Exam bodies considering options on how to proceed
The private companies which run post-primary transfer tests in Northern Ireland have announced they will not provide assessments this month.
The first AQE test had been due to take place on Saturday.
In a statement on its website, AQE said: “The board of AQE Limited met on January 5, and in light of the decision to close schools, has decided not to proceed with the tests planned for January 9, 16 and 23.
“The board will now be consulting with member schools, and a further statement will be issued after that.”
Tests run by the Post Primary Transfer Consortium (PPTC) have also been cancelled. They were due to take place on January 30 with a supplementary test on Saturday, February 6.
A PPTC spokesperson said they were informed on Monday evening by Executive sources that an imminent decision would be made stating that schools would close until the February mid-term break, at the earliest.
This decision, the spokesperson said, triggers a "what if" scenario that was laid out in early December to parents and pupils registered to the PPTC Entrance Assessment.
"Namely, if no pupils are able to sit the entrance assessment on January 30, 2021 because of Covid restrictions, and these restrictions would not have ended before February 6, 2021 then PPTC will be unable to provide an assessment for any pupils. The responsibility falls on PPTC schools to ensure that their admissions criteria cover this contingency.”
The spokesperson added: "PPTC accept that this decision may be disappointing to many children who would have welcomed the opportunity to take the assessment. We wish all children well in their future pathways."
It is understood the exam bodies were told it would be "impossible" for them to hold the tests as Covid infections continue to be out of control in Northern Ireland.
The BBC Nolan Show reported that Sinn Fein, Alliance and SDLP were briefed by the Attorney General Brenda King that they had the power to stop exam bodies from holding the tests.
The Northern Ireland Executive is also to provide further clarity on other measures it agreed during a late-night meeting on Monday in its battle to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
After Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled a raft of new measures for England, and Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced a new lockdown on Monday - the Executive agreed to put the stay at home instruction into law and a travel ban.
Remote learning in schools is also to be extended - however no details were given.
First Minister Arlene Foster said ministers had "reflected on the seriousness of the situation here" before agreeing to extend the measures.
She said it was right for the Executive to take its time and work out the correct messaging on what was agreed and in order to provide all the answers people may have.
Another 1,801 people tested positive for Covid-19, the Department of Health said on Monday.
That makes 12,507 diagnoses over the last seven days. Another 12 deaths were reported.
Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said "urgent and decisive" action was required.