Northern Ireland pupils receive transfer test results

Ralph Magee, principal of Andrews Memorial Primary School in Comber, says the current system is ridiculous

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More than 10,000 Primary 7 pupils who took unregulated transfer tests have been getting their results on Saturday.

But 12 years on, since the then Education Minister Martin McGuinness announced his intention to scrap the 11-plus exam, the current system has been described as farcical.

Despite repeated attempts by successive Sinn Féin education ministers to advise parents and schools not to use the tests - they are still the main method for children to transfer to grammar schools.

But the Department of Education has said primary schools should not help pupils prepare for the tests.

Ralph Magee is principal of Andrews Memorial Primary School in Comber, County Down.

He said the situation has become ridiculous.

"At the end of the day we are departmental employees - we're caught in this dilemma of them telling us to pay regard to the procedure and the reality on the ground is our parents expect us to do the job, so we're always caught between the two sides," he said.

Mr Magee said new legislation was needed.

"We are left in this fluid situation and it's up to us to take a chance on how we proceed. Some schools do proceed very formally with preparation and others don't, but that's not really good enough," he said.

"It should be the same system for all children, but it isn't."

In another development the Department of Education is supplying schools with a leaflet to be sent to all parents of P6 pupils.

It reminds parents that there has been a new curriculum in place since the 11-plus exam was scrapped - it suggests that parents should complain if their school is helping pupils to prepare for unregulated tests.

Andy McMorran is the retired principal of Ashfield Boys' School in east Belfast.

'Status symbol'
Marking exam Thousands of P7 pupils have taken the unofficial tests since the 11-plus was abolished

"You have a thing now that you look at a grammar and that's good and secondary is bad," he said.

"There are many excellent secondary schools out there and it's become a status symbol to have a child go to a grammar."

He also criticised the tutoring industry that has expanded dramatically since the unregulated tests were introduced.

"Having children coached on a Saturday morning - education is supposed to be fun and coaching is adding to the pressure," he said.

There appears to be no political will to make any changes - it looks as though we may still be talking about unregulated tests in another 12 years time.

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