Parties opposed to the holding of a post-primary transfer test have been accused of using the pandemic to advance their ideology.
There is a sharp divide between Northern Ireland’s parties on the use of academic selection at 11.
The row has come to the fore following the announcement of plans by the Association for Quality Education (AQE) to hold a test on February 27.
Tests planned by AQE and the Post Primary Transfer Consortium (PPTC) for January and early February were cancelled due to the latest lockdown aimed at stemming the recent surge of coronavirus cases.
The Executive is due to discuss the issue at a meeting on Friday.
DUP Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has accused parties calling for the Executive to act to prevent the AQE test as “using the pandemic” to advance their anti-academic selection ideology.
But Sinn Fein MLA Karen Mullan has said those supporting or facilitating transfer tests need to think about the mental health and wellbeing of children and do the right thing.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has written to AQE to urge them to cancel the transfer test scheduled for February 27.
The SDLP has written to the AQE asking that they cancel the Transfer Test in February. This isn't about ideology, this is about keeping children safe in the midst of a public health crisis. All other exams have been cancelled. So should this. https://t.co/fYvGa3O14B— Nichola Mallon (@NicholaMallon) January 7, 2021
Mr Donaldson said it should not be a debate about selection but public safety.
“There is no question of the transfer test going ahead if the public health conditions at that time do not permit it,” he said.
“This is a legitimate choice being made by parents and schools. It is perfectly legal for schools to select pupils on the basis of academic ability.
“We want to facilitate that choice and particularly for those children who are an only child or the eldest child in a household.
“There must be a fair process of transfer which does not disadvantage those pupils who live far away from school.
“Those who want to use the pandemic to stop academic selection should be honest and outline their real objective is to close grammar schools and stop hiding behind other arguments.”
Those still supporting or facilitating these unfair tests need to get real and think about the mental health and wellbeing of childrenKaren Mullan, Sinn Fein
Ms Mullan said both the Children’s Commissioner Koulla Yiasouma and the Mental Health Champion Professor Siobhan O’Neill had both raised concerns about the impact the stress surrounding transfer tests was having on children.
“We are talking about 10 and 11-year-old children who missed three months of classroom schooling before the summer, many of whom have missed up to eight weeks this academic year through self-isolation, and are now facing a further six weeks not in school,” she said.
“These tests are unfair and should not be going ahead any year but it is incomprehensible that the education minister expects young children to deal with that anxiety and trauma and sit exams in these circumstances.
“Those still supporting or facilitating these unfair tests need to get real and think about the mental health and wellbeing of children.”