Dear Year 7 parents,
Last week the Minister of Education asked grammar schools to reconsider their admissions criteria in light of the cancellation of this year’s AQE and GL tests. They are to submit new criteria to the Department of Education by Friday, for publication on the 2 February. Secondary school admissions criteria remain unchanged.
As yet we have received no substantive information from grammar schools regarding any proposed changes, but assure parents that:
We will notify you as soon as the new criteria are published.
We will support you and your child throughout this transfer process.
When grammar schools publish their new criteria on 2 February, you should read through them with a fine-tooth comb.
There are three possible routes grammar schools may follow:
1. Use of non-academic criteria:
Such criteria may include – having siblings currently enrolled, sibling or parent previously attended, attending the prep, first preference, having registered to sit AQE/GL test, eldest/only child, distance from school, etc.
2. Use of academic performance data
Some schools are considering the use of standardised test scores and AQE/GL practice scores. Such data exists in most, if not all, primary schools, but there are serious concerns about the reliability of this data across all schools.
We hold data relating to PTE, PTM & CAT4 standardised scores and practice test data from last term. I believe Miss Daly has already provided parents with the children’s standardised scores. Parents have the right to access this data if it is required to support an application. Such academic data will not be requested by non-selective secondary schools.
If academic data is requested other non-academic criteria may still be applied to help grammar schools determine placements.
3. Entrance Exams:
There is a slim possibility that individual grammar schools could set their own entrance tests. However, this would seem unlikely given the limited timeframe and would run contrary to current public health advice.
Digital Application Process:
This year, for the first time, the post-primary application process is to be completed online, which will throw up undoubted challenges. This is true whether children are applying to secondary schools, grammar schools or both. We will be here to help and advise.
In previous years primary principals met with parents to assist with the completion of the transfer form. This year, before you complete your online application I will be available either via telephone or Zoom to provide advice. More information to follow.
The application process runs from 1 – 16 March 2021. This provides a window within which your child’s application should be submitted.
Please note applications are not accepted on a first-come-first-served basis, so you have time to consider all of your options.
Parental guidance concerning the application process will be published on 2 February 2021 on the EA website.
Charting a way forward:
Spring term is always one of uncertainty mixed with hope for our Year 7 pupils and parents. Uncertainty and hopes, around AQE and GL scores and future post-primary school placements. This is true every year for pupils who are taking transfer tests or not. However, this January, events beyond our control have overtaken us and left us all with a sense of bewilderment and confusion. These feelings are perfectly natural.
Nevertheless, in this quagmire of uncertainty, we must continue to reassure our children and to reinforce key messages:
Many things in life are beyond our control. Focusing on these ‘uncontrollables’ feeds anxiety and is always unproductive. This year we do not yet know the precise method by which grammar schools will select children. This is beyond our control and influence.
However, we can prepare for things we can’t control. For example, we cannot control the rain but we can prepare by wearing a waterproof etc. We can begin to prepare for a new transfer process.
I have already written at length about the emotional wellbeing of our children and of the importance of having open, honest and realistic conversations with them. They are like little boats cast adrift on a sea of uncertainty. As adults, we need to take control of the rudder and anchor our children in a safe haven until the storm eases and the way ahead becomes a little clearer. This is not easy but is first-class parenting.
We must begin to make serious preparations for the next phase in our children’s journey. Things will become clearer.
Points to consider:
1. The 2020/21 test is gone; and whilst we acknowledge the children’s disappointment, they/we must move on, because this is beyond their/our control.
2. The hard work and effort our children have put into preparation for AQE/GL is not in vain and will help them get off to a great start in Yr8.
3. Grammar schools have been asked to set new criteria. This is beyond their/our control.
4. We must be patient and wait until 2 February for the new criteria to be officially published. You will then be in a better position to decide upon your preferences.
5. Irrespective of which type of school children are applying to, you need a plan a, b, c and d. This is important every year, but even more so this year.
6. Please don’t let your child set their heart on one particular school; always discuss various options with them. And, parents please don’t set your heart on a particular school either. Can you imagine how crushing it is when a child feels they have let their parents down by not getting into a certain school!
7. Attainment is important, of course it is; but it is not all-important! When listing your school choices consider your child's needs, aptitudes, interests and disposition. Find out about the school’s pastoral care, learning support, ethos, after school activities etc. Ask yourself if your child will be happy and thrive in that school environment.
8. It is vitally important that pupils who are applying for grammar school places also include secondary school choices on the application. Not all children who apply to grammar schools are accepted.
9. Criteria are not always fair. It is simply impossible to come up with a set of criteria that in elevating one application do not diminish another. Rage as we might, we cannot change our child’s date of birth or address – these things are beyond our control.
10. We understand that they may have a preference for one school over another, but each year, while many children gain admission to their first-choice schools a significant number of pupils do not. This will also be true this year and our children need to be prepared for this possibility.
11. Schools of all types, grammars included, have always made use of some non-academic criteria to select pupils. (Remember this is how your children were placed in primary and pre-school.)
12. The same number of post-primary places exists, and all places will be filled.
13. We have many excellent schools in our area, both secondary and grammar.
14. The curriculum studied, exams taken, and opportunities offered in secondary and grammar schools are very similar.
15. In our area, children who attend both types of post-primary school do exceptionally well in exams and go on to develop the skills, aptitudes, character and values that enable them to live happy and fulfilled lives.
I know that this is a particularly difficult time for everyone, and I am not foolish enough to think there is an easy fix, but please be assured that together we will chart a pathway through this debacle. Be calm and reassuring and please do not let your children sense your anxiety. Our children will enrol in new schools in September and with a will to succeed and unwavering support, they will achieve their full potential.
We will get through this; ‘This too shall pass!’