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19/06/2008 :: Northern Ireland :: The Irish News
Samples of the questions that will be asked of children in new grammar entrance tests have been sent to primary school principals.
Under the guidance of The Association of Quality Education (AQE), 30 schools are introducing new tests to continue selecting top-performing pupils after the 11-plus ends.
The AQE said its new Common Entrance Assessment (CEA) was required because education minister Caitriona Ruane had so far "declined to produce a satisfactory alternative".
Ms Ruane, while proposing to introduce a transitional transfer test for three years, wants to outlaw all forms of academic selection.
The CEA, which will be introduced next year, will consist of three one-hour papers, similar in format to the existing 11-plus, and will focus on English and mathematics.
The tests will be taken on Saturdays in grammar schools and marks will be awarded on the basis of the two best scores - this is designed to guard against pupils under-performing on an "off day".
However, there are already some concerns about children being award-ed a score instead of a grade as this could leave it up to individual schools to decide how the scores are used.
Some could allocate places in rank order while others may decide to use different criteria to allocate places among pupils they judge to be suited to a grammar school place.
There is no obligation on primary schools to undertake specific preparation for the CEA as it is based on the teaching pupils will receive in their normal classes.
Only pupils wishing to apply to a school retaining academic selection and using the CEA will need to undertake the assessment.
However, the schools taking part are known to have pupils from some of the richest families in the north although many are producing some of the poorest A-level results among Northern Ireland's grammars.
Primary schools have now been sent sample questions and a guide for parents.
In his letter to primary school principals AQE chairman Sir Kenneth Bloomfield said a significant majority of parents and teachers supported the retention of academic selection.
He said the CEA had been devised in an effort to avoid a multiplicity of different assessment procedures for different grammar schools.
"While I understand that under the current minister for education primary schools are not obliged to prepare pupils for any form of assessment related to the transfer process, I know that many primary school principals wish to have more information about our plans," Sir Kenneth said.