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Thousands of P7s back to school in transfer limbo

01-09-2009

Irish News

Thousands of primary seven children return to school today facing the prospect of being the first group of pupils to face the chaos of multiple transfer tests.

There is no longer a state-sponsored 11-plus and education minister Caitriona Ruane, pictured, has asked that all schools operate non-academic admissions criteria only.

Grammar schools, however, are to defy the minister by staging their own new entrance tests.

Before the summer break, Ms Ruane made a statement to the assembly in which she detailed her own transfer proposals.

She recommended all schools use as their first criterion a measure that will ensure children entitled to free meals gain admissions at the same rate as all other applicants.

Other non-academic criteria, such as applicants who have a sibling attending a school or those from a feeder/ named primary school should also be used.

She argued that testing children at 10 or 11 was “totally wrong” and branding 11-year-old children as failures was “immoral” and “unjust”.

Children starting P7 today will have two months of schooling before becoming the first group to face new and different transfer exams on different days.

While it is difficult to predict the impact of an unregulated system, there have been warnings that some parents may challenge results through legal processes.

Grammar schools have split into two camps using either a Common Entrance Assessment (CEA) or papers set by GL Assessment.

Both groups claim their English and maths exams will not distort the revised curriculum being introduced in primary schools, which is designed to allow more class time for teaching and less for practice papers.

Some secondary and primary teachers have been told by their unions to refuse to administer, supervise, mark or prepare children for grammar school entrance tests.

Teachers say such a stance is putting them on a collision course with parents who will demand children be readied for new exams as they were for the 11-plus.

Some principals have said they want coaching to continue – whether during the school day or in homework clubs after class – but acknowledge there could also be problems preparing for separate exams for different schools.

The 11-plus operated under a legal framework for academic selection, and in an unregulated system unions may have a basis on which to effectively challenge the practice.

More than 5,000 pupils are said to have so far registered for the CEA papers, of which there are three – on November 14 and 28 and December 5. These entrance tests will not be trialled before going live.

Schools taking the GL Assessment papers have chosen November 21 as the date for their exams.

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