General Teaching Council Northern Ireland

 
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Parents confused by transfer

29-06-2009

Belfast Telegraph

Parents across Northern Ireland are confused and stressed about the unregulated school transfer system which is due to replace the 11-plus test, it was warned today.

The Parenting Forum Northern Ireland has issued a strong appeal to the Education Minister, Caitriona Ruane calling on her to provide more detail on the way forward to enable parents to make informed crucial decisions about their children’s futures.

The forum acts as a voice for parents and seeks to highlight their needs and the issues |affecting them in order to influence policy, planning and service delivery.

Its regional manager Alison Loughlin said there has been “ineffective communication” so far and is so concerned that she recently met with the Minister to ask her to send out clearer information to parents as soon as possible.

During the meeting, the forum relayed the serious concerns of their thousands of member parents.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Ms Loughlin said: “The issue of transfer is coming up time and time again in our consultation with parents.

“They feel there has been ineffective communication with them and this means they don’t know what they are supposed to be doing, when things are happening and what is best for their child.

“Individual grammar schools are setting their own tests and then you have the Education Minister’s transfer system. On top of this there is the confusing issue of schools having to have ‘due regard’ for the Minister’s admissions guidance.

“We represent parents with the full spectrum of views on this. Some parents want the old system brought back and others are quite happy with the new unregulated system.

“However, ineffective communication with parents is leading to a lot of confusion for all of them.

“Parents who were in favour of changing the 11-plus are even saying that at least they knew what to do and what was happening within the old system.”

Ms Loughlin said that much of the information which has come from the Minister to parents so far has not been helpful.

“It has been written in a jargonised, civil service way. We have asked the Minister to think about sending out more parent-friendly information — possibly in leaflet format — and she is considering this.

“Parents need this information because it is them, along with their children, who will be making the crucial decisions.

“Parents of children with special needs or with a statement of |special needs also need to know how their children are going to transfer and want to make sure that they too can reach their full potential.

“The Minister thought she had been communicating well, but she has been meeting with primary principals and that is very different. However, I think she is open to looking at ways to communicate better with parents.

“We are hoping that the Minister will work with us because we have the expertise to make sure that whatever goes out next time will meet families’ needs.

“I would like to see something being sent out to parents over the summer to reduce their confusion and stress.

“In the meantime, parents can join the Parenting Forum — which is free — and we will send out information to them when we get it.”

She added that parents need more information on the grammar tests and how they will work — as well as on the non-academic system of transfer preferred by Ms Ruane.

Ms Loughlin said that lone parent families and families on a low income are also concerned about getting access to practice materials for the new grammar tests.

“Some families do not have the knowledge to support children through these tests and cannot afford a tutor. I know the Minister is not in favour of primary schools tutoring children so some may receive no help at all.”

Pip Jaffa, chief executive of |the Parents’ Advice Centre, said: “Parents are telling us through |the Parenting Forum that they really need more information and clarity.

“They feel very uncomfortable and uneasy about the uncertainly their children are facing.”

The Parents’ Helpline can be contacted on 0808 8010722.

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