The Education Minister has said there will be a certain element of trust placed in schools not to over test pupils as teachers begin to assess work for grading at A Level, AS Level and GSCE.
Some students have expressed fears that they will face a barrage of exam conditions testing ahead of the assessed teacher grades, but Peter Weir said all schools have been told by examining body the CCEA, that there is no specific requirement for multiple testing as pupils return to the classroom.
“These tests are being provided by the CCEA, as a tool which can be used,” Mr Weir told Stormont’s Education Committee yesterday, “but there is no obligation on schools to use them.”
Mr Weir said it was important, though, for schools to use as much recent work from pupils as possible in assisting the grading process.
“Judging where pupils are today is more relevant than where they were six months ago,” he said. “These are still major qualifications. There has to be robust evidence, but there is no need for schools to overuse testing to the extent where they overburden pupils.”
The Minister also dismissed any suggestion of cancelling next summer’s transfer test, saying another abandonment of the tests for a second year would deprive many children of going to the post-primary schools they wanted to attend.
The tests, run by independent groups the AQE and the PPTC on behalf of grammar schools, are due to take place in November, with concerns that the current P6 pupils will not have had time to prepare.
“Even if I was suddenly convinced of the merits of doing that (cancelling the tests) I do not legally have the power to prevent schools using academic selection,” he said
“I also believe that for many children this will actually be denying them levels of choice and denying the families levels of choice which otherwise would exist.
“So it’s not a route I’m going to go down.”
Meanwhile, the Minister said he “would like to be in a better place” after admitting only around 20% of the 3,200 staff at special education schools have so far received their first Covid vaccination.
“The vaccination of SEN staff was a wider decision and health was not supportive of all staff receiving the vaccination as it would move outside JVCI guidelines,” he said.
The Minister had pressed or all SEN staff to be offered a Covid vaccination.
“We have had a lengthy period of work with health to reach this position, but at least there has been a level of progress,” he added.
“It’s not the ideal situation any of us would have liked to reach.”
He also confirmed that Covid testing in post primary schools was ready to begin this week, with schools receiving their testing kits and preparing to demonstrations for pupils and staff.
“This week is largely about familiarisation,” the Minister told the Education Committee.
“The aim is to target the initial batch (of 700,000 tests) on years 12-14.
“Generally speaking, levels of transmission between staff and between pupils has been limited.
“This week is largely a trial. There is a level of optionality to demonstrate either physically or by video presentation,” he added. “Over the Easter period tests will be conducted at home, not directly in the school situation.”
But he did warn parents of their responsibilities of maintaining social distancing and wearing face coverings while dropping off and picking up pupils from school.
"After Easter we will have approximately a third of a million pupils in school,” he said. “Schools remain the safest place for our children, but it’s not what happens in schools, but beyond that in terms of the level of mixing.
“There’s a strong message there for parents.”