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Revealed: Northern Ireland's grammar school entrance test lottery

The Belfast Telegraph is for the first time publishing the full details of the grades and test scores of pupils accepted by all of the 67 schools that ran independent entrance exams last year.

The figures show the postcode lottery facing parents of children seeking grammar school places.

The breakdown highlights the fact that where your child lives has a huge impact on their chance of securing a place at Northern Ireland’s popular grammar schools.

The list will make essential reading for every parent in the province and is very timely as thousands of P7 pupils prepare to sit the next round of entrance exams in just a few weeks’ time.

We are providing test results of pupils accepted by each of the schools which ran exams set by the Association for Quality Education (AQE) and GL Assessment.

The schools that signed up for the tests — against the advice of Education Minister Caitriona Ruane — are mainly grammars, but also include some integrated schools.

The results show that some schools had a pure top-grade intake for Year 8 this year, while other schools accepted pupils with much lower scores.

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In Belfast, only an A grade would secure a place at Aquinas Grammar, Rathmore Grammar and Our Lady’s and St Patrick’s College — while other grammar schools in Derry, Omagh, Coleraine and Armagh accepted the lowest D grades.

None of the pupils who recently took up places at Hunterhouse College on the Upper Lisburn Road in Belfast had scored the top grade.

In Foyle and Londonderry College only 11 of the 126 pupils achieved the top grade.

Campbell College in Belfast was another school with a high mixed-ability intake. Half its new pupils had scores in the bottom two grades.

Campbell College principal Jay Piggot said: “Campbell is able to accept pupils of a range of abilities and enable them to reach the height of their potential. The grades that pupils leave this school with carry greater currency than those by which they enter.”

Ms Ruane said that the wide grade range accepted by schools “shows how unnecessary the tests are and how the schools are effectively becoming all-ability”.

This paper asked for the information from schools in June. However, many did not respond until this was followed up by an official Freedom of Information (FoI) request.

The Belfast Telegraph has learned that a breakdown of schools' grade intake will not be provided in this year’s transfer booklets — produced annually by the education boards to guide parents through the transfer process.

This means that the information supplied by the Belfast Telegraph today is the only opportunity for parents to see the complete picture of the grade intake of the schools which use academic selection.

Our FoI request, which asked about legal challenges and the schools’ responses, shows that Ms Ruane’s often-repeated warnings of the potential for legal challenges if schools went ahead with the tests has so far come to very little.

Only three schools are currently involved in legal challenges. Two pupils have gone to the High Court in a bid to secure places in Christian Brothers’ Grammar in Omagh and St Patrick’s Academy in Dungannon.

One other voluntary grammar has now confirmed that it is preparing to seek leave for a judicial review of decisions taken by an Independent Appeals Tribunal.

What the principals said


Bangor Grammar

“Transfer process proceeded smoothly this year. I believe AQE’s systems worked exceedingly efficiently. Their communications were excellent and assessment process rigorous. The future is uncertain, but it is clear to me that the debate about selection is not over, nor indeed can it be, until it is discussed properly by our political representatives in the Assembly or the Executive.


Ballymena Academy

“Our position on transfer is on record. The board of governors’ preference is to avoid high stakes testing. After seven years’ schooling there should be sufficient information to determine post-primary school placement. The emphasis should be matching children to good schools, enabling each child to learn and develop, rather than a ‘one-size fits all’ comprehensive system.”


Portora Royal, |Enniskillen

“The process was much less stressful than we had feared.”


Victoria College, Belfast

“The college remains hopeful that a single agreed form of assessment will be found which would allow all pupils wishing to access a place in a grammar school that opportunity. However, in the interim we will continue to adopt the same approach as last year which seems to be a fair option within the current deregulated system.”


Carrickfergus Grammar

“All things considered, Transfer 2010 ran much more smoothly and effectively than cynics would have had parents and pupils believe at the outset of the process.”


Dalriada, Ballymoney

“While we would welcome the return of a regulated transfer procedure, we are completely satisfied with the validity, organisation and quality of materials issued by AQE regarding the Common Entrance Assessment.”


Methodist College, Belfast

“The procedure ran smoothly and efficiently and the college remains committed to working towards a single assessment system to be used by all grammar schools.” He also thanked the primary school principals for their support this year.


Strathearn School, Belfast

“The process went more smoothly than any previous year and there were fewer appeals.”


Royal School,


“The AQE test and the transfer process in general have both worked well this year.”

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