Weir 2017 deadline for single transfer test ‘optimistic’

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Plans to implement a single transfer test by next year have been described as “highly optimistic” by a grammar school principal.

The Department of Education has begun a formal process to find a common test for P7 pupils in Northern Ireland.

And it has been reported that Education Minister Peter Weir hopes to have the test in place by November 2017.

Professor Peter Tymms, from the school of education at Durham University, has been appointed to lead the initiative to find a new single test.

But Jonathan Wylie, principal at Larne Grammar School, said the timeframe mooted by the department was not realistic.

He told the News Letter: “While we welcome the department’s support for academic selection after 15 years of attacks on grammar schools, realistically we will probably be looking at a few years down the road before a common test could be put in place.

“In order to have such a test up and running by next year, it would need to be announced now to give primary schools a lead-in time to prepare pupils properly.”

Currently around 14,000 children in Northern Ireland each year sit unofficial transfer tests.

There are two separate tests set by organisations AQE and GL. Children who sit both systems face five tests.

At the DUP party conference at the weekend, Mr Weir said it was clear there wouldn’t be political consensus around the issue of a state transfer test.

The minister revealed he was working with the two testing organisations to see what common ground can be found.

But yesterday, Mr Weir told BBC Northern Ireland’s Good Morning Ulster programme that academic selection was “here to stay”.

“It hasn’t gone away because there is a strong demand out there for academic selection,” he said.

Branding Mr Weir’s approach to education as “flawed and exclusionary”, Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle said: “It is a further example of an ideological rejection of mounting evidence linking educational disadvantage and academic selection.”

The commissioner for children and young people in Northern Ireland, Koulla Yiasouma, said root and branch reform was needed, not a “further sticking plaster”.

She added: “While it is preferable that within a system of unregulated tests, all children take a single regulated test, it is extremely disappointing that the vision for education in Northern Ireland is firmly fixed on the perpetuation of ‘academic segregation’.”

Carla Lockhart, DUP MLA and member of the Assembly’s education committee, welcomed Mr Weir’s decision to appoint Prof Tymms to find a single transfer test.

She added: “To have a system of academic selection in which there is more than one test isn’t sustainable in the longer term.

“A resolution to single transfer impasse will be best for our children.”