Belfast Telegraph

Split emerges over single transfer test plan for Northern Ireland

DUP education spokesman Peter Weir
DUP education spokesman Peter Weir
Stephen Elliott of PACE
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

Plans for a single transfer test in Northern Ireland have received "overwhelming support", an exams body has claimed.

Two different assessments currently operate here, 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.

The Association of Quality Education (AQE) runs the other exam option, but a spokesperson said yesterday the organisation was not yet in a position to comment.

However, sources at the AQE expressed surprise at the PPTC statement.

The chairman of a parents' group that strongly backs the current AQE tests said the proposals were "indefensible" and would cause great concern.

Both the PPTC and AQE had been asked to consult with the board of governors in each of the schools they represent.

The PPTC said in a statement yesterday it was pleased to report "there was overwhelming support from its schools for progressing towards a single test" based on the proposed model.

This would combine elements of AQE and PPTC tests with multiple choice and open response in English and mathematics.

Pupils would sit two papers of one hour each on successive Saturdays, with a supplementary paper for those children missing one paper due to illness or other circumstances.

A fee of £20 per pupil would be charged, with an exemption for children on free school meals.

An Irish language version of the tests would also be provided.

The DUP's education spokesman Peter Weir MLA welcomed the "positive tone" of the PPTC statement. "I know that PPTC and AQE have worked over a long period of time to bring this about and it is something that I have encouraged since being education minister," he said.

"I am in support of academic selection, but whatever anyone's views on the subject, any realistic person realises it is here to stay and it clearly makes sense to try to avoid pupils being put through two systems, leading to five individual exams.

"A sensible solution is in the interests of pupils, parents and schools. Experience tells us that there is still a long way to go, but this seems to be an important step forward in finally resolving this issue."

Stephen Elliott is chairman of the Parental Alliance for Choice in Education, which strongly backs the AQE test.

"This is indefensible and it should trouble parents," he said.

"It's been a project for the Department of Education - they want to get headmasters to decide this.

"It's remarkable that public sector employees, such as the heads of grammar schools, are interfering in private companies. I think it's impossible to combine these tests - they're trying to measure different things. They're trying to make the AQE test less reliable. AQE provides parents with past papers, but this would no longer be an option.

"We've had 10 years of AQE tests that have essentially been flawless. If it's not broke, you don't need to fix it."

In June last year concerns were also raised by the AQE's chief examiner at the time, Dr Hugh Morrison.

Having designed the AQE test and worked free of charge for 10 years, he said he was "shocked" when the consultation was announced.

He added at the time he had been given reassurances from both organisations he would be included in any dialogue.

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