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Parents put their faith in new entrance tests

By Kathryn Torney

Around 4,500 pupils have already signed up to sit new entrance tests run by one grammar school consortium, it can be revealed today.

The Association for Quality Education (AQE) has confirmed to the Belfast Telegraph that it has processed 3,500 of the 4,500 registration forms for the Common Entrance Assessment (CEA) it has received so far and expects that it could end up providing tests to up to 6,000 children in the autumn.

The registration process began just a month ago and has a closing date of September 18.

The figures will be a body blow to Education Minister Caitriona Ruane who has issued numerous appeals to schools and parents not to get involved with the unregulated tests.

They are also a strong indication that many parents still feel strongly that they want to try and secure a grammar school education for their children.

Billy Young, from AQE and former principal of Belfast Royal Academy, said they were pleased with the number of registrations so far and that the office is receiving many forms every day.

It is thought that thousands of families will also have signed their children up for tests being run by English exam company GL Assessment — which is catering for another 34 schools which are members of the Post-Primary Transfer Consortium.

However, a spokeswoman for the company said it was not processing the registration forms so was unable to say how many applications had been received so far.

In recent years, around 15,000 pupils sat the 11-plus test annually in schools across Northern Ireland.

The principal of one school running the GL Assessment tests, who asked not to be named, said: “Each school is running the tests independently so we could not tell you how many applications we have so far in total.

“AQE has taken on the role of being an organising body but there is no parallel organisation for the schools doing GL Assessment.

“We took the decision to be just loosely connected for legal reasons. If a parent decides to sue, they will only be able to deal with one school.”

Almost all of the 69 grammars in both the controlled and maintained sectors have decided to set their own tests for pupils hoping to gain places in their schools in 2010.

The Northern Ireland Commission for Catholic Education said last week that it wants its grammars to phase out selection by 2012 — but it is allowing schools to continue with academic testing in the short term.

The GL Assessment test will involve two multiple choice papers — one for English and the other maths — sat by pupils on November 21. The schools involved are mainly within the Catholic maintained sector but also include some integrated and controlled sector schools.

Pupils hoping to gain places in schools connected to the AQE tests can sit up to three tests in English and maths in November and December. The best two scores will count.

Non-selective secondary schools are set to follow admissions criteria guidance set by the Education Minister. In these schools, they will determine their intake without taking consideration of pupils' academic ability.

Speaking at a primary principals' conference earlier this month, Ms Ruane said: “Testing children at the age of 10 or 11 for the purpose of determining admission to post-primary school is totally wrong, particularly in circumstances where the stakes are so high.

“Putting young children under this sort of intense pressure when there are alternatives available is indefensible.”


34 grammar schools. Costs £35 unless in receipt of free school meals. Children sit two or three tests.


September 18 2009: closing date for applications.

October 2009: open days/familiarisation days in advance of sitting the test.

November 14, 28 and |December 5: children sit tests in post-primary schools at 10am.

February 6 2010: results arrive at homes.

February 18: closing date for applications for remarks. Will be notified of outcome by March 18.

February/March 2010: pupils apply to schools. Can have interviews at post-primary schools and primary principals will meet parents to complete Transfer Forms. Parents may wish to consider applications for special circumstances.

May/June 2010: Pupils allocated to schools.

June 2010: Induction of pupils into port-primary schools.


34 schools — mainly Catholic but some state and integrated. No fee. Children sit two papers on one day.


September 18 2009: deadline for registration forms.

Saturday, November 21: pupils sit two multiple choice papers. The first paper, English, will last 50 minutes. The second, Maths, will last 45 minutes. Short practice session before each paper and a break between papers. Children record their answers on a computer marked sheet.

December 12: supplementary assessment for children unable to attend in November or unable to complete test due to illness.

December 18: deadline for receipt of claims for special circumstances.

February 5 2010: results posted out. Children receive grade (A, B1, B2, C1, C2 or D), grade boundaries and also ‘standardised age score’ and ‘national percentile rank’.

February 19: deadline to request remark.

Applying to schools not sitting tests

December 2009/10: post-primary schools not signed up to testing will publish their non-academic admissions criteria.

This is likely to include feeder primaries, whether siblings already attend, random selection etc.

Education Minister Catriona Ruane is likely to also urge schools to accept a certain proportion of pupils on free school meals as their first criterion.

  • Open nights for pupils and parents will be held at schools up until February 2010.
  • Primary school principals will help parents and children to fill out their Transfer Form — on which they will list their choices of schools.
  • Post primary schools with more applications than places available will apply their published admissions criteria.
  • Applicants unsuccessful in one application will then be considered for their next choice of school.
  • Final admissions decisions will be issued to applicants towards the end of May 2010.

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