This year’s post-primary transfer tests have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however many selective grammar schools have indicated that they may use transfer tests to admit pupils to year 8 in 2022. Bangor mum and #BringItBackToPrimary campaign organiser Naomi McBurney believes that while academic selection will remain a contentious issue for many, we must consider where we are now and put the children who face it in their immediate future at the heart of decisions about what happens next…

I have been campaigning for one year now and although the world is a very different place, the message of #BringItBackToPrimary has not changed. In fact, it is maybe now of more significance than it ever was at the beginning in January 2020.

The education landscape is different. Most children have missed approximately 115 out of 190 days of face-to-face teaching, for some who had to isolate it is more. P7 children expecting to sit unregulated transfer tests, have experienced what can only be described as a complete nightmare. Some selective schools suspending academic selection, test preparation that extended over the Christmas holidays, the worry of mixed bubbles at large test events and the subsequent complete cancellation of tests leaving unfair and discriminatory criteria. P7 children and their parents, with the guidance of their primary school, are currently trying to navigate a challenging terrain of alternative criteria. Those with siblings already at the school of their choice are on the home straight, those without are feeling extremely overwhelmed and disadvantaged against their peers.

Disadvantage is not an alien concept when it comes to unregulated transfer tests, and this has only increased as blended learning continues and children experience a wide variation in their school at home encounters. As P7 children navigate through the post-primary entrance criteria published this month, thoughts turn to P6 children.

“As we stand with our P7 children facing disadvantage through alternative criteria, we must remember the current P6 children hot on their heels.”

In any normal year, nine and 10-year-old children would now be starting to prepare for the AQE and/or GL tests. The grueling process for many begins after Christmas as they gear up for tests in November of their P7 year. The uncertainty they have witnessed unfold for their P7 peers, is causing anxiety and stress. As we stand with our P7 children facing disadvantage through alternative criteria, we must remember the current P6 children hot on their heels.

Most selective grammar schools have already indicated they are committed to academic selection and intend to revert to transfer tests for their September 2022 intake. Education Minister Peter Weir has also not been shy in his support for academic selection and the lack of political will to change the legal right of selective grammar schools to adopt this method. So where does that leave our P6 children?

There is an opportunity to ease the pressure and do something positive for them. Nothing replaces the security a child feels in their home primary – and while tests continue every child deserves the right to that security. It requires forward planning, but it is reasonable and achievable. While selective grammar schools continue to use academic selection, it is an integral part of our education system, ideological positions cannot, and simply should not, take precedence over the right of all children to take part in this system. By working together with selective grammar schools, primary schools could host the AQE and GL tests. The needs of children should be paramount and as it stands, under the current system of post-primary transfer testing, they are bottom of the list. There is time to do the right thing and consider the needs of all children at the centre of the system.

Conversations and actions to move away from academic selection, should and will take place. However, while the tests exist and our education system remains in its current state, there is room for serious improvements. Differences must be set aside to ease the pressure and anxiety associated with uncertainty.

The #BringItBackToPrimary petition managed to gain over 7,000 signatures and although regrettable timing, the Education Minister declared his support for this move. He now needs to go one step further and provide clarity to all primary schools about what hosting tests means for them and make this happen for all children facing these tests. Let’s keep the momentum going and while tests exist, do the right thing for every child wanting to take part. The next step for the campaign has now begun with a proposal to the Education Minister which sets out how he can #SupportEveryChild and #BringItBackToPrimary.

You can find the petition at

Read Naomi’s Open Letter to Peter Weir, Minister for Education here AN OPEN LETTER TO THE EDUCATION MINISTER (Proposal)

Read The Education Minister’s reply letter here Response letter from the Minister of Education dated 18 February 2021

Read Naomi’s Open Letter to AQE Ltd & PPTC here Open letter to AQE and PPTC dated 24 Feb


Nadia Duncan

Author: Nadia Duncan


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