General Teaching Council Northern Ireland

 


Grammars told to iron out admission criteria

11-11-2009

Irish News

Grammar schools have been told to iron out flaws in the way they plan to admit children in the post- 11-plus era.

All schools have sent their admissions criteria for September 2010 to the Department of Education, ahead of publication later this year.

Grammars plan to use the scores of new entrance exams – the first of which is due to take place on Saturday – in different ways to select pupils.

Some plan to simply rank order children based on their test scores, while others are planning a new and untried ‘pool’ system.

Now the Department of Education has issued guidance warning schools about the risks of unregulated tests.

In a letter, the department said schools should understand that the withdrawal of entrance tests was the surest way of removing risks.

On Saturday, about 7,000 pupils will sit the first of three Common Entrance Assessment papers set by non-Catholic grammar schools.

A week later, a similar number of children will sit multiple-choice papers set by GL Assessment which are being used by another group of grammars.

Those planning to ‘pool’ children with similar marks before deciding who to admit were warned in the letter that “complex criteria may generate greater levels of appeal than simple criteria”.

“They should consider also that the process of appeal and challenge will expose their criteria to fine scrutiny,” the letter read.

“Small flaws in wording could become the focus of a challenge. Such flaws are more likely as criteria become more complex.

“Schools should be particularly careful about criteria that prioritise applicants on the basis of a ‘performance group’ into which a result places an applicant (eg banding or percentiles).”

The schools were further warned to clearly identify which tests they planned to use so it “could not be argued that performance in any other test is relevant”.

In a separate letter, education minister Caitriona Ruane reminded primary schools that they should only provide information about individual children to grammars where a pupil had already been awarded a place.

Some primaries had expressed concern about being approached by grammars for details of pupil performance.

“There is no obligation on a primary school to provide individual reports on the educational performance or achievements of pupils to schools to which those pupils have not been formally admitted,” Ms Ruane said.

“Indeed, the disclosure of personal information about a pupil to a third party is likely to cause a breach of the Data Protection Act, unless consent is given by the pupil or parent.

“I would therefore strongly advise primary schools to ensure that they have the processes in place to prevent any such breach.”

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