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Catholic Bishop calls school transfer test 'big business' amid debate as to whether the exam should go ahead

by Premier Journalist

The Bishop of Derry has joined the conversation as to whether the school transfer test should take place this year for Northern Ireland grammar schools.

Speaking on the BBC's Sunday Politics Northern Ireland programme, Dr Donal McKeown, referred to the test process, run by private companies as "big business."

The Post-Primary Transfer Consortium (PPTC) which does not charge for entry to its process has cancelled its tests in 2021. However, another company, the Association for Quality Education (AQE), said it would test children next month, with one test in a single sitting rather than the usual series of exams. It costs £55 for a child to take the AQE test.

Bishop McKeown said: "AQE would have about 9,000 pupils applying this year... that's half a million pounds coming in to run a business. And let's say you work on the assumption that parents are spending maybe £250 on tutoring - there's another £2.5m."

"When business becomes a major element in educational decisions I think, perhaps, we've lost the point, which is why the public education system has to be focused on doing the best for the largest number of people and not just promoting a system which benefits those who can pay entrance fees and fork out for tutors."

"It can end up ceasing to be primarily a test of academic ability and more become a measure of those who are financially able," he added.

The AQE told BBC News NI that schools using its test believed the process was the "fairest way of allocating grammar school places".

Bishop McKeown, who's the former head of St Malachy's College in Belfast, said he and Archbishop Eamon Martin had spoken out last May about the need for grammar schools to consider a different way of transfer in 2021.

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