General Teaching Council Northern Ireland

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Grammar Schools to follow Catholic transfer strategy


Belfast Telegraph

Grammar schools are set to abandon plans for verbal reasoning tests and instead follow the Catholic sector’s transfer plans.

A new English and maths transfer test is to be designed after Catholic Church leaders gave schools the go-ahead to operate academic selection in the short term.

Catholic grammars will be allowed to run entrance exams next year but should all be operating an alternative system of transfer by no later than 2012.

It is understood that the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), which sets entrance tests in England, is to be asked to devise the maths and English test.

A small group of schools had previously signalled their intention to offer IQ-style verbal reasoning tests, also drawn up by the NFER, but this plan now looks to have been shelved.

Non-Catholic grammar schools that had intended to run such tests are now indicating they have also changed their minds.

In the early 1990s verbal reasoning was scrapped amid criticisms that children spent their time learning exam tricks.

The Department of Education said introducing such tests would be a “retrograde step”.

Teachers too were unimpressed, saying when reasoning was used before for academic selective purposes, it was entirely discredited.

Ronnie Hassard, principal of Ballymena Academy, said his school would now re-examine its contingency plan for reasoning tests in light of the Catholic sector’s announcement.

He added that governors would look at education minister Caitriona Ruane’s guidance that asks schools to operate non-academic admissions criteria only.

Neill Morton, from Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, said it was likely his school would also follow the Catholic sector, adding that feeder primaries would prefer English and maths tests.

Ms Ruane said she welcomed the Catholic sector’s contribution.

“They have once again stated their opposition to academic selection at age 11 as a means of transferring to post-primary education. I share this position,” she said.

“Importantly they also call on their schools to implement the guidance issued by the Department of Education on this matter.

“If this policy is followed by schools then there is no need for any breakaway entrance tests in any schools.

“As I have stated many times, this route is a legal minefield and should be avoided.

“Additionally there is no possibility of the department placing itself in the position of providing a test for transfer to post-primary education without a legal framework.”

She added that there were Catholic schools that had voluntarily moved away from academic selection and operate successful as all-ability institutions.

“The statutory consultation process around the guidance is currently ongoing and after that is completed the department will then issue the final policy for transfer 2010,” Ms Ruane said.

“I look forward to continuing to work with the Catholic sector and others as we formulate the final guidance for issue to schools and parents in the coming weeks.”


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