Transfer test results spark fresh mass protest

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Principals at Tyrone and Armagh’s Catholic Primary Schools have joined forces to hit out at the unregulated transfer test in an unprecedented show of strength.

The forty-five head teachers, including twenty-five from the Dungannon District, have slammed the exam as ‘educationally unsound’ and ‘fundamentally unfair’.

Their comments come as local grammars send out this year’s transfer test results. An estimated 354 pupils in the Dungannon District are waiting to discover if they will be granted entry to the Catholic grammar school of their choice.

The head-teachers, who have grouped under the title Armagh Cookstown Dungannon Primary Principals, have vowed to escalate their protest, and are meeting the Archbishop Eamon Martin tonight (Tuesday) to demand more action.

The teachers laid the blame for the transfer chaos squarely at the grammar schools in the Armagh Archdiocese which have continued with the unregulated exams.

“The responsibility for this secret testing and its awful outworkings rests solely with four grammar schools in the archdiocese of Armagh”, said a spokesperson for the campaign group.

“If this secretive and unregulated testing process is to continue let those responsible for it justify it publicly.

“Let them not use the cover of ‘Post-Primary Consortium’. It is not good enough for those with responsibility to sit on fences or to want to wait for others to jump. What is happening is morally, socially and educationally indefensible.

“We call now for leadership, actions, not words, from Archbishop Eamon Martin, from the Commission for Catholic Education and from all with responsibility in Catholic schools to see an end to this continued unregulated, unfair and secret system of rejection and selection of our young people.

“Yes, politics and politicians have a role. But it is not good enough for those with responsibility to use this as a cover for inertia and inaction in some Catholic schools.”

The Northern Ireland Commission for Catholic Education issued a powerful and positive vision statement in June 2009.

At that time, as a group of 39 primary school principals, we fully endorsed and supported that vision that called for an end to ‘academic selection’ by 2012.

The vision did not happen. The Commission restated its vision again in 2012, calling on schools to have moved away from selection by testing by September 2014.

We continued to support the vision set out. That also has not happened.

In 2009 we stated our belief that continued, unregulated testing was educationally unsound, fundamentally unfair and completely contrary to the widely proclaimed, inclusive Catholic ethos.

This has proved to be so. In the past 5 years, we have involved ourselves in discussions with the Catholic hierarchy, with the Catholic Commission, with Trustees, Governors, with politicians and others.

At no time has anyone advanced an argument to justify ‘academic selection’.

The responsibility for this secret testing and its awful outworkings rests solely with 4 grammar schools in the archdiocese of Armagh.

Do we want to be fair to our young people - or not? Do we believe in equal, open access to highest quality education for all - or not? Do we believe in an inclusive Catholic ethos - or not?

We, a group of 45 Catholic primary school principals, answer a resounding yes to all of these questions.