Counting the cost of the year to come

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Yes I know the school holidays have barely started but already thoughts in the Allan household, and no doubt many others, have turned to the new academic year.

This is the big one for us - the year of the transfer test. And while we haven’t firmly decided yet whether or not our 10 year old will sit the test, it is likely that he will.

So we have had to start the process, even now, of preparing our son for the ‘big day’ Before we began this process I was relatively ignorant of just how different the new transfer test process was compared to the 11 Plus (which in itself is a hazy memory of feeling sick with nerves and then getting taking to the Lep for a celebratory lunch afterwards).

This new process is, in the opinion of this stressed mammy anyway, even more horrid than its predecessor. Schools are not permitted to prepare children for the test - so the old way of learning, as it was when I was a P7, is no more. Practice tests do not make up part of the school day.

Parents must take this on themselves - and they do. In fact a commitment to put your child through the transfer process can often be costly. It’s more common than not for children to attend a tutor for exam preparation - at the cost of up to £25 an hour.

Buying practice tests is a whole other expense. I was pricing practice packs this week at up to £80 a bundle.

For children sitting the AQE exam (which is the entrance exam for Foyle College in Derry) there is also a £44 entrance fee.

Cost aside, it is the emotional toll on all involved which is toughest.

The tests fall significantly short of giving a true picture of the talents and intellect of our children.

A multiple choice paper does not show the creative thought processes of a child. It does not show how they join in classroom discussions, how they interact with their peers, how they fit into the profile of any school.

We’re told there is no alternative as yet and there is much shrugging of shoulders over what the alternative could be.

I read my son’s school report this summer.

I saw the results of his ongoing assessments - quantifiable through standardised testing in a familiar environment. I saw where his strengths and, yes his weaknesses, were outlined.

It seemed obvious. Who better to assess our children than the six or seven teachers who know how that child learns?

Is that not a fair assessment in an unfair system?