Belfast Telegraph

New Northern Ireland transfer test plans 'not fit for purpose,' says exam chief

There is a proposal for a new single transfer test.
There is a proposal for a new single transfer test.

The head of one of Northern Ireland's transfer test providers has said new plans for a single test are "not fit for purpose".

Association for Quality Education (AQE) chair John Mulholland criticised the plans in a letter to school principals and governors.

Two different assessments currently operate in Northern Ireland, but a proposal for a unified test was put to consultation in June last year.

The PPTC, which operates the GL assessment widely used in Catholic grammar schools, said the response from its schools had been extremely positive.

If approved the new test would be the first single transfer test since the 11-plus was scrapped in 2008.

The AQE runs the other exam option and Mr Mulholland said the organisation had been kept in the dark during discussions on a joint test.

The BBC has reported the majority of grammar school principals expressed support for the new proposals during the consultation.

"During the two years of discussion the negotiators chose to maintain confidentiality and AQE Ltd were not appraised of developments," Mr Mulholland said in his letter.

"Based on the very limited information available, the board are adamant that the proposal for two tests with one to count does not meet the standard which is required to combat criticism from experts who oppose the concept of academic selection."

He said that the new test would be a "halfway house", and less reliable than the current AQE exams.

"The three-test format is key to the current assessment and the board have been convinced this approach offers the best opportunity to children, particularly to those from less advantaged backgrounds," Mr Mulholland said.

"Advice received indicates the new arrangements could be more easily manipulated by middle class parents."

Mr Mulholland also expressed concerns that parents would have to pay much more for the single test.

Parents currently pay £50 for their children to take part in AQE tests unless they are eligible for free school meals.

"The current proposal takes the form of a compromise whereby entrants will be charged £20 with schools providing the balance, which could be in the region of £6,000-£7,000 and potentially considerably more," the letter said.

The AQE chair said that he felt it was his duty to make his feelings known on the new proposal.

"I reiterate that our board was and is very supportive of the concept of a unified test but does not accept that it should be adopted at any price," the letter finished.

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