‘Transfer test needs viable replacement before being scrapped’: Robbie Butler

The “ideology of doing away with the school transfer test” is unhelpful while a more suitable alternative remains elusive, Robbie Butler has said.

By Mark Rainey
Wednesday, 22nd September 2021, 7:30 pm
Updated Wednesday, 22nd September 2021, 8:01 pm
Transfer tests row
Transfer tests row

Mr Butler, the Ulster Unionist education spokesperson, was commenting following a report that Northern Ireland’s grammar schools will be running a single common transfer test from November 2023 – rather than the current system of separate tests set by the AQE and PPTC.

The BBC report sparked a fresh round of calls for the transfer tests to be scrapped rather than streamlined.

Sinn Fein’s Pat Sheehan described the current system as “cruel and traumatic,” and added: “Rather than combining these cruel tests, schools should be showing leadership by scrapping academic selection in favour of an inclusive, non-selective education system”.

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Robbie Butler. Photo: Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press

Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle MLA has said: “The assembly recently voted to end the use of academic selection – our pupils and parents deserve better.”

Mr Lyttle, who chairs the assembly’s education committee, added: “It is an unfair and unnecessary system of transfer for children, exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic.”

However, Mr Butler said the cancelling of the transfer tests this year due to the Covid pandemic – with every grammar school setting its own admission criteria – showed that a better way forward has not yet been found.

“The ideology of doing away with the transfer test is more important to some people than coming up with something which is better,” he said.

“If the transfer test isn’t fair, and if it isn’t right, then whatever replaces it must be better. What do you replace it with? This year, when you applied the Department for Education’s criteria for transfer, more people were disadvantaged.

“It wasn’t fair and it wasn’t more equal. It discriminated against an only child, it discriminated against the oldest child [in a family]. It definitely was no better than the transfer test.”

Mr Butler added: “The question for Pat Sheehan is, what’s better? What works? Was this year better? It really wasn’t.

“There were more appeals, and there were more appeals upheld, and there were more exceptional circumstances panels.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The Department facilitates the transfer from primary to post primary school for all pupils, whether or not they sit a transfer test. However, any developments that make the transfer process easier for children and their families, should be welcomed.”

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