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Entrance tests loom on the horizon for post-11-plus era


03/04/2008 :: Northern Ireland :: The Irish News

Fears have been raised of an entrance exam free-for-all after the end of the 11-plus, with pupils facing multiple tests when applying for post-primary schools.

Education minister Caitriona Ruane has said she intends to abolish academic selection and allow pupils themselves to make key choices at the age of 14.

But with no detailed plans yet agreed, 'unregulation' - where no arrangements are put in place by the assembly and executive - is a possibility after the transfer test goes this year.

This would allow schools to introduce their own entrance exams to continue selecting top-performing pupils, despite warnings by Ms Ruane of a potential for legal action.

Children in the north west now look likely to be the first group who could be affected.

Next year those in P6 hoping to attend grammars in Derry could face at least two exams, including a 'verbal reasoning' test at Lumen Christi College.

Foyle and Londonderry College has also said it supports plans by a breakaway group of 25 'state' grammars for a common entrance test.

It is understood that many pupils in the city currently list both Lumen Christi and Foyle on their transfer forms and the number of Catholic children seeking a place at the non-Catholic Foyle College is increasing.

There are mounting concerns that the north could be thrust into an ad hoc system similar to that experienced in the Republic in the 1980s, when, faced with increased demand, top schools introduced entrance tests.

It was hoped that the rolling out of a revised curriculum into P6 later this year would mean more class time for teaching and learning and less time on practice tests.

The new curriculum, which is being phased in, will place a greater emphasis on skills.

At present it applies to P1 and P5 classes. From September, P6 teachers will deliver six new subject areas including language and literacy, the arts, the 'world around us' and mathematics and numeracy.

The Department of Education has said the last 11-plus will take place this autumn and the curriculum in the run-up to P7 would "no longer be skewed by preparations for this test".

Some Derry primary schools, however, have said they will continue coaching pupils wanting to enter entrance tests but they could face a major problem in trying to prepare for separate exams at different schools.

It is understood the exam to be adopted by Foyle will be similar to the existing 11-plus, but the Lumen Christi plan is to reintroduce IQ-style reasoning of the old transfer tests.

Lumen Christi said its test will consist of two "standardised reasoning" papers to be taken in the college in October of P7. It won't require any additional teaching content.

It will be marked independently and results will be reported to parents in the form of a mark score.

Such testing, however, was scrapped in the north about 15 years ago amid criticisms that children spent their time learning exam tricks.

A department spokesman last night said any proposal to introduce verbal reasoning based tests would be a "significant and retrograde step".

"Teachers in local primary schools are committed to delivering the revised curriculum," he said.



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