Education Minister Peter Weir rejects call to press for cancellation of post-primary transfer test

The Education Minister has rejected a call to intervene to prevent academic selection tests being held in the autumn.

Peter Weir made clear grammar schools had a legal right to use tests if they wanted to.

Giving evidence to his Assembly scrutiny committee, the minister said cancelling the tests for a second year would deprive many children of going to the post-primary schools they wanted to attend.

Sinn Fein committee member Pat Sheehan warned the minister that the mental health of P6 children was being impacted by the prospect of having to sit tests in the autumn term, given the disruption to their education as a result of the pandemic.

Education Minister, Peter Weir.

Mr Sheehan urged Mr Weir to set aside his support for academic selection while the Covid-19 crisis continued.

He referred to research published this week by the Ulster University’s (UU) Unesco Education Centre that found that academic selection was “traumatic” for many children.

“I think that at some stage, and in particularly in the context in which we are currently living, that you have to make an assessment that whatever benefits you may think there are (to academic selection) they are being vastly outweighed by the damage that’s being done to children,” Mr Sheehan told the minister.

Independent providers AQE and PPTC run several tests each year to facilitate grammar schools in selecting their intake of primary school pupils on the basis of academic performance.

After initially rescheduling the exams, both providers ultimately moved to cancel their tests for the current academic year.

Tests are due to take place again in the autumn though one Belfast grammar school has already indicated it will not be using them for its 2022 intake.

Mr Weir has voiced concern about alternative selection criteria that are being used in lieu of tests, such as family links to schools.

“Even if I was suddenly convinced of the merits of doing that (cancelling the tests) I do not legally have the power to prevent schools using academic selection,” he told the committee.

“And I also believe that for many children this will actually be denying them levels of choice and denying the families levels of choice which otherwise would exist.

“So it’s not a route I’m going to go down.”

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