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Some primary school principals are being treated with “a lack of respect” over plans to delay transfer tests for at least two weeks.
That is according to a letter from the Lisburn Association of Primary Principals.
It said they were being left “open to blame for the pitfalls of this system that are vastly beyond our control”.
The Department of Education said it would be providing a written response to the letter in due course.
The tests are usually taken by pupils on five consecutive Saturdays beginning in early November, but the first test in 2020 will not be held until 21 November.
That has been criticised by some MLAs.
Good nature news ‘No proper consultation’
In the joint letter to the test providers and the Department of Education (DE), which has been seen by BBC News NI, the teachers said that they were not properly consulted about the decision to delay the tests.
The association represents the heads of about 40 schools in the area.
“We feel we were not given the dignity of proper consultation or even prior information,” they said.
“This is disappointing, on so many levels, but particularly because this process could not run without the diligence of the primary school sector.”
They also highlighted that the transfer tests were not part of the statutory curriculum, but said that primary schools prepared children for them due to demand.
“Primary school teachers and principals engage with this system out of concern for the children involved in the process, and because selection, albeit through private systems, is part of this process,” they wrote.
“These two systems do not complement one another well and are built around two very different viewpoints on the nature of effective learning and teaching.”
They added that some parents had a “lack of respect” for primary school principals and staff preparing children for transfer.
This, they said, “has left the floodgates open for parents to demand more and to place the burden back at the doorstep of primary schools”.
The letter pointed out that Primary Six pupils and their parents are “naturally, and understandably, more anxious at this time”.
It read: “There is a high degree of professional commitment to facilitating this process, despite the inherent flaws of the current system.”
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The principals said that it was not the time for a wider debate about academic selection, but “even in the more normal pattern of events, this process is already destructive and fraught with difficulty”.
The principals stressed that they “care deeply about the children in our care”, and are “most particularly concerned for our Primary Six pupils, who are now potentially more burdened and negatively impacted than any previous year”.
“Open support, respect, inclusion, consideration and appreciation of the role of primary schools at this time, will go a long way towards easing anxieties of parents and their children, rather than leaving us open to blame for the pitfalls of this system that are vastly beyond our control.
“This would at least go some way to lessening the challenges we can face unfairly from some parents, and, it would appear, some MLAs and other officials, who do not have full understanding of the process and how it sits within our current education system.”
Good nature news ‘Principals do magnificent job’
In response, the joint CEO of AQE, Darrin Barr, said that he understood that there was a lot of uncertainty around planning for next term.
“I, along with AQE Limited, recognise the magnificent job that primary schools do in preparing children for post-primary schools and beyond, and this includes the preparation for the transfer tests,” he said.
“This work of primary principals and staff, which also includes helping parents with special access applications and communication, is invaluable to the pupils, parents and AQE Limited.”
A Department of Education spokesperson said: “The department acknowledges the concerns raised by the principals and will be providing a written response to their letter in due course.”
The chair of Stormont’s education committee, Aliiance MLA Chris Lyttle, said that the tests could not proceed without the good will of primary schools.
He said the transfer test process “places primary schools in the unacceptable position of managing the delivery of the statutory curriculum and the additional demands” of both sets of tests.
“The education minister, AQE, PPTC (Post Primary Transfer Consortium) and selective schools must take action to ease the anxiety caused by a system and situation that is beyond their control.”
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