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Northern Ireland transfer test dates announced after legal challenge ends

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A pupil sitting a test

A pupil sitting a test

A pupil sitting a test

Post-primary transfer tests in Northern Ireland have been put back to January next year.

The further postponements were agreed following extensive discussions involving Education Minister Peter Weir, a judge was told at the high court on Wednesday.

The development brought an end to legal challenges mounted by the parents of two children due to set the tests.

They claimed an initial decision to delay this year's exams by at least two weeks because of the Covid-19 pandemic would further discriminate against disadvantaged families.

Following the hearing Association for Quality Education (AQE) said its exams would take place on January, 9, 16 and 23 with applications to enter to be received by October 9. Results will be posted on March 6.

Each test will be an additional 10 minutes long. AQE said this was to reassure children they had "sufficient time to finish the paper".

"The Board of AQE acknowledges the diversity of views on the desirability of moving the dates of the assessment but is committed to work with the Minister of Education to provide the maximum possible teaching time for pupils," a statement added.

The Post-Primary Transfer Consortium (PPTC) confirmed its entrance assessment would take place on Saturday, January, 30. A supplementary entrance assessment will be held on Saturday February 6.

"This new date will provide all pupils with an additional eight weeks preparation time before they sit their Assessment," a PPTC spokesman said.

"It is planned that entrance assessment results of the will be posted to parents on Friday March 5.

"Given that parents need to have received assessment outcomes before the transfer form deadline to help inform school preference choices, PPTC is pleased that it is possible for pupils this year to have much more time in P7 before they sit their assessment."

Parents who have already submitted a registration form for their child do not need to complete a new form, the spokesman added.

Judicial review proceedings had been issued against AQE, and PPTC.

Each autumn the two bodies provide tests used by most grammar schools in Northern Ireland to select their intake.

Lawyers representing the pupils contended that the decision to delay by a matter of weeks amid so much disruption to their education was unlawful.

They alleged a failure to properly consult, as well as arguing that moving to new dates in November and December was unfair and in breach of human rights.

Both children were granted anonymity in the joint case.

The court heard one of them is currently being educated in Irish, with neither of her parents fluent enough in the language to help her study.

The other child faces separate issues in preparing for the transfer test due to a diagnosis of autism.

A further delay was needed to allow the children enough time in a classroom setting to prepare for the tests, lawyers argued.

The challenge had been resisted on a number of grounds, including claims that the testing organisations are private companies exempt from judicial review.

But in court on Wednesday, counsel for Education Minister Peter Weir said he was now satisfied the admissions process can operate under "a more compressed timetable" which would involve shifting the tests back to January.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan welcomed the "positive" development.

"It's clear that the minister has taken very careful consideration of the issue and worked hard to achieve a resolution of the issue," he said.

Counsel for AQE indicated its preferred course had always been putting the exam process back to January.

And David Scoffield QC, for PPTC, added: "We think it's in the best interests of children to keep all the tests together in a coordinated approach."

Following the resolution reached, a solicitor for one of the pupils stressed valuable teaching time to prepare for this year's transfer tests has already been missed.

Speaking outside court, Ciaran Toner of Finucane Toner said: "It is paramount that children are afforded the time to complete the Key Stage 2 curriculum in a classroom setting and have the appropriate preparation time in advance of sitting the tests.

"I would appeal to Education Minister Peter Weir and the exam bodies to keep the transfer tests under review as my client has concerns about the impact further Covid-19 related school closures may have on her child's access to education, and to a post-primary school place of choice."

The mother of the other pupil involved in the case said they were delighted with the outcome.

"We hope that this will go some way to address the educational disadvantages experienced by some children during lockdown," she added.

"We are both frustrated and disappointed that it took to the very last minute for this decision to be made and that we had to take legal action in the first place."

Her solicitor, Ciaran Moynagh of Phoenix Law, said: "The global pandemic has brought about unprecedented change to the way of living.

"Such unprecedented change must be mirrored by the Department of Education in ensuring children's interests are protected.

"Making children undertake life changing exams during such turbulent times would be most unfair. The right decision has been made this morning."

Belfast Telegraph