As School Principals and Chairs of Boards of Governors, you have had to find alternative ways to educate and support your pupils. You have also become involved in and will need to operate, a new system to arrive at GCSE, AS and A Level Grades – a situation which is not ideal but which properly administered, may be the best solution under the circumstances.
It is likely that school gates will be opening in ‘stages’ in September. It is the children who will be starting Primary 7 that I am focusing on in this letter, the children you would be looking forward to welcoming in 2021*. I am deeply concerned that you decided to maintain academic selection in its current form for the next academic year. Based on the announcement made by AQE and PPTC, these children will be expected to take tests a matter of weeks after returning to school on a staged basis following a 5 ½ month absence.
You know, better than I, the first term (if not longer) after returning to school will be very different from any other. We have not been able to fully assess the educational activity of school-aged children and young people during the ‘lockdown’ and it is likely that some children may have had little or no education as many parents and carers have struggled to home educate their children for many reasons including the lack of IT equipment.
Additionally, it is uncertain how prepared for formal education these children will be. In the recently published ‘Covid-19 Mental Health Response Plan’, the Department of Health anticipates a ‘surge’ of referrals to child and adolescent mental health services as it believes that the global pandemic has resulted in further challenges for children and young people. It cannot be considered appropriate to add further stress to some children by expecting them to take a test that will decide the future of their educational career.Therefore, the first months back to school should be centred on assessing children’s educational needs and their emotional well-being.
Many parents have been in contact with NICCY seeking our support in asking schools to consider suspending the test and finding another way. I do not under-estimate the challenges of doing this but am confident that by undertaking a collaborative piece of work with your education colleagues and parents, you will find an innovative and creative solution which is in the best interests of children. It is the responsibility of Boards of Governors to address this issue and to modify your admissions criteria in such a way as to avoid putting children through this additional stress at this uniquely difficult time.
Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People
Note to Editors