`Brutal' tests under attack from heads

4th November 1994 at 00:00
Disquiet has emerged over Ulster's 11-plus exams, report Noel McAdam and Paul McGill. Primary heads in Northern Ireland have already fiercely criticised the revised 11-plus tests, taken by more than 18,000 children last month, which are designed to test know-ledge of English, maths and science. They claim they were too wordy, ambiguous, poorly differentiated and unfair to pupils, especially boys.

Roy Wright, principal of Ebrington primary school, said the test was brutal. The one-hour test covered 22 pages of text and demanded a high level of concentration and total application.

John Platt, head of Broughshane primary school, complained that the test was very heavily language-based. "There is no feel-good question in the test, nothing pupils could be sure they had got right. Some questions seem to have been set by people who have not been in primary schools since they were 11, because they require adult interpretation.

"Other questions are directly linked with the statements of attainment, even though we have been told to teach the programmes of study. We are moving towards English, mathematics and science dominating the curriculum. The grammar school lobby is dictating what happens because they want the results early, but no pupil in Northern Ireland could have completed what they needed to know to succeed in this test," Mr Platt said.

"I'm adamant this paper will not adequately differentiate pupils apart from the top 2 per cent and the bottom pupils and it will work against boys, who are less verbal than girls at this age."

Dr John Johnston, who taught in primary schools for 20 years and is now a lecturer in education at Queen's University, Belfast, doubted whether this test would help to decide the suitability of pupils for grammar school. "If a test is very easy or very difficult it does not produce the distribution needed, which makes it difficult to take decisions around the borderline."

"The layout was also more difficult this year because there are sections on mathematics, then English and science. This format is repeated in the second half of the paper, which means 11 of the science questions are at the end of the paper, discriminating against people with a forte in science.

"In addition, some questions required one answer for a mark, while one required all five answers to be correct to gain a mark. I think this is a dreadful test altogether," Dr Johnston said.

Tom McKee, regional official of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "The 11-plus test is well beyond its sell-by date. They should have abolished selection long ago," he added.

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