Heads hold crisis talks over exam impasse

Hugh McCarthy
Hugh McCarthy

The headmasters of the controlled post-primary schools have held crisis talks to try and solve an impasse over the timing of transfer exams.

The principals of Portadown College, Craigavon Senior High, Killicomaine, Clounagh and Tandragee junior highs met with Southern Education and Library Board (SELB) officials last week.

However, there was no resolution.

The disagreement is over the timing of the transfer exams to determine where the school leavers will move on to – Portadown College or Craigavon Senior High – and their choice of subjects.

None of the participants commented but one source said, “It was agreed that the board would make the final decision, and the principals would adhere to it.”

It is understood that the senior highs want the exams taken in April, so that – given the time it takes to mark the papers – the next step for the 14-plus age group can be determined by the end of the summer term.

The numbers going to the senior schools also have to be finalised and complicated timetables worked out.

The junior high principals contend that to take the exams too early would place added pressure on students and staff in the run-up to the tests, and that the students would be “demotivated” for the final summer term.

The senior high ‘heads’, Simon Harper (Portadown College) and Eileen Cousins (Craigavon SHS), contend that a May date for the exams places inordinate pressure on the marking of the papers, and that, by the time placing and numbers are determined, the preparation of timetables is fraught with difficulties.

The source said, “It has been an ongoing problem for years but seems to have got worse in recent times.”

The SELB is expected to inform the schools of their decision today.