its own contingency plans.

UUP education spokesman Robbie Butler said: "There are no winners, only losers, and none more so than the young people who are so tragically and unfairly caught up in the utter confusion".

In an open letter to the minister, he suggested a hybrid solution.

Where available, primary schools would collate and provide each AQE candidate with their average score from their best two mock transfer papers, and annual standardised progress reports for pupils would determine the likely academic ability of young people.

Justin McCamphill of the NASUWT union said that while the decision over GCSE and A-levels was welcome, Mr Weir must now act to cancel the transfer test.

"The minister cannot simply wash his hands of the issue on the basis that the tests are 'run by a private organisation'," he said.

"All schools using the test are publicly funded and very much lie within the remit of the minister."

Some GCSE exams were due to take place next week and more were scheduled for next month, May and June.

They will not take place, but it is not clear what the alternative arrangements are for awarding grades.

Speaking in the Assembly yesterday, Mr Weir said his department had been "preparing for all eventualities" but no time frame had yet been agreed.

SDLP education spokesman Daniel McCrossan said it was now essential there was not a repeat of the A-level chaos of last summer.

"The only way to ensure fair and accurate grades for our young people is using teacher-based assessment," the MLA said.

Sinn Fein education spokeswoman Karen Mullan said the move to cancel this year's GCSE, AS and A-level exams was right.

"We now need to see the minister bringing forward credible alternative arrangements which avoid the debacle of last year," she said.

"It also needs to be coordinated across these islands to ensure a level playing field.

"The next logical step is to make sure transfer tests do not go ahead, so that children are not put through this unnecessary anxiety."

The Education Minister does not have responsibility for BTec exams, which fall under the remit of the Department for the Economy.

Economy Minister Diane Dodds said "further flexibilities" would be put in place for January's assessments and exams.

Belfast Telegraph