The question is not whether transfer tests for admission to grammar schools should be postponed or go ahead this weekend – but rather why are they being held at all.
The headlines will focus on the potential Covid consequences, but the longer-term issues concern the fundamental principle of academic selection at 11. The 11 Plus was officially scrapped in Northern Ireland over twelve years ago but effectively became a private exam thanks to a clause in the St Andrews Agreement – signed by all five major parties.
Research and reports, like those undertaken by the United Nations experts and by educational specialists at Queen’s University and Stranmillis University College have repeatedly confirmed that academic selection reinforces “privilege and disadvantage” and recommend the end of academic selection in Northern Ireland as a key way to help in reversing educational disadvantage.
The original insistence by Education Minister Peter Weir, that schools returned as planned after the Christmas break, has to be seen as a measure designed to protect the selection process rather than public health.
It is encouraging, therefore, to hear The Newtownards and Comber Primary Principals Association openly criticise the transfer tests system as a “brutal and archaic system”.
There are many issues to be addressed in our education system, for example how it is structured and the results it produces. The continued use of academic selection at 11 is just one of them.
All those opposed to academic selection – parents, teachers, trade unions and others – must reignite this debate and pursue the complete and final abolition of this “brutal and archaic system”.