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Little and left behind

Published:Sunday | May 13, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Some principals trying to ensure that only the brightest enter their primary schools

Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter

Some primary school administrators have reportedly resorted to the act of culling mostly six-year-olds to prevent the enrolment of students they perceive to be potential non-performers.

With approximately 35,000 students entering grade one every year and figures from education ministry showing that about half do poorly on the official Grade One Individual Learning Profile, it appears some school administrators do not want to take the chance with those who have not done well.

This unauthorised test is enforced by some administrators in a bid to lift or maintain the performance of their schools in the external exams such as the Grade Four Literacy Test and the Grade Six Achievement Test.

Norma McNeil, principal of Pembroke Hall Primary in St Andrew, told our news team that she has heard of the practice but did not have any evidence to prove that some schools were cherry-picking students.

According to McNeil, the practice would not be found at her school.

"No, we don't screen and we don't charge any money. We do it by the rules," the veteran educator said.

She agreed that the culling of students might give an unfair advantage to the schools that do it in terms of performance on the external exams.

"The schools that don't screen and do well, like Pembroke Hall, should get high commendation," said McNeil.

fear of being labelled

She reasoned that some administrators may have resorted to the illegal practice out of fear of being labelled a failing school.

But the education ministry is not accepting that position and it has directed that public primary schools should "accept children on a first come, first served basis with regard to students who reside in proximity to the school".

The education ministry decree, which was addressed to regional directors, school board chairmen and principals of all state-operated educational institutions at the primary level, also stated that children should only be turned away from a public primary school if there is no more space.

"It has come to the attention of the Ministry of Education that some public schools at the primary level have been administering screening examinations to students before they can be considered for admission.

It is reported that schools are charging as much as $8,000 for these screening examinations," read the opening paragraph of the ministry bulletin addressing "admission to public primary-level schools".

The education ministry reminded principals and school boards that Section 23 subsection 2(a) of the Regulation Act 1980 states that "no person who is eligible for admission as a student to a public educational institution shall be refused admission thereto except on the grounds that accommodation is not available in that institution".

The ministry also instructed the public schools to end the unlawful screening of the young students.

"The Grade One Individual Learning Profile is the only official instrument endorsed by the Ministry of Education for students at the primary level and was enforced to access students' readiness at the formal start of the learning stage.

Students should not be subjected to any other measure of testing that would deem them ineligible for entry to school," read another section of the bulletin.

The ministry reminded administrators of public primary schools that the students they accept are being prepared for secondary and higher levels of learning and as a result, the primary level should be treated and regarded as foundational.

"In all cases, the rights of the child must remain at the forefront and access and equity in the educational school system must be preserved. Schools are asked to cooperate with the ministry as we work together to uphold the mantra 'Every Child Can Learn: Every Child Must Learn'."