Below is the text of an article submitted by The Parental Alliance for Choice in Education to the Belfast Newsletter on Monday 20th February. It is worthwhile noting that a senior Newsletter journalist spent two and a half hours with the author trying to come up with reasons not to publish a story that the following Monday would be dominating the BBC Northern Ireland newscasts and a two page spread in the Belfast Telegraph.

Peter Weir, DUP Education Minister was always intended to be the beneficiary of a claim that AQE & PPTC were making progress towards a single transfer test.Weir’s appointee Professor Peter Tymms had suggested in his report, made available to the BBC, but not the public, that three 11+ plus transfer tests be taken on one day.

Think about the stressful implications of this suggestion before you cast a vote in the Assembly Election today

THe text of the original unpublished letter.

Professor Peter Tymms of Durham University and his team were engaged by the DUP Education Minister, Peter Weir, to explore the possibilities for a single transfer test to replace the current AQE/GL hybrid.  The AQE test is used by “state” grammar schools, while the GL test is used – in the main – to determine admission to Catholic grammars.  The Tymms report has serious implications for parents intending to send their children to a state grammar.

If the Tymms report is implemented, the current AQE arrangement of three tests taken on different days (with the best two used to determine the published AQE score) will be replaced by three tests taken on a single Saturday.  Multiple choice grids will replace the AQE practice of the child simply writing his or her answer on the test paper.  It would also appear that children seeking a place at a state grammar school will no longer have access to past papers.

In 2006, the Times Higher Education reported that Professor Tymms’ research had attracted criticism from Prime Minister, Secretary of State for Education, and the head of the Office for Standards in Education.  The Times Higher Education highlighted David Blunkett’s counsel that no one “with the slightest common sense” could possibly take seriously research by Peter Tymms.

Professor Tymms had a leadership role in the design of CCEA’s ill-fated InCAS tests.  To quote the Belfast Telegraph of 05.01.12: “The Department of Education has confirmed that the InCAS contract, which expires on January 19, has not been renewed.  InCAS was administered at a total cost of £3 million by the University of Durham’s Centre for Evaluating and Monitoring (CEM).”

In his report for Peter Weir, Professor Tymms and colleagues seem to draw on modern psychometrics ( the field in psychology and education that is devoted to testing) to somehow justify the preferred model of three tests on the same day.  Joel Michell has devoted much of his professional life to an in-depth analysis, presented in books and peer-reviewed articles, of psychometrics.  He comes to the conclusion that psychometrics is “a pathological science.”

One simple illustration of the validity of Michell’s claim is that psychometrics treats the central concept of “ability” as a state.  Surely ability is a capacity rather than a state?  If someone at the Department of Education or CCEA had been alert to this curious interpretation of ability in the standard measurement model, maybe £3 million wouldn’t have been lost to the public purse.

Getting down to practicalities, Peter Weir must, without delay, tell voters whether he accepts or rejects the model proposed in the report compiled by Professor Tymms and his colleagues.  After all, these academics were paid from the public purse; the report should be public property.

The AQE test has functioned without error since 2009.  It has strikingly high approval ratings from parents, and, most importantly, 40 to 50% of pupils on Free School Meals who take the AQE test, secure scores which will admit them to grammar school.

Those thousands of parents who wish to send their child to a state grammar must know, without further delay, the DUP’s unequivocal position on this important matter.


Stephen Elliott