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Minister Weir is criticised by committee chair over NI transfer test

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Clash: Peter Weir

Clash: Peter Weir

Clash: Peter Weir

Education Minister Peter Weir has clashed with the chairman of his department's scrutiny committee over academic selection.

The issue of unregulated tests used by selective grammar schools in Northern Ireland has come to the fore amid calls for the 2020 tests to be called off.

Earlier this week, the Archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin, said this year's tests should be cancelled, but Mr Weir said there was no "viable alternative".

The tests are set by private organisations AQE and PPTC, and are not regulated by the department.

Education committee chairman Chris Lyttle asked the minister if he believes children have "equal opportunity" to prepare for the tests while home schooling amid the lockdown.

"As best there can be," Mr Weir responded. "There will always be some levels of inequality in society. I have taken whatever action I can to try and create a level playing field as much as possible.

"Is everything absolutely equal? No, I don't think that is the case - unfortunately we don't live in that sort of ideal world. All we can do is try to take steps to make that level of equalisation as much as possible."

Mr Lyttle hit back: "I'm sorry minister, you can't equate routine inequality with months of lockdown due to a global health emergency."

Earlier, the committee agreed to write to selective grammar schools to ask whether they have any contingency arrangements should transfer tests not take place later this year.

Mr Lyttle asked Mr Weir whether he was aware of any plan. Mr Weir said that would be an issue for selective schools, but cautioned there is not a "level of robust data" otherwise. Mr Weir added: "It is also the case that if you are going to assess someone, a test is the best way of doing it. Clearly if academic selection isn't used, there still then needs to be some suggestion about how oversubscribed schools would actually determine which pupils get in and which don't."

Belfast Telegraph