Schools are criticised over their handling of AQE test situation

Some pupils in Lisburn are being forced to travel to Dungannon to sit the AQE test.
Some pupils in Lisburn are being forced to travel to Dungannon to sit the AQE test.

Grammar schools have been criticised for failing to provide adequate places for pupils wishing to sit the AQE test.

The Star recently reported how a number of local P7 pupils were faced with travelling to Dungannon to sit their AQE test due to a lack of places in Lisburn.

Eleven additional places were then provided by Wallace High School to accommodate P7 pupils, meaning they didn’t have to make the 60 mile round trip.

However the Chair of the Parental Alliance for Choice in Education group (which says it represents the interests of parents) Mr Stephen Elliott, has voiced concerns over the handling of the situation.

He claimed the source of the problem rested with some voluntary grammar schools involved in the AQE testing.

“While schools sought to reassure parents via ‘additional places’ for this year’s pupils they inadvertently revealed the source of the problem; the unilateral limits imposed by some AQE schools in accommodating primary school children whom they crave as Year 8 pupils next September,” he said.

“It challenges credulity to suggest that schools with an average daily attendance of around 1,000 cannot cope with those children they seek as future pupils.

“Unless there is an unadmitted lack of availability of suitably trained teachers required to invigilate the exams and provide the duty of care when primary pupils are taking tests?

“What confidence could parents have in a school with such a lack of commitment?

“What a conflicting message to send to any prospective pupil.

“Equally worrying were the statements given by Stephen Connolly, on behalf of AQE when he attempted to excuse the unilateral actions of some test centers.

“His quote ‘we can only work within the constraints imposed by the limited resources of schools…’ makes clear that AQE are content to allow the tail to wag the dog without clearly placing responsibility on their member schools.

“When the AQE CEA tests became available to all grammar schools nine years ago in response to the ending of the CCEA 11-plus assurances were eagerly made by those grammars wishing to become AQE test centers.

“This included commitment to a set of instructions outlined in recognized best practice for high stakes testing.

“It is evident that some grammars are flouting such rules.

“AQE are culpable in failing to adequately audit compliance by schools and are unnecessarily creating the impression of instability within the testing process.

Mr Elliott added: “The Parental Alliance calls for the immediate introduction by AQE of a Code of Practice addressing standards for quality and fairness.

“Such a code must include specific standards addressing the provision of access.

“Parents and children deserve an immediate return to stability; the teaching staff of involved schools must deliver on behalf of their prospective pupils.

“Politicians, inactive in government, have quickly latched upon this issue as a problem to justify a return to Stormont.

“The Parental Alliance for Choice in Education are pleased to offer a solution without their interference.”

The Star contacted Wallace High School for a response but they declined to comment.