Belfast Telegraph

Children 'hit by testing tensions'

Political tensions impeding the testing of Northern Ireland pupils for entry to secondary school are penalising students, a group of European experts have warned.

Divisions are also reportedly creating unnecessary stress and duplication of work for teachers, researchers said.

Unionists have strongly opposed Sinn Fein's abolition of a state-sponsored test.

The report said: "A polarised political debate over the testing of pupils for post-primary school selection is impeding the effective implementation of pupil assessment against the levels of progression and, by extension, the Northern Ireland curriculum."

A review was carried out by researchers for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Their report said there was a significant proportion of parents for whom the unregulated transfer tests held prestige, because they were used as entrance requirements to many post-primary schools.

"Although many parents may support official policy that opposes academic selection, they find themselves in a double-bind as many of the post-primary schools with an established reputation for academic rigour may only or mainly respect these unregulated tests as entrance requirements," it said.

"In such cases, parents may arrange for their child to sit the unregulated tests, which may even involve pupils sitting both sets as different schools respect the results of different tests and sitting both tests keeps more options open for the pupil.

"Clearly, this is a situation in which the individual child is losing out."

Former Sinn Fein education minister Caitriona Ruane abolished the 11-plus in 2008.

Since then thousands of pupils have sat unregulated transfer tests in the hope of securing a grammar school place.

Education Minister John O'Dowd said the report affirmed his approach.

"In many aspects it tells us what we already knew - that our post-primary system is not performing at the level our primary sector is; that our non-selective sector caters for high levels of students from less affluent backgrounds; and that more work is required if we are to properly embed the new assessment arrangements.

"The report also highlights many issues peculiar to the north. It questions, for example, why academic selection is used by some schools when all students follow the same curriculum, regardless of which post-primary school they transfer to at age 11."


From Belfast Telegraph