Northern Ireland

Transfer tests: Arlene Foster wants to address tests 'issue'

Arlene Foster
Image caption Ms Foster said change regarding the transfer tests was possible

First Minister Arlene Foster has said she wants to address one of the biggest issues in education in Northern Ireland - the transfer tests.

The unregulated exams have to be taken by primary school children to enter most grammar schools.

They have been in operation for seven years since the 11-plus exam was scrapped by Martin McGuinness, who was then education minister.

There have been attempts to create a single, unofficial exam.

However, efforts to find a common transfer test have so far failed.

Ms Foster said change was possible.

"People have felt that because there are two tests that it can be quite pressurised for children when they are taking those tests," she told the BBC's Inside Politics programme.

Image caption The 2015-16 academic year is the seventh year the unregulated tests have been run

"Children have to take tests over a long period of time.

"We will look at that, we will talk to the people involved, we will see if that can be done for this year.

"It's something that I think can be done."

Most grammar schools have been using unregulated tests to select pupils since 2008, when the 11-plus exam was scrapped.

The numbers of entrants taking the transfer tests rose again in 2015-16.

There are two testing systems - GL assessment exams are mostly used by Catholic schools, while AQE exams are mostly used by controlled schools.

Currently, children aged 10 and 11 in primary seven can opt to sit either exam, both GL and AQE tests or none.

Image caption The numbers of entrants taking the transfer tests rose again in 2015-16

The 2015-2016 academic year is the seventh year the unregulated tests have been run and the number of children taking them has increased.

There were a total of 14,575 entrants to the tests this year, although some children will have sat both tests.

A total of 7,772 pupils sat this year's AQE exam - the exam body's highest number of entrants since the unofficial tests began - and an increase from 7290 in 2014-15.

The number sitting this year's GL assessment decreased from 7061 in 2014-15 to 6803, but this was due to Ballymena Academy switching from GL to the AQE exam.

A number of grammar schools in the Catholic sector have announced that they will no longer decide their intake by academic selection in recent years.

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