By Aine McGlinchey
Uncertainty continues over the process of moving primary school children into the school of their choice in September.
Since the Eleven Plus was abolished in 2008, children now undertake a transfer test if they want to attend a grammar school. However, there is still an ongoing debate whether academic selection should continue at all.
Over 16,000 children were registered in 2019/20 for the AQE and PPTC exams to determine what grammar schools they will go to.
Mary Hegarty is the parent of a 17-year-old daughter who sat the transfer test and now attends a grammar school.
Mary thinks the test ‘Should be cancelled this year.’
However, she would want her child to sit the exam because she feels ‘For grammar school education, it’s the way you have to do it.”
“I want her to be able to access a grammar education. Research has shown all schools now, through the entitlement framework, offer a range of all subjects and all schools will get GCSEs and A-Levels. But if you look at the statistics, grammar schools are a lot higher in the league tables and they’ve a lot better outcomes than in secondary education.
“I don’t know why they didn’t stick with the Eleven Plus because at least you could sit that in your own primary school and that’s better for the young people. They were always going to put something in place, nothing has ever replaced it and in fact what has replaced it is a far worse system.
“I don’t think it’s the beginning of the end for academic selection because if you look statistically last year over 16,000 young people in Northern Ireland took both those exams. Parents are still wanting their children to go through the process,” she says.
A grammar school teacher from Derry says the test should be cancelled this year but parents still want some form of academic selection.
“You’re picking older children’s assessed grades for going to university by teacher assessed grades and cancelling A-Levels and GCSEs. Those pupils are more capable of dealing with the stress of those exams. Why are you putting 10-year-olds through the stress of an exam when they’ve missed a lot of classroom teaching.
“Some people also say the transfer test is unequal in that pupils from a wealthier background get more private tuition. And in fact, the lockdown will only increase that inequality because pupils from a less well off background rely on all their tuition for what they have in school and they’ve missed a lot of school this year. Those with a wealthier background have still continued to get private tuition, so there will be an even bigger gap in terms of performance in the test.
“Schools would probably have a form of academic selection within them, with streaming and the more academically able are put into certain classes for certain subjects and the less able will be in other classes.
“The grammar schools have clung on desperately to the idea of the transfer test and only at the last minute was it cancelled. That shows that they are determined to have a transfer test, and if everything is okay next year they will definitely have it up and running again.
“I think the whole system is wrong. I don’t think you should be having academic selection at 11. I don’t think all pupils should be doing that same exam at 16 and 18. You’re better off having a system like in Germany where all kids go to school until they’re 14.
“At 14, the pupils will know more what to do, the parents will have a more realistic view on their ability and liaising with school will advise them on the best path to go down,” he adds.
Post-primary exams have been cancelled except for one exam on February 27 by AQE. The decision was announced just days before a series of exams that was due to begin on January 9.