Education Law



The 11 plus was taken by 15, visit this 000 children in Northern Ireland for the final time on the 20th of November 2008 following a controversial decision to end academic selection.  There was confusion then following failure to decide on an alternative plan to control admission to the 68 Grammar Schools. So gone was the procedure that we all knew, of doing two tests in the school we were a pupil of. Now seven years down the line there is an unregulated but largely accepted system. In fact we have two separate selection processes.

There is the GL system of testing which is mostly for the Catholic Grammar Schools and the AQE system for the controlled and voluntary schools.

The tests themselves are over four weekends in the November of the P7 academic year.  The AQE Assessment runs over the first, third and fourth Saturdays of the month and the GL Assessment is shoehorned into the second Saturday.

The GL Assessment is a multiple choice examination and the AQE is the more familiar written test.

The GL Test result is based on the scores that day.  The AQE Assessment factors in the best two scores over the three Saturdays.


Help and Support

At a time when there is an increasing awareness and diagnosis of learning difficulties it is vitally important that the appropriate level of help and support is given to each pupil undertaking the tests.  The level of support to put a child in the same situation as any other pupil taking the test is known as  “Access Arrangements”.  For dyslexia, say, it would be appropriate for the child to have up to 25% extra time to do the test, larger examination paper, coloured overlays and perhaps other supports such as a scribe or smaller numbers of pupils in the room.  The Access Arrangements Application must be made in advance of the test.

There are also specific procedures set out to enable a post examination allowance to factor in events in and around the transfer time that have caused the pupil to under-perform.  These are normally of a medical nature but may be some other situation and the procedure is set out in the school’s Admission Criteria.

It is vitally important that if some traumatic situation takes place regarding the child that the parents proceed to obtain independent evidence as soon as possible.


The Special Circumstances Claim

School Governors will determine whether special circumstances apply and if so what sort of post examination allowance should be made.  There is usually some sort of a two stage test whereby the Governors will look at the evidence to determine whether special circumstances arise and if so they will go on to education evidence to determine the appropriate score.

For parents there are Appeals mechanisms if their child is turned down to the school of choice.  The Independent Admissions Appeals Tribunal will look at a very narrow test which is:

  • Were the Admissions Criteria  not applied or not applied correctly and if so.
  • If they had have been applied correctly would the child have been admitted to the school within the set admissions number.

This is quite a difficult procedure for parents, not least emotionally.  There is relevant case law on these Appeals Tribunals and the level of preparation is high.

There  is another form of Appeal to the Exceptional Circumstances Body which looks at another specific test namely whether there are exceptional circumstances relevant to the child that mean the child must attend one school and one school only.  You may have appeals to both bodies.

Beyond all of this there is the standard challenge is respect of the any public body decision by way of Judicial Review.


Eamon O’Connor from John & J Rice & Company heads our Education Law Department.  He is the father of three young children, the eldest of whom has gone through the Transfer Test procedure.  He is well aware of the practical and legal issues that any parent would need help with.  He is experienced in representation at Tribunals and assisting parents in respect of the completion of any application for Access Arrangements/Special Circumstances and any challenges by way of Judicial Review.

These can be the most difficult and emotional times for any parent and the proper legal representation is needed at an early stage.  Mr O’Connor is more than happy to consult at a time to suit parents either out of office hours or indeed at weekends.  Mr O’Connor recently represented the Northern Ireland Children and Young People’s Commissioner in an Education Law challenge to the Supreme Court of the UK.

He can be contacted at:

John J Rice & Company

3rd Floor

Pearl Assurance House

2 Donegall Square East



Tel No: 028 90313888

Fax No: 028 90314999