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Legal letters from education officials 'add to test chaos'

By Kathryn Torney

The Department of Education has been accused of creating more problems for children sitting new unregulated entrance tests after a series of letters were sent to schools warning them of potential legal pitfalls associated with the tests.

A total of 68 schools — mainly grammars — have signed up for the new tests and more than 13,700 pupil registrations were received for the Association of Quality Education (AQE) and GL Assessment tests.

More than 7,000 P7 pupils will sit their first AQE test on Saturday.

On the day of the last test — December 5 — we will be presenting the thousands of signed petitions obtained so far for the Belfast Telegraph's Sit Down, Sort It Out campaign to representatives of Stormont’s education committee.

Thousands of people are backing our call for Executive talks to find a resolution to the impasse.

The letters to schools warn principals and governors not to use results from tests carried out in primary schools to support applications as part of their special circumstances procedure.

Some schools had planned to use literacy and numeracy scores from pupils’ Interactive Computerised Assessment (InCAS) if, for example, pupils underperform because they are ill on the day of a test.

The deputy secretary of the Department of Education, Robson Davison, wrote to the chairs of the board of governors and principals of schools setting the new entrance exams.

He writes: “It is important that I remind schools that such practice would be an inappropriate use of outcomes from an assessment tool that was neither designed nor intended for such a purpose.”

He also told them there were problems with the scoring awarded to pupils in InCAS because of a computer error.

He concludes: “The department’s advice is that on no account should grammar schools consider using InCAS assessment outcomes reported to parents to inform decisions on selection.”

Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, AQE chairman, said: “In special circumstances situations we will need evidence of what has affected a child's performance and evidence that they would normally perform better.

“Some primary principals may not be willing to provide this information but it will be interesting to see the effect of parent power on this.

“There may be concern about using InCAS but that is not the only basis on which the information can be provided.

“I think these letters from the department are an attempt to derail us but we have received sound legal advice and my colleagues and I are not going to be put off by the letters at all.”

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