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Education Minister 'too busy' to meet parents of children doing transfer test

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Alisha Briggs (right) had hoped to meet with Peter Weir to share the concerns of hundreds of parents whose children are set to sit transfer tests later this year

Alisha Briggs (right) had hoped to meet with Peter Weir to share the concerns of hundreds of parents whose children are set to sit transfer tests later this year

Alisha Briggs (right) had hoped to meet with Peter Weir to share the concerns of hundreds of parents whose children are set to sit transfer tests later this year

Parents whose children are distressed about doing the transfer test have been told the Education Minister is too busy to meet them, a mother has said.

Alisha Briggs had hoped to meet with Peter Weir on behalf of hundreds of parents, some of whose 10 and 11-year-olds have stopped eating or sleeping, and even talked about self-harm.

The Department of Education said Mr Weir was too busy to meet directly with parents, but had agreed to meet with Alliance Party MLA Chris Lyttle in their stead.

Almost 1,000 people have signed Ms Briggs' petition to suspend academic selection.

The Lisburn mum said the refusal made her feel like she had let down "900 people and mummies who are at their wits' end".

She said: "We feel very deflated by the fact that he can't give us 30 minutes.

"They [ministers] are not at home with children having night terrors, crying, not sleeping, not eating.

"For us it feels like he doesn't care about the emotional needs of the children.

"If he doesn't speak up for the needs of our children, who's going to support them?"

She said her own daughter had become "tearful and withdrawn", but insists on doing the test so she can go to her chosen school.

Other parents had pulled out because their kids were not coping.

Ms Briggs added: "Personally, my daughter cries because she's beating herself up because she feels she should be doing better.

"Then there's other days when the children are crying just looking at the test papers.

"No parent likes to see their child hurting; at this moment in time life is so scary and you just want to protect your child."

The Department of Education said: "The minister has confirmed that he was content to meet with Chris Lyttle on behalf of the delegation of parents in his capacity as MLA.

"It was the minister's understanding from the outset that Chris Lyttle was going to be representing the views of said parents to the minister, which would be the usually accepted format.

"The minister's time is already extremely limited given the wide range of issues the department is currently dealing with, such as education restart.

"That said, the minister did indicate to Mr Lyttle that he would make time for him to express and represent the views of the parents who have made direct contact with his office."

But Lisburn and Castlereagh Alliance councillor Sorcha Eastwood said the minister needed to hear from the parents themselves.

Ms Eastwood, who has been working with the group, added: "Parents would have been uniquely placed to express to the minister how they feel.

"It shouldn't fall to parents to have to think up these alternatives. This is entirely within the Education Minister's remit, and to not consider alternatives as a matter of urgency is both negligent and unfair."

Mr Lyttle, her Alliance colleague and education committee chairman, said Mr Weir's refusal was "surprising and unacceptable", and should be reversed.

This year's post-primary transfer tests have been delayed by two weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The parents of two children in Northern Ireland have won High Court permission to challenge decisions to delay the tests.

Their lawyers argued last month that the decision to delay by a matter of weeks amid so much disruption to their education is unlawful.

Meanwhile, a number of Catholic grammars and an integrated school have said they will not use transfer test results to admit pupils in 2021.

Belfast Telegraph