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Transfer test body AQE labels Bishop McKeown business comments 'highly defamatory'

Exam body responding to Catholic leader's comments process had become 'big business'


Bishop Donal McKeown

Bishop Donal McKeown

Bishop Donal McKeown

Exam body AQE has called on the Bishop of Derry to retract his comments that the transfer test process had become “big business”.

Bishop Donal McKeown warned that financial gain “should not dominate the conversation” around the test process.

AQE - the Association for Quality Education - cancelled three tests due to be held in January, with the PPTC also cancelling its exams for this year.

However, AQE later announced plans to hold a single rescheduled test on February 27.

AQE charges parents wanting grammar school places for their children £55 to sit the exams. The PPTC does not charge pupils.

Bishop McKeown told the BBC's Sunday Politics Northern Ireland programme: “AQE would have about 9,000 pupils applying this year. That's half a million pounds coming in to run a business.

“And let's say you work on the assumption that parents are spending maybe £250 on tutoring [for their children] - there's another £2.5m.

“We're not just talking about making educational changes - we are talking about a business.

“When business becomes a major element in educational decisions I think, perhaps, we've lost the point.”

Responding to Bishop McKeown’s comments, the directors of AQE told BBC NI that his comments were “highly defamatory” and that his “statement completely lacked accuracy and was pejorative in tone”.

“The statement made by the bishop and broadcast by the BBC was highly defamatory not just of AQE Limited but also of those individuals who are the members of AQE Limited and of those who serve it as its directors and officers, carrying, as it does, the clear innuendo that such persons are acting from motives of pure self-interest,” the body said.

“AQE Limited does not engage in ‘business’, in the normally accepted meaning of that word.

“It does not carry on its activities with a view to making a profit.

“It is a company limited by guarantee and so does not have shareholders and hence pays no dividends.

“The members of its board of directors are not remunerated and perform their roles voluntarily.

“The fees which it charges to parents do not cover the costs which AQE Limited incurs in producing and administering the Common Entrance Assessment; the shortfall is made up by the schools which use the Common Entrance Assessment.

“In light thereof AQE Limited would call upon the bishop to retract the statement which he made on January 10, 2021, and to issue an appropriate apology to AQE Limited.”

Bishop McKeown said he did not wish to respond to AQE’s statement.

Belfast Telegraph