TRANSFER TESTING IN SCHOOLS IN JANUARY 2021 MAY BE CHALLENGED
KRW LAW LLP (KRW) is instructed by a member The Post-Primary Transfer Test Coronavirus Concern Group, a body of P7 parents who are concerned about the continued plans of providers AQE Ltd and PPTC and participating selective grammar schools which plan to host and organise the post-primary transfer tests throughout January 2021.
Our client has been in contact with the Department of Education (DE) , Public Health Agency (PHA), various MLAs and Teaching Union representatives to seek clarification on the current policy in this matter and the most recent regulations and guidelines to the test providers (Association for Quality Education Ltd (AQE) and the Post-Primary Transfer Consortium (PPTC).
Our client maintains that she is neither anti-selection or anti-testing or anti-grammar school but that during the current pandemic testing at primary school age should be abandoned in favour of safer methods of selection including recommendation by teachers and parental decision-making application of non-academic criteria as outlined by the DE’s advice in circular 1996/24 to the category of children already enrolled in the AQE and GL tests.
“Parents, in general, know their children and get a certain level of counsel from their child’s teachers during the academic year so most children already enrolled in the test should be adept for any of the schools they are applying to. I also believe schools and teachers are very capable of educating and supporting any of the children who have applied to their schools in 2021.
Given the lack of direct classroom learning and disruption most children have faced in recent months; and the ongoing restrictions needed to control the incidence and transmission levels of COVID-19, it is regrettable that the Education Minister has not already scoped out alternatives to testing for this one extraordinary year.
Allowing grant-aided schools and private providers to organise upwards of 100 separate test events throughout Northern Ireland, across four consecutive Saturdays in January, at the height of a pandemic, during peak flu season does not seem to be in keeping with the essence of the public health regulations.
Participation in the tests require some parents to travel significant distances to bring their children to test centres that are not their usual primary school setting; to sit in rooms for a prolonged period with pupils from other schools and class bubbles.
Parents have asked for risk assessments from their test centres but very few have provided them. The ones we have seen lack detail, for example on any quantitative measurements of the individual school venues and the resulting limits on capacity, or requirements for air exchange and ventilation. I am not even sure why grant-aided schools are taking this level of specialist health and safety advice from unregulated, private providers like AQE Ltd.”.
Our client understands that transfer tests are not compulsory but that a child cannot currently apply to a selective grammar school which is using academic selection without doing the test unless there is a special circumstance.
She will argue that non-academic selection should be applied to children who have applied to sit the test:
“There are parents in our concern group whose children have survived heart surgeries and childhood cancers; some have clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) family members at home. Other children are anxious about coronavirus and have sacrificed so much to stay safe. They cannot understand why, suddenly, mixing with large groups of children in unfamiliar settings is deemed safe”
Speaking on behalf of KRW, Chris Doran said:
“As with other aspects of the current Covid-19 pandemic crisis, including the regulation of care homes, support for the fiscal newly self-employed and restrictions on the right to work in some sectors, the issue raised by our client is the safety of children, their families and communities in a very unstable and unpredictable health environment. The mutated strain of the virus could introduce the need for far tougher restrictions. To put the safety of children and communities at risk to accommodate some grammar schools in their selection process is questionable where other selection processes are available. The stance of the Department of Education and other agencies may be unreasonable and irrational which would be possible grounds for a legal challenge”