Schools consider 'radical change' to transfer tests

By Robbie Meredith
BBC News NI Education Correspondent

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image captionA switch to verbal reasoning tests would be a 'radical change' but could work

Schools who use transfer tests run by the Post-Primary Transfer Consortium (PPTC) are to consider "radical change" to the tests in the autumn.

A discussion paper from PPTC has asked schools to consider whether to use verbal reasoning tests to decide which pupils to admit in 2022.

Due to the pandemic disruption, they are being suggested as an option instead of tests in English and Maths.

But it will be up to individual schools and the PPTC steering group to decide.

The separate transfer tests run by the PPTC and the Association for Quality Education (AQE) were cancelled in 2021.

The PPTC-run tests provided by GL Assessment are used, in the main, by Catholic grammar schools to select pupils.

However, some voluntary and controlled grammars - and integrated post-primaries - also use the PPTC tests to admit some pupils.

The PPTC discussion paper, seen by BBC News NI, said the organisation had to plan "several months ahead" for the 2021-22 transfer tests.

In previous years, the tests run by PPTC had "examined the attainment of pupils in English and Maths," it said.

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image captionPPTC said some schools in England used verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning tests to select pupils

But the paper pointed out that many children due to sit the tests in the autumn will have faced disruption to their education in primaries five and six, including to the English and Maths curriculum.

"Serious consideration should be given to moving away from an Entrance Assessment which is attainment based to one which is aptitude based," the discussion paper said.

It said aptitude based assessments included verbal and non-verbal reasoning tests.

Verbal reasoning tests assess language and comprehension while non-verbal reasoning tests assess problem-solving skills.

They were used as part of the former state-run 11-plus exam which ended in 2008.

The PPTC options paper pointed out that some grammars in England used verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning tests to select pupils.

It said in "an exceptional year", aptitude tests would be "much fairer" to pupils, and that primary school children already had experience in using verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning assessments.

The discussion paper said that, if approved, each test would last about 50 minutes each and there would be around 80 questions in each.

It also said that if schools agreed to use verbal and non-verbal reasoning tests they could be held in the usual mid-November date in 2021.

The discussion paper also recommended that the autumn tests continue to be held in grammar schools rather than primary schools, as some primaries would not be willing to host the tests.

Schools' boards of governors have been asked to discuss whether to change the transfer tests in the autumn, and when to hold them, and report back to the PPTC steering group in March.

More than 30 schools use the PPTC tests each year to select all or some pupils.

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