Another post-primary school has opted out of using academic selection for their intake of pupils for 2021, due to the upheaval around the coronavirus pandemic.

Lagan College in Belfast has issued a letter to parents and carers of P6 pupils to confirm the decision.

It also outlined that the school would not be used as a GL Assessment Centre or an overflow AQE Assessment Centre this year.

The letter said the decision had been taken after “much, careful deliberation” and “in response to the exceptional circumstances that the P6 children are experiencing and on well-being grounds”.

One or both of two privately commissioned tests are currently used by schools that select their intake pupils on the basis of academic ability.

They are provided by the Association for Quality Education and the Post-Primary Transfer Consortium and have this year been delayed by just two weeks due to Covid-19.

  • AQE tests: 21 November, 28 November, 12 December 2020

  • PPTC tests: 5 December 2020

Schools have been closed throughout lockdown, except in limited cases where pupils have needed to attend as their parents are key workers.

However, the transfer tests will go ahead in late November and early December.

The latest opt-out comes after five Catholic grammar schools in Co Down all announced that they would not use academic selection.

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

Calls have been made for the transfer tests not to go ahead, including by the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland Archbishop Eamon Martin and Children’s Commissioner Koulla Yiasouma.

Meanwhile, principals from the 24 schools in the North Down Primary Principals’ Group have also expressed concern about the impact tests could have on children after the upheaval of lockdown.

In an open letter, they said they did not think normal academic tests should be carried out in “these abnormal circumstances”, especially given the possibility of a second Covid-19 wave in the autumn.

The normal educational experiences, teaching and learning which Year 6 and 7 pupils would have had pre-academic selection tests is evidently impossible.

North Down Primary Principals’ Group

The letter reads: “Each pupil’s emotional and mental well-being is vitally important to us and the added pressure of sitting academic selection tests in November and December is inevitably adding to the stress normally associated with these tests.

“Anxiety levels are already raised in Year 6 homes across our country and this is reflected in the volume of calls, posts and emails from parents directed to teachers and principals in the primary sector.

We are very concerned that much of the debate around these tests has focused on organisations such as the Education Authority (EA), the Association for Quality Education (AQE), the Post Primary Transfer Consortium(PPTC) and the Department of Education (DE).

“The focus for us is on the children and what is in their best interests.”

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