Transfer tests 'fairer than selection by wealth'

By Robbie Meredith
BBC News NI Education Correspondent

Students at schoolImage source, PA

Transfer tests are fairer for pupils than "selection by parental wealth".

That is according to the Association for Quality Education (AQE), one of the two test providers.

It also said questions on the AQE test in 2020 would be "reviewed" to take account of disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Eleven Catholic grammars and the integrated school Lagan College have said they will not use transfer test results to admit pupils in 2021.

However, those Catholic grammars had used the GL Assessment test set by the Post-Primary Transfer Consortium (PPTC).

None of the 34 grammar schools which use AQE tests have yet announced plans to stop using academic selection for a year.

'One form or another'

In a statement AQE said that it was the right of each parent to decide if they wanted their child to sit the tests.

"The large numbers of parents registering their children for the 2020 Common Entrance Assessment is testament to the desire of many people to retain academic selection," it said.

"Northern Ireland is blessed with a huge number of excellent schools across all sectors, selective and non-selective, and parents have the opportunity to apply to one or more non-selective post-primary schools if they feel that entering for the common entrance assessment would put too much stress on their children.

"Post-primary transfer will happen in one form of selection or another.

"If academic selection does not take place then some other method of selection will be necessary for oversubscribed schools."

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Both schools normally use results from the GL assessment test to select pupils

AQE Limited also claimed that "those who oppose academic selection most vociferously generally do not offer any viable alternative".

"Ultimately, a move away from academic selection would lead quickly to a situation in which selection by assessment was replaced by selection by parental wealth.

"A move away from academic selection to social selection by postcode is likely to damage the life chances of young people in general given that young people, including those in receipt of free school meals, perform better in our range of secondary, integrated and grammar schools than young people in the English one-size-fits-all comprehensive system," it said.

'Major disruption'

In a separate update to parents of P6 pupils, AQE said those setting its test were well aware that there had been "major disruption to the school year".

"With this in mind, over the past months the team has been reviewing the questions to ensure that they are accessible to all of the pupils, enabling them to demonstrate what they know, understand and can do," AQE said.

"We want to reassure parents and pupils that for this year's P6 cohort the assessment papers have been deliberately designed both as to content and length so as to take account of disruption caused by the pandemic."

AQE also said that it would provide free copies of past test papers and answers on its website.