A controversial academic selection test for primary school pupils in Northern Ireland has been cancelled amid coronavirus safety concerns.
The test run by independent provider AQE was scheduled to take place on February 27.
AQE and another private company, PPTC, run several tests each year to facilitate grammar schools in selecting their intake of primary school pupils on the basis of academic performance.
Earlier this month both providers announced the cancellations of tests scheduled in January due to the Covid-19 crisis, having already postponed the exams from their traditional November slot.
But AQE’s subsequent decision to reschedule a single exam for February 27 had created a storm of controversy, dividing parties in the Stormont executive.
Sinn Fein, which is an opponent of academic selection, called for its immediate cancellation while the DUP, a supporter of selection, accused rivals of using the pandemic as a way to attack the process.
On Wednesday, AQE, which operates on behalf of 34 grammar schools in Northern Ireland, announced that the test at the end of February would not now take place.
“Due to the ongoing uncertainty about the potential for an extended period of lockdown, the Board of AQE Limited has decided to recommend to our grammar schools, the membership of AQE, that there should be no assessment offered by AQE in this academic year,” an AQE statement said.
“The test scheduled for Saturday 27th February will therefore not take place.
“The health and safety of the children due to sit the exams is our top priority.”
The AQE statement continued: “As we cannot guarantee that the Executive will not extend the lockdown period at this stage, we do not want to cause any distress to the children and their parents by extending this period of uncertainty. We know these are anxious times for many.
“We will be writing to parents individually over the coming days to confirm these arrangements.
“We hope this will end the period of uncertainty for the children who have been working so hard for these assessments. We wish to thank the Minister for Education, his officials and the Education Authority for their support.”
Northern Ireland is the middle of a strict six-week lockdown as hospital admission numbers continue to surge.
The deaths of an additional 19 people with Covid-19 were announced on Wednesday, along with another 1,145 positive cases of the virus.