In October 2021, we learned that a majority (56) of NI grammar schools have agreed on a new common transfer test run by an organisation called SEAG, or Schools’ Entrance Assessment Group. The single test will replace the dual tests, which have been run by the AQE and PPTC since the end of the Eleven Plus exam in 2008. We understand that SEAG is not related to AQE or PPTC, but a fresh organisation set up specifically to deal with the problem of dual testing organisations.

We understand that the first SEAG cohort will set their transfer test in November 2023.

SEAG have so far said little, but they have revealed the new assessment will consist of two tests comprising English and mathematics items. It seems that the tests will be sat on separate dates – probably two weeks apart. There will be a mixture of multiple choice and free response (supply) items.

Irish-language versions of the transfer test will also be provided, with parents asked to pay a £20 entry fee, though there would be no charge for pupils who qualify for free school meals.

The list of member schools hasn’t been made public yet, and crucially, the number of member schools falls a little short of the combined number of AQE & PPTC schools, implying that some schools are yet to decide on their best way forward. Support does, however, look balanced between current AQE and PPTC schools with 25 and 27 respectively from each camp and four schools who currently accept either test. We understand that eighteen of the schools are located in the greater Belfast area and the other 38 are spread across Northern Ireland.

More details should be released after the 2021 exams are concluded and schools’ focus turns to future years. Be sure to join our 2023 parents’ list if you would like to hear updates as they appear.

Update – 13 December, 2021

Today, the BBC reported that Michael Carville, principal of Regent House in Newtownards has been appointed as the chairperson of SEAG. In a statement, he reiterated that the first test is due to be held in November 2023 and will end the current system of separate AQE and PPTC tests.

He also confirmed that the tests will be supplied by GL Assessment, who currently produce the current PPTC tests.

The first common test papers will be held on the second and fourth Saturdays in November 2023, Mr Carville said.

Update – March, 2022

Various local papers have reported that Stormont’s Education Committee recently heard from the Education minister in relation to the 2023 transfer test. A letter from Michelle McIlveen was read to committee members where it was revealed that a total of 57 schools have signed up.

Ms McIlveen said her officials had recently met with Michael Carville, chair of SEAG, “to get an update on progress in relation to the 2023 assessment”.

She said that SEAG was “formally established in February 2022 to oversee a single common entrance assessment” and at the time of the meeting, “57 selective schools had signed up to join the group”.

The DUP minister also said it is “envisaged that the common transfer tests will replace the current system run by AQE and PPTC and the November 2022 tests run by AQE and PPTC are likely to be the last before that replacement”.

“The new testing format will consist of two papers held on two Saturdays, two weeks apart, provisionally scheduled for Saturday November 12 2023 and Saturday Nov 26 2023,” the committee heard.

“Both tests will contribute to candidates score rather than the best two of three, in the current AQE format.”

Ms McIlveen also confirmed that the tests “will be based entirely on the Key Stage 2 curriculum and therefore will reflect the literacy and numeracy knowledge and skills that children are being taught at school”.

“Each paper will feature English and Maths questions – there will be a mixture of multiple choice and open questions.”

The letter also stated that “SEAG has advised that following a competitive tender process, GL Assesment Ltd in England have been awarded a three-year contract to provide the test, staff have been appointed locally to oversee the administration”.

Committee chair Chris Lyttle said it was “helpful information that I don’t think is particularly public at this moment in time”.

Update – April, 2022

There is still no confirmation of exactly which 57 NI grammar schools have signed up to SEAG, but in a recent BBC news article, the directors of the new company were named. They are the principals of;

  • Regent House Grammar School,
  • Our Lady and St Patrick’s College Knock,
  • Royal School Dungannon,
  • Campbell College,
  • Foyle College,
  • Down High School,
  • Dominican College Belfast and
  • Victoria College Belfast.

It would make sense, therefore, to conclude that those schools are planning to adopt the new test from 2023.