Unofficial 11-plus tests are branding pupils as failures


Unofficial 11-plus tests in Northern Ireland mean thousands of children are starting their secondary school career labelled as “failures”.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) is calling for an end to the use of unregulated transfer tests by schools in the North.

The union used its annual northern conference in Derry at the weekend to appeal for an end to the North’s selective education system.

Delegates also heard concerns raised about the recently published Audit Office report on standards of literacy and numeracy in the North’s secondary schools.

By age 16, two in five pupils fail to reach satisfactory standards in English and maths.

INTO senior official Brendan Harron says if children do so well in primary compared to secondary – “what goes wrong between the ages of 11 and 16?”.

The answer, he says, is simple. He continued: “Unregulated tests label the majority of our 11-year-olds as ‘failures’, send them to schools that are labelled as ‘second class’ and then wonder why these children’s standards fall.”

Grammar schools have been running their own unofficial 11-plus-style entrance tests since 2009, after the previous state-sponsored exam was scrapped.

While overall pupil numbers are falling, the number of children at grammar schools remains roughly the same, meaning non-grammar post-primaries are more likely to struggle to fill their places.

“If we really want to see the high standards at age 11 maintained and improved upon, we should end the scourge of academic selection at 11,” Mr Harron added.

“Research has demonstrated that, in those countries where academic selection has been abandoned, more socially balanced intakes to post-primary schools have led to an improvement in standards for all pupils, with no detrimental effect on the brightest pupils.”

It is expected that grammars in the Catholic sector will begin to phase out selection, leading to the creation of a network of all-abilities schools over the next few years.


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