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The descent into chaos for the Northern Ireland education system continues to plumb new depths. Many parents and their children are feeling the effects of the bends as they are dragged recklessly from regulation to deregulation and back again towards regulation.


If parents are considering which test is offered by their school of choice then the answer may be one, the other or both!


The Parental Alliance for Choice in Education have issued warnings on the educationalists’ plans for many years but understandably most have chosen to rely upon school representatives for guidance and information at a local level.. Such loyalty has been sadly misplaced evidenced by the increasingly inconsistent incoherent and erroneous information passed on by principals, teachers and spokespeople for various “Associations”


In December 2007, the Royal Belfast Academical Institution (Inst) was challenged on their polite platitudes towards socially disadvantaged local boys. The school refused to provide detailed answers. In addition their contradictory simultaneous support for the AQE test of numeracy and literacy and the CCEA Pupil Profile was laid at the foot of Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, Chairman of Governors. Again no clear response was provided. Bloomfield is a  jockey out of many stables.


Recently Ballymena Academy published admission policy and aptitude test information for prospective pupils. This contingency plan for their “aptitude testing” would be implemented only in the event of an ‘unregulated’ transfer procedure – a hint of a possible move back towards regulation. The sample test items are clearly of the verbal reasoning type although the school do not indicate who provided their “contingency test” or who the chief examiner is. The guidance suggests should an acceptable alternative procedure gain the necessary support within the Northern Ireland Assembly, Ballymena Academy will comply with that procedure, their plan will not be implemented and parents will be advised accordingly.

Perhaps the Ballymena “contingency test” is similar to that of the Catholic grammar Lumen Christi. One can only wonder at why 69 schools could not agree a testing approach based on numeracy and literacy.


The most grotesque example of incoherence comes from Victoria College, the Belfast all girls grammar school in East Belfast. In the pages of the Irish News the principal, Patricia Slevin, announced:

 “ pupils will gain entry to the college on the basis of their results in either of the tests which are being provided respectively by AQE and NFER”

Perhaps Ms Slevin should make contact with the examining bodies for advice on how to equate the two tests. Did the board of governors of Victoria College actually consider the problem before offering the criteria to prospective pupils.


Why have non-denominational grammar schools eschewed tests of numeracy and literacy in favour of a discredited obsolete verbal reasoning test?

Parents are entitled to have answers. Just don’t ask Sir Ken.