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NI Children's Commissioner urges schools to suspend transfer tests

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Children's Commissioner Koulla Yiasouma

Children's Commissioner Koulla Yiasouma

Children's Commissioner Koulla Yiasouma

The Children's Commissioner has sent an open letter to principals of selective post-primary schools expressing concerns over academic selection during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Koulla Yiasouma, who also addressed the letter to boards of governors, said she was "deeply concerned" that academic selection was being maintained for the new term in August.

She said that based on announcements made by testing organisations - the Association for Quality Education and the Post Primary Transfer Consortium - children will be expected to take the tests following a five-and-a-half month absence.

"We have not been able to fully assess the educational activity of school-aged children and young people during the lockdown and it is likely that some children may have had little or no education as many parents and carers have struggled to home educate their children for many reasons, including the lack of IT equipment," wrote Ms Yiasouma.

"Additionally, it is uncertain how prepared for formal education these children will be.

"In the recently published 'Covid-19 Mental Health Response Plan', the Department of Health anticipates a 'surge' of referrals to child and adolescent mental health services as it believes that the global pandemic has resulted in further challenges for children and young people.

"It cannot be considered appropriate to add further stress to some children by expecting them to take a test that will decide the future of their educational career.

"Therefore, the first months back to school should be centred on assessing children's educational needs and their emotional wellbeing."

She added that parents have called for a suspension of the transfer tests. "I do not underestimate the challenges of doing this but am confident that by undertaking a collaborative piece of work with your education colleagues and parents, you will find an innovative and creative solution which is in the best interests of children," Ms Yiasouma stated.

In response, Education Minister Peter Weir said: "I understand that, given the current situation regarding Covid-19, there is uncertainty and some understandable concern about the current planned tests in December 2020. The matter was given very careful consideration and I consider that the revised plans which are being put in place are the best available at this time.

"In the absence of any alternative solutions emerging I believe the onus is on PPTC and AQE to reassure children that the testing process will be fair and reasonable, and managed as carefully as possible given the level of disruption to pupils' education this year."

Belfast Telegraph