Belfast Telegraph

Transfer test provider AQE hands lifeline to norovirus hit Northern Ireland pupils

The Norovirus has affected hundreds of pupils in Northern Ireland
The Norovirus has affected hundreds of pupils in Northern Ireland
Andrew Madden

By Andrew Madden

Transfer test provider AQE has offered pupils affected by the norovirus a potential exam lifeline.

Nine schools across Northern Ireland have closed this week due to an outbreak of the winter vomiting bug.

Schools have had to shut their doors in order to carry out a deep clean in a bid to banish the infection and prevent its spread.

One school alone, Bangor Academy, has seen half of its 1,600 pupils call in sick. Other schools have reported issues with staffing levels because of the outbreak.

There is concern scores of Primary 7 pupils that are due to sit transfer tests on Saturday may be unable to because of the bug.

AQE, who set one of the two transfer tests in Northern Ireland, said pupils who are unable to sit the exam due to illness can apply for a  "special circumstances" claim, which is taken into account when applying to their chosen post-primary school.

"We are extremely sorry that a number of children are sick due to the norovirus and we wish a speedy recovery to all those concerned," AQE chief executive Darrin Barr said.

"If children are suffering from symptoms of the virus they should not put themselves or others at risk by sitting the test on Saturday.

"The AQE model of three assessments being available and the two best marks used to produce a final score, allows children to achieve a standardised score for application to grammar schools on the basis of sitting two tests.

"If a child is sick during any of the tests then the parent can consider applying for special circumstances.  Details of how to apply for special circumstances are available in grammar schools’ admissions criteria which can be accessed on the Education Authority website."

The schools closed on Friday are:

  • Bunscoil Mhic Reatain, Belfast
  • McArthur Nursery School, Belfast
  • Hollybush Primary, Londonderry
  • Tannaghmore Primary School, Craigavon
  • St Columbanus' College, Bangor
  • Bangor Academy, Bangor

The Education Authority said a decision on closing a school was for the individual principals unless otherwise advised by the authority or another statutory agency.

The Post Primary Transfer Consortium (PPTC) runs the GL assessment. It said a supplementary entrance assessment is held in early December to accommodate pupils that miss an exam.

Bangor Central Integrated Primary School and Clandeboye Primary were shut on Wednesday, while Killinchy Primary in Co Down was closed on Monday.

In a statement, Matthew Pitts, principal of Bangor Academy, said accommodations will be made for children who are unable to sit exams.

"Friday will allow us to deep clean the school and prepare the building for next week," he said.

"Please remember to follow the advice about waiting 48 hours before you send your children back to school following this particular illness. If your child is unable to sit an exam, please do not worry, we will make sure the Christmas assessment grades reflect their overall term’s work. Nothing is more important than your child’s health.

"I know this isn’t ideal and I apologise for the inconvenience, but we have no alternative given the circumstances."

A spokesman for the Department of Education said it is aware of a number of schools which have closed for the purposes of a deep clean due to winter illnesses.

“In incidents where a school has had to close to carry out a deep clean, the school may apply for an exceptional closure which the department will consider and approve if appropriate," he said.

“The Public Health Agency provides information and advice on winter illnesses.”

The Public Health Agency said pupil's who are unwell should stay off school for at least 48 hours after symptoms have subsided.

For further information on staying well this winter, see

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