Five grammars announce they will not use academic selection amid pandemic

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By Rebecca Black, PA

Five Catholic grammar schools have announced they will not use academic selection for their 2021 intake.

The schools, which are all in Co Down, said the decision had been taken "in light of the current circumstances".

They are Abbey Christian Brothers' Grammar School, Our Lady's Grammar School, Sacred Heart Grammar School, and St Colman's College in Newry, and St Louis Grammar School in Kilkeel.

In a joint letter to parents, the schools said they recognised "there has been disruption to the education of pupils since March 2020, including that of P6 pupils".

The letter also clarified that the decision was just for one year, in relation to tests due to be sat later this year for the September 2021 intake.

It comes after calls from a number of quarters, including the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, and the Children's Commissioner Koulla Yiasouma not to use tests due to schooling disruption.

SDLP MLA Justin McNulty welcomed the move as a "compassionate approach".

"This is strong leadership from the boards of governors and principals of the five Newry and Kilkeel Schools in a move focused on addressing the issues faced by local communities in this time of crisis. It's a move that places trust with communities, teachers and parents," he said.

"This crisis means that many children have not had access to a level learning playing field. That's fine for those who can afford private tuition for their children, but those families who don't have access to that luxury should not feel that their children's life chances are diminished as a result.

"Children and young people are under immense pressure at the minute. there is no justifiable reason to make that worse."

Sinn Fein MLA Karen Mullan also praised the decision.

"This is absolutely necessary to allow our teachers, school staff and of course children to prepare for a return to school, rather than the stress of a high-level exam," she said.

"Academic selection is wrong and unnecessary and puts undue pressure on children.

"I am hopeful that the other selective schools will follow the leadership and the example shown by the schools in Newry and scrap these unregulated transfer tests and instead focus on the task of preparing to return to schools when it is safe to do so."

Academic selection was previously scrapped by Northern Ireland's department of education with the final department set tests sat in 2008.

However, since then two private companies, the Post-Primary Transfer Consortium (PPTC) and the Association for Quality Education (AQE), have run tests which are used by most of the region's grammar schools to determine their Year 8 intake each year.

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