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Northern Ireland teacher and mum-of-three Gillian Smyth in appeal for clarity over 'forgotten' transfer test


Newtownards mum Gillian Smyth with daughter Amy

Newtownards mum Gillian Smyth with daughter Amy

Newtownards mum Gillian Smyth with daughter Amy

A concerned mother has called for clarity over what is happening with the school transfer test in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Gillian Smyth's nine-year-old daughter Amy is in P6 at Dundonald Primary School and was due to sit the AQE entrance examinations, which were scheduled to begin in November.

But 38-year-old Gillian, a teacher in the special education sector, has voiced concerns that children who have reached this stage of learning have been forgotten about.

The mother-of-three also said she does not think P6 kids "are a priority at the minute".

"Like me, friends and colleagues who have children in P6 feel that A-levels and GCSEs have been such a high focus - and obviously they have to be the priority at the minute - but there's been so little said around AQE and what will happen there," said Mrs Smyth, who lives in Newtownards.

"I suppose it's still quite early days. We don't know how long they're off school for.

There's been nothing said around stopping the exam. There's been loose talk around the exam possibly being pushed back but there's been nothing concrete Gillian Smyth

"AQE registration is opening at the end of April as per normal. There may be a bit of unnecessary pressure there for parents who feel unsure about entering their child or not.

"My daughter is very keen to go to certain schools that will only take entrance exams so she's looking at doing it and we're going to support her with that.

"There's been nothing said around stopping the exam. There's been loose talk around the exam possibly being pushed back but there's been nothing concrete.

"From P6 parents' perspectives, there's a lot of uncertainty around that because there's been a lot of talk around A-levels and GCSEs and nothing to date around AQE.

"We don't know how long schools are off for or what the knock-back effect of that will be on P6 children. Will they finish the school year before going into P7?

"From a parental perspective our school has been great, we've had good support, thankfully we had a parent-teacher meeting ahead of schools closing so we were given a very clear outline in terms of what the process was for introducing papers and how that process would be taught.

"But when the school closed there were still a couple of topic areas that weren't taught because there was no time and I know a number of other schools were in the same boat."

She added: "As a parent we're hopefully teaching topics at home in the right way. And that's not easy. Yes, I'm a teacher but I'm in a completely different sector. I'm not used to teaching P6 material and it's a pressure.

"I find it challenging and I'm a teacher myself. I'm working from home at the minute, and home schooling two children, and I've a baby to look after. It's a hard balancing act. If my daughter wasn't in P6 I don't think I would feel the same pressure."

Mrs Smyth said parents are looking for some reassurance.

"What are the plans? Have they had any thoughts about what is going to happen with AQE? We're working on the assumption that it's going ahead at the minute. People have said they might push it back. I've really mixed feelings about that.

"These are unusual circumstances for everyone. It would be good to have some clarity to know what are their thoughts on that."

A statement on the AQE website said this is "a very uncertain time for everyone involved in education, not least for parents and pupils". It continued: "As the situation develops over the coming days and weeks, AQE will monitor what is happening and will work closely with our colleagues in the primary schools to ensure that parents and pupils are kept fully informed of the AQE procedures and assessments for 2020/21. The AQE website will also keep schools, parents and pupils up to date with the latest developments.

"Schools, parents and pupils should continue to prepare for the assessments in the home environment, while we continue to monitor the situation."

Education Minister Peter Weir said: "Whilst the department has no role in the administration or scoring of these tests I continue to support the right of schools to select on the basis of academic ability.

"It is important that, as far as possible, teachers and parents should provide opportunities for young people to continue their learning during this difficult period and many schools have established innovative ways to make this happen, from the production of work booklets to online learning for pupils or the development of guidance to parents about how to navigate the online platforms used by their children.

"Where schools or parents need additional support to do this it will be made available through additional curricular resources and wide dissemination and application of best practice. The Education Authority is working with schools to ensure that individual issues are resolved promptly and to identify what more can be done to support provision for continuity of learning including for those who will be sitting the next transfer tests. This work is kept under review."

Belfast Telegraph