Coronavirus: NI schools ‘don’t need formal approval’ to drop 2020 transfer test

Image copyright PA Image caption Unofficial transfer tests have been used by schools since the

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Unofficial transfer tests have been used by schools since the abolition of the 11-plus in 2008

Schools that abandoned the transfer test to select pupils in 2021 do not need formal approval from the education minister for the move.

That confirmation came in a letter to schools from the minister himself, Peter Weir.

He said he had made the decision due to “the current difficult circumstances that schools are operating in”.

Mr Weir also said the change being for one year only also factored into the decision.

Meanwhile, Thornhill College in Londonderry is to close for one week due to a “rising number” of positive Covid-19 cases.

Eleven Catholic grammar schools and the integrated school Lagan College have said they will not use the tests to admit pupils in 2021.

However, the majority of grammar schools will continue to use the tests for admissions.

The transfer tests have been delayed by about two months and are due to take place in January 2021.

But 12 schools have said that, due to potential disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, they will use alternative arrangements to admit pupils for one year.

As they were making a significant change to their admissions procedures, it was possible they would have to bring forward a development proposal for the move.

Development proposal ‘not required’

A development proposal is a statutory process that has to take place when there are plans to make significant changes to schools.

It is used, for instance, when there are plans to close a school or to increase or decrease pupil numbers.

It involves a formal consultation by the Department of Education (DE) and the final decision on the planned change is then made by the education minister.

Mr Weir has now written to the schools who are not using transfer tests to admit pupils in 2021 to tell them the change does not require a development proposal.

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Peter Weir said a development proposal was not required for schools that have axed the test for this year

He said the department had researched the impact of the schools’ move.

Mr Weir told the schools that no formal development proposal was needed “due to the temporary nature of your decision as this is restricted to one year only and taking account of the current difficult circumstances that schools are operating in, created by the Covid-19 pandemic and the potential impact on the children who will be applying to attend your schools”.

“However, should your school decide to make the removal of academic selection a permanent change a development proposal would then be required,” the minister concluded.

Since the 2020/21 school year began in late August, a significant number of schools have had to send groups of pupils home to self-isolate following positive Covid-19 cases among pupils or staff.

Some schools have had to close to pupils for a day or more due to levels of staff absence or the need to get advice from the Public Health Agency (PHA) on self-isolation.

On Sunday, Thornhill College said it would deliver virtual teaching to pupils for a week before reopening on Monday 19 October.

Foyle College, meanwhile, has said that pupils in years 11, 13 and 14 will be taught online for a week from Monday.

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