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Parents put their faith in new entrance tests


Belfast Telegraph

Around 4,500 pupils have already signed up to sit new entrance tests run by one grammar school consortium, it can be revealed today.

The Association for Quality Education (AQE) has confirmed to the Belfast Telegraph that it has processed 3,500 of the 4,500 registration forms for the Common Entrance Assessment (CEA) it has received so far and expects that it could end up providing tests to up to 6,000 children in the autumn.

The registration process began just a month ago and has a closing date of September 18.

The figures will be a body blow to Education Minister Caitriona Ruane who has issued numerous appeals to schools and parents not to get involved with the unregulated tests.

They are also a strong indication that many parents still feel strongly that they want to try and secure a grammar school education for their children.

Billy Young, from AQE and former principal of Belfast Royal Academy, said they were pleased with the number of registrations so far and that the office is receiving many forms every day.

It is thought that thousands of families will also have signed their children up for tests being run by English exam company GL Assessment — which is catering for another 34 schools which are members of the Post-Primary Transfer Consortium.

However, a spokeswoman for the company said it was not processing the registration forms so was unable to say how many applications had been received so far.

In recent years, around 15,000 pupils sat the 11-plus test annually in schools across Northern Ireland.

The principal of one school running the GL Assessment tests, who asked not to be named, said: “Each school is running the tests independently so we could not tell you how many applications we have so far in total.

“AQE has taken on the role of being an organising body but there is no parallel organisation for the schools doing GL Assessment.

“We took the decision to be just loosely connected for legal reasons. If a parent decides to sue, they will only be able to deal with one school.”

Almost all of the 69 grammars in both the controlled and maintained sectors have decided to set their own tests for pupils hoping to gain places in their schools in 2010.

The Northern Ireland Commission for Catholic Education said last week that it wants its grammars to phase out selection by 2012 — but it is allowing schools to continue with academic testing in the short term.

The GL Assessment test will involve two multiple choice papers — one for English and the other maths — sat by pupils on November 21. The schools involved are mainly within the Catholic maintained sector but also include some integrated and controlled sector schools.

Pupils hoping to gain places in schools connected to the AQE tests can sit up to three tests in English and maths in November and December. The best two scores will count.

Non-selective secondary schools are set to follow admissions criteria guidance set by the Education Minister. In these schools, they will determine their intake without taking consideration of pupils' academic ability.

Speaking at a primary principals' conference earlier this month, Ms Ruane said: “Testing children at the age of 10 or 11 for the purpose of determining admission to post-primary school is totally wrong, particularly in circumstances where the stakes are so high.

“Putting young children under this sort of intense pressure when there are alternatives available is indefensible.”


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