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NAHT Northern Ireland

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NAHT Northern Ireland represents principals and vice-principals in around two-thirds of 1,150 schools in Northern Ireland. NAHT Northern Ireland provide advice, training and support for its members on a range of issues faced by senior leaders in schools. Along with our colleagues in England and Wales, we are there to defend and extend the rights of school leaders.  

NAHT NI is democratic and member-led, and supported by its Belfast-based team of staff alongside their colleagues based in both Wales and England.

NAHT Northern Ireland
Carnmoney House
Edgewater Office Park


02890 776633 

NAHT(NI) response to the proposal to introduce ‘hybrid system’ for academic selection as an alternative to the transfer test

NAHT(NI) stands behind the expressed NITC position that “it is simply not the case that any scores exist within primary schools to take the place of transfer this year. Primary assessments are formative and not comparable across schools” (NITC press release, Nov 2020). 

We recognise Mr Butler's effort to help provide a solution to the shameful position that many of our year seven children have been placed in by the inability of the Minister to develop timely contingency planning. 

It is, frankly, appalling that despite months of opportunity, no plan B has been provided, leaving many children and their parents in a wholly avoidable crisis. It must be noted that many within the primary sector have suspected for a long time that no genuine attempt to find any alternative process for these children has been made. 

The information that Mr Butler refers to is data that schools routinely share with parents (if it is available) and are free to furnish to parents should they request it, to inform as to progress in learning. Primary principals will, however, have no part to play in anyone’s decision to use such information for any other purpose and will not be held accountable for such inappropriate application.  

The proposal suggests using two forms of information held by primary schools: standardised assessments and practice papers for the transfer test process. At the outset, it is our opinion that primary principals routinely share this information with parents and, in the normal course of things, provide such information to parents to support the transition from primary schools through the 'Special Circumstances' processes. 

Standardised assessments

Primary schools administer standardised assessments in English and maths every year. It must be noted, however, that:

  • standardised assessments are diagnostic, designed to support learning and teaching, and are never to be used for such high-stakes summative assessment
  • there is no equity in how these assessments have been administered
  • due to covid-19, and the fact that these assessments are generally administered in May/June each year, many schools do not have standardised data from after year five
  • while primary school principals will happily supply any standardised assessment data to parents (if they haven't already done so as a matter of course), no primary principal will stand over its appropriateness for this purpose.  
Practice transfer tests

It is often (but not always) the case that primary schools run practice assessments in preparation for the AQE and PPTC assessments, only to support their children. It must be noted, however, that:

  • as the official past papers and the commercially available practice papers are publicly available and regularly used by parents and tutors outside of school, there can be no guarantee of the robustness of any score 
  • there is no equity in how these assessments are administered, or indeed marked
  • practice tests are carried out at different times in different schools, negating any comparability
  • there is limited (if any) reliability and validity between commercially available practice assessments and official past papers so comparability is extremely questionable
  • while primary school principals will happily supply any such data to parents (and generally do, when special circumstances are applied), no primary principal will stand over its appropriateness for this purpose.  

It rests entirely with the boards of governors of those schools that use the academic selection as a criterion in their admission processes to determine if they can stand over the legalities presented by Mr Butler's proposal. Simply speaking, primary principals will not.

First published 07 January 2021


First published 07 January 2021

Recent consultations and other documents

NITC joint letter to management side

The five teacher unions in Northern Ireland, including NAHT(NI), wrote to the employers seeking additional payment to school leaders and teaching staff who worked significant additional hours during summer 2021 in order to ensure this work was recognised.


Consultation on deferring school starting age: NAHT(NI) draft response

We are concerned at the advancement of this proposal as the evidential basis for this consultation is highly limited. We contend that the current proposal should be retracted. The proposal fails to reflect the experience of pupils, school leaders, parents and the whole school community. Given the significance of this potential policy change, it is essential that the perspectives of all stakeholders are considered. We know that members are operating in a business-critical environment and will have limited or no time to engage with consultation exercises, however, we encourage members to consider responding to this important consultation and copy our response to complete your individual response.


Previous consultation responses and statements

First published 08 April 2020