Northern Ireland

11 Northern Ireland primary schools advised over possible transfer test coaching

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Media captionThere are two unofficial replacement systems for the 11-plus in operation

The Department of Education has sent letters to 11 primary schools since May 2012 over concerns at the possible coaching of pupils for unregulated transfer tests.

The 11 Plus was scrapped in Northern Ireland in 2008.

However, grammar schools started using new tests to select pupils.

Results of the contentious tests are due on Saturday.

The department has told teachers in the past that they they should not coach pupils for the tests.

The figure of 11 schools being sent letters by the department emerged in a reply to a request by Radio Ulster's Nolan Show.

In a statement, the department said: "The department wrote to some primary schools following reports that these schools may have been involved in coaching pupils for the unregulated tests during core teaching hours.

'Opportunity'

"This was to provide the school principals with an opportunity to confirm that the board of governors had complied with their legal duty to have regard to the department's guidance, and that the school was meeting its statutory obligation to deliver the curriculum to all pupils.

"The fact that the department writes to a school does not indicate that the school has been engaging in preparing children for unregulated tests, or indeed that the school is failing to deliver the statutory curriculum.

"It is intended to enable the schools to provide the department with the assurance that the pupils' educational needs are being appropriately met."

Mark Langhammer, from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said the coaching was acceptable outside school hours.

"Many of the schools, either from their own resources or paid for by parents, do offer coaching sessions outside of school either at weekends or after school," he said.

"Our advice to our teachers - some other unions simply tell their teachers not to do it - we say if the school is going to employ you on a secondary contract and pay you, that's fine outside school."

'Totally unfair'

Ulster Unionist Party education spokesman Danny Kinahan criticised the department over the letters.

"I completely abhor the actions of the Department of Education in naming, through the media, primary schools which they have sent warning letters to over allegedly 'coaching' Year 6 and 7 pupils in repairing for the transfer test," he said.

"It is totally unfair to single out schools in such a manner. The principals of all primary schools have been placed in this invidious situation because the AQE and GL tests have become increasingly popular with parents.

"The simple fact is that as unofficial tests have become embedded, a large proportion of parents want their children to sit them and have an opportunity of gaining a place at a grammar school."

There are two unofficial replacement systems for the 11-plus in operation.

The single, multiple choice GL Assessment is used mostly by Catholic schools and the AQE sets a different exam for other schools.

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