The Catholic Principles Association (CPA), in Northern Ireland, took out a full page advert in the Irish Times at the weekend, urging grammar schools to abandon the transfer test (11-plus) this year. We are sharing the CPA letter here because the majority of these 21 points apply just as well to grammar schools in England.

UK grammar schools are adopting a hugely inconsistent approach to the test this year, with a dozen schools in NI abandoning the test altogether, while Lincolnshire grammar schools have moved the test date back just a week, to September 18th. This means that, if they’re lucky, year 5 children in Lincolnshire will have 12 days of classroom education before they sit their 11-plus test.

Statement from the Catholic Principals Association

An appeal to Grammar Schools to suspend the use of the transfers for 2020 (initially) as a means to select pupils for Post Primary admission in 2021.

The Catholic Principals Association, its member schools and affiliated members call upon the Catholic Grammar schools (indeed all Grammar schools) to immediately suspend the transfer tests planned for 2020.

The transfer tests must be suspended for at least 1 year for the following reasons:

  1. The inevitable emotional distress of primary school children during this pandemic and the exacerbating impact of prolonged school disruption.
  2. These tensions and anxieties will be very significantly compounded by the well-attested stresses and strains of transfer tests.
  3. By the end of June 2020, the current Year 6 children will have missed out on almost 4 months of school and face-to-face teaching.
  4. Uncertainty surrounds the reopening of schools in September 2020 and, if children are to return on a phased or part-time basis, Year 7 children will have significantly less face-to-face teaching.
  5. Primary school principals indicate that these factors are compounding and causing even higher than usual levels of anxiety and stress among Year 6 children and parents in respect of transfer tests.
  6. The proposed two-week delay in the administration of the tests will not make up for almost 9 months of disruption to the children’s education.
  7. This year’s notion of additional time to complete the tests is a cosmetic and farcical nonsense. If a suggested 15 minutes extra is supposed to compensate for a potential 9 months of disruption what does that say about the reliability, validity, comparability and function of the test?
  8. The onset of the pandemic and school closure/disruption have led to uneven and imbalanced access to teaching and learning in the Primary sector.  The present context fuels already complex forms of multi-disadvantage and creates new forms across all socio-economic groups.

Specifically, but not at all exclusively these include:

  1. No access to face-to-face teaching time.
  2. Limited access to resources for many.
  3. Challenges in the delivery of remote learning.
  4. The lack – sometimes very severe lack -of access to technology.
  5. Poor internet and broadband connections in rural/remote areas.
  6. The number of households with 2 or more children.
  7. Parents having to work throughout the pandemic and having to use childcare provision beyond the school setting.
  8. Unevenness in the expertise, time and facilities available to parents to assist children in developing central concepts in Maths and English which would normally have received sustained and structured professional input.
  9. Factors to the detriment of children whose learning and motivation are consolidated and enhanced by the safety, security, structure and routine of a normal school day.
  10. Loss of social and class-group interaction with others during which children learn from each other; a central part of developing numeracy and literacy skills.
  11. There is a possibility that a second wave of the pandemic may lead to further school disruption and further anxiety for children and parents.  That which is attributable to transfer tests can be easily taken out of the equation.
  12. The interests of any one school or any group of schools must not override the common good; potential threat to the emotional well-being of our 10-11 year olds is too costly a price for self-interest.
  13. The transfer test is unnecessary since transition to post-primary schools by criteria other than academic selection has been seamlessly enacted by most post-primary schools including a very significant number of former grammar schools.  Indeed, some Grammar schools did not fill their places for September whilst still using the transfer test system.  
  14. Moral, ethical, educational and social justice imperatives should compel of trustees, governors and principals of grammar schools to act now.
  15. Primary schools are not service agencies of any one sector of our system in the current climate and have many other and more pressing priorities to deal with than academic selection. The latter is a choice made by grammar schools; not an obligation or legal requirement on their part; certainly not on ours.
  16. Catholic bishops have stated consistently that academic selection does not sit easily with Catholic Church teaching. Catholic grammar schools must consider the extent to which they will blatantly flout these principles in a fraught situation.
  17. The CPA has received hundreds of emails from Primary Principals (many of whom are listed below) supporting the call to suspend the use of the transfer tests for at least this year.
  18. There is deep worry – even among parents who might normally avail of tests- and grammar schools must calibrate their responses to a clear groundswell of public opinion across the dioceses.
  19. CPA reiterates the view that systemic injustice and the tired apparatus of academic selection cannot and must not supersede the collective interests of all children at any time: in this highly problematic context its use would be reprehensible.
  20. We ask all grammar schools across the dioceses to take the decision immediately to suspend use of transfer tests.
  21. We very much welcome the decision of the 11 Grammar schools in Newry, Kilkeel, Enniskillen, Derry and Omagh who have shown leadership in deciding to suspend transfer tests.
  22. We hope that other Grammar schools will follow and make the right decision.
  23. It in the interests of all our children and their parents that the right decision is made and fully implemented immediately

Kieran O’Neill, Chair Catholic Principals’ Association and CPA Committee members.

Kieran O’Neill the Chair of the CPA will be joining our webinar on June 25th, book your ticket here.