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Coronavirus: Childrens' commissioner backs Archbishop Martin's comments academic selection during pandemic 'cruel'

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Concern: Koulla Yiasouma

Concern: Koulla Yiasouma

Concern: Koulla Yiasouma

The commissioner for children and young people in Northern Ireland has backed comments made by the leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland that going ahead with academic selection this year would be "cruel".

Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh, has written to schools in his diocese urging them not to use selection to admit pupils in September 2021.

He told the BBC that making pupils take the transfer test during the coronavirus pandemic was "cruel".

Organisers of the assessments plan to hold them two weeks later than normal next autumn following severe disruption to the school calendar caused by the lockdown.

"I have become aware of the anxiety that is already building over the prospect of primary seven transfer tests in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic." Archbishop Martin said.

"In recent weeks parents and teachers have spoken to me of their disquiet and about the uncertainty that is already upsetting some children."

Koulla Yiasouma, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, told the Belfast Telegraph that she agreed with Archbishop Martin's comments.

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Catholic Primate of Ireland Eamon Martin

Catholic Primate of Ireland Eamon Martin

Catholic Primate of Ireland Eamon Martin

“Following last week’s announcement that the transfer tests were going ahead this year, I went on record to express my disappointment on what I felt, and still strongly feel, is absolutely the wrong decision for our 10 and 11-year olds," she said.

“Over the past week others, including many worried and anxious parents, have added their opposition and voice to these concerns.

“Today the Archbishop has added further weight to this and has echoed many of the same issues and concerns, including what he also feels is a ‘cruel decision’ for children and their families at this unprecedented time.

“I welcome the Archbishop’s support and once again call on all those involved to urgently revisit this decision, a decision which is very clearly not in the best interests of our children.”

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Education Minister Peter Weir

Education Minister Peter Weir

Education Minister Peter Weir

Education Minister Peter Weir, speaking to BBC Newsline, said: "I think 'cruel' is a pejorative word and I am disappointed with that language.

"Divisions over academic selection and transfer tests have been there for many years. People will have very long standing positions. I want to try and make sure we have a transfer (test) that is fair as possible to everyone and takes account of the circumstances."

Gerry Murphy, Northern Secretary of the Irish National Teacher's Organisation, welcomed the Archbishops comments and called for academic selection to be suspended.

"A necessary suspension would allow school staff, parents and pupils time to prepare properly for the challenges of returning to school in September, and the putting in place the necessary, additional support for pupils that will be required after such a difficult break from 'normal' schooling," he said.

Mr Murphy added it was time to "consign academic selection to the dustbin of history".

Schools closed in March to all except the children of essential workers, and many parents have been home tutoring.

A phased return of schools is extremely likely in September, Stormont education minister Peter Weir has said.

One school principal said the archbishop's appeal was timely and necessary.

"Throughout this extraordinary time we, as teachers, realise all that our children are missing out on, over and above learning and teaching," the principal said, PA reported.

"We are conscious that all homes are different and that the availability of support, both personal and electronic, varies greatly.

"We are also acutely aware that emotions and anxieties are running high and we have received reports from parents of the unhappiness and distress currently experienced by our children and especially those children in our year six class.

"To this end, it is a blessing that you have shown great leadership and called for the suspension of academic selection.

"We pray, in union with you, that the principals and governors of our Catholic schools make the right decisions for the good of our children."

Belfast Telegraph