Coronavirus: ‘Deep concern’ over transfer tests after lockdown

Koulla Yiasouma

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Koulla Yiasouma said some children may have had little or no education during the lockdown

Northern Ireland’s children’s commissioner has written to selective schools urging them to avoid using academic selection to admit pupils.

Koulla Yiasouma said she was “deeply concerned” transfer tests would be used to select pupils for 2021.

The tests are being delayed by up to two weeks but will be held in November and December.

Run by AQE and PPTC, they are used by the vast majority of grammar schools in Northern Ireland.

The head of the Catholic Church, Archbishop Eamon Martin, had previously asked schools to suspend academic selection in 2020.

In an open letter to governors and principals of selective post-primary schools, Ms Yiasouma made the same appeal.

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The Catholic Principals’ Association has written to Education Minister Peter Weir

“It is likely that school gates will be opening in ‘stages’ in September and you will hopefully be welcoming new pupils; it is these children that I am focusing on in this letter,” Ms Yiasouma wrote.

“I am deeply concerned that you decided to maintain academic selection in its current form for the next academic year.

“Based on the announcement made by AQE and PPTC, these children will be expected to take tests a matter of weeks after returning to school on a staged basis following a five-and-a-half month absence.”

‘Innovative thinking’

Ms Yiasouma said some children may have had little or no education during the coronavirus lockdown.

“It cannot be considered appropriate to add further stress to some children by expecting them to take a test that will decide the future of their educational career,” she said.

“I do not underestimate the challenges of doing this but am confident that by undertaking a collaborative piece of work with your education colleagues and parents, you will find an innovative and creative solution which is in the best interests of children.

“It is the responsibility of boards of governors to address this issue and to modify your admissions criteria in such a way as to avoid putting children through this additional stress at this uniquely difficult time.”

In a separate letter to Education Minister Peter Weir, the Catholic Principals’ Association also backed Archbishop Martin’s call for schools to suspend the use of the transfer tests for entrance to post-primary education in 2021.

“We have been placed in a position in all our schools to make new and unprecedented decisions over the last few months and we continue to do so on a daily basis moving forward,” the umbrella body said.

“It is in this current climate of innovative thinking that the decision to suspend academic selection and the transfer tests must be taken.

“We can only hope that the Catholic Grammar schools take the time to reflect on Archbishop Martin’s words.”

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