Northern Ireland

Transfer test: Peter Weir announces U-turn on test preparation

Primary school children in a classroom
Image caption Unofficial transfer tests have been used by schools since the abolition of the 11-plus in 2008

Primary schools in Northern Ireland are now free to prepare pupils for unregulated transfer tests.

It follows a decision by Education Minister Peter Weir to reverse a long-standing departmental policy.

A circular sent to school principals on Wednesday removes any prohibition on using academic selection to decide what post-primary school pupils transfer to.

As a result primary schools can prepare pupils for the AQE and GL Assessment tests during normal class time.

Teachers allowed off the 'naughty step'

'Freedom'

However, the education minister has decided against re-introducing a common, department-run 11-plus test, admitting there was not enough political support to bring back an official exam.

"I have been resolutely supportive of academic selection and, indeed, the right of people to have academic selection," Mr Weir told the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme.

Image caption Peter Weir has decided against re-introducing a common, department-run 11-plus test

"This is actually about providing freedom to schools. They now have the freedom to choose whether to prepare their pupils, what level of help and assistance they can give in terms of preparation tests."

He said his decision to allow primary schools to formally prepare pupils for unofficial tests was "reflecting the reality of what is happening out on the ground, rather than trying to pretend that essentially, testing does not exist".

However, Mr Weir said no school would be "compelled" to carry out the preparation.

The 11-plus exam, which used to determine entry into grammar schools, was abolished in 2008.

Unofficial exams have been used by many grammar schools to decide which pupils to admit since then, but primary schools were not allowed to help pupils to prepare for those.

Image caption Primary schools in Northern Ireland are now free to prepare pupils for unregulated transfer tests

Previous departmental guidance said that primary schools "should not facilitate unregulated entrance test arrangements in any way".

They were therefore prohibited from "supplying support materials, carrying out any preparation for unregulated tests during core teaching hours, offering afternoon coaching in exam technique, or providing familiarisation with a test environment".

Mr Weir has now changed that, meaning primary schools can help pupils prepare for the AQE and GL Assessment tests if they wish.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Primary schools can now prepare pupils for the AQE and GL Assessment tests during normal class time

Mr Weir is the first DUP education minister since the establishment of the Assembly in 1998.

Only Sinn Féin had held the education post until this year, and all of their ministers had expressed opposition to academic selection.

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