Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland pupils to sit 11-plus exams in 'overflow centres' due to demand

Some pupils will have to sit exams in further education colleges
Some pupils will have to sit exams in further education colleges

A huge number of students in Northern Ireland sitting 11-plus-style style exams means some pupils will have to sit tests at further education colleges, it has been reported.

Grammar schools in Northern Ireland use either the Common Entrance Assessment (CEA) set by the Association for Quality Education (AQE) or multiple-choice papers set by GL Assessment, however many children sit both.

This means some children will sit five exams over four Saturday's.

A total of 8,626 pupils will be sitting AQE exams this year, a slight drop from 8,707 last year.

The AQE has now set up four "overflow centres" to cope with the demand. They will be based at Belfast Metropolitan College's Titanic and Castlereagh campuses and the two SERC sites in Lisburn, the Irish News has reported.

Some parents have raised concerns that sitting tests at large colleges is adding to pupil's exam stress.

Darrin Barr, AQE chief executive, said pupils will be looked after at all test centres.

"I offer my best wishes to all the young people who are sitting the AQE and GL tests during November. This can be a stressful time for all concerned, however, just treat the test mornings as you would any other normal school day and be kind to one another," he said.

"Each AQE centre has well trained and professional staff who will be doing everything possible to make sure the tests run smoothly and to ensure that the candidates are looked after."

Has your child been affected by sitting exams in overflow centres? Contact us at

The 11-plus exam run by Stormont's Department of Education was scrapped in 2008, signalling the introduction of the two separate tests.

In 2018, however, representatives from the AQE and the Post Primary Transfer Consortium (PPTC), which uses the GL papers, agreed draft proposals for a common test.

Later the AQE said that, while it agreed with the principle of a single test, the plans for a single exam were "not fit for purpose".

In a letter to school principals and governors, John Mulholland, the chairman of the AQE, voiced concerns that the common test would be less reliable than the current AQE exams.

"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.

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