Senior academics in education have signed an open letter calling on Gavin Williamson to make 11-plus test results accessible for research. An estimated 100,000 school children sit grammar school entrance exams each year. Currently, tests are administered by grammar schools themselves who do not share their 11-plus data. This means important information is missing from our National Pupil Database where every other piece of pupil data is recorded.

Dr Nuala Burgess, Chair of Comprehensive Future, who initiated the letter, said, “Currently, it’s impossible for researchers to know how many pupils sit the 11-plus every year, how many pass, and how many of these are from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“Of particular concern to us is that there is no way of knowing how poorer children fared in the tests taken last autumn, in the midst of the Covid pandemic. It seems highly likely that thousands of children’s 11-plus chances were negatively impacted by disrupted learning. However, we have no way of comparing test results during Covid with previous years.

“Incredibly, grammar schools are now planning their September 2021 tests – as if the world of education has not been turned upside down by a global pandemic. These schools are under no obligation to check how disadvantaged pupils performed in last year’s test and appear unconcerned by the severe challenges they will have faced.

“Many people don’t realise that the 11-plus is currently the only unregulated public exam sat by schoolchildren, or that there are at least 70 different 11-plus tests. Some of these are set by schools while others are set by qualified examiners. None of these tests are scrutinised for quality, let alone fairness. There is a complete ‘knowledge blackout’ around the 11-plus.

“Every other exam which is used to define the next stage of a child’s education is subject to scrutiny, why is the 11-plus an exception?”

Dr Nuala Burgess said, “We are delighted that the letter has gained support from so many highly esteemed academics and education researchers. The list of names is impressive, and testifies to the importance of having 11-plus data included in pupil records. The 11-plus is an unnecessary and outdated exam. All the same, some 100,000 children sit an 11-plus tests every year. While this remains the case, 11-plus test data must be included in pupil records and subject to the same level of scrutiny to which our data-driven, evidence-led education system subjects every public exam.

“We hope that Gavin Williamson will do the right thing and support the academics who signed our letter. It would be a relatively simple process to add grammar schools test results to the National Pupil Database. Importantly, its inclusion would mean academics and other education researchers would be in a position to study selective admissions properly. If grammar schools have nothing to hide, they should be happy to share their 11-plus data.”

The letter

Dear Mr Williamson,

We believe the 11-plus should be subjected to the same kind of scrutiny as every public exam. Currently, this is not the case because although there are currently over 70 different 11-plus exams taken by over 100,000 pupils every year, the results of the 11-plus are not recorded or linked to pupil records. This omission means we are without the necessary data to tell us:

  • how many pupils sit the test every year and how many pass
  • the makeup by gender, disadvantage, ethnicity and social class of pupils taking the test and of those who pass
  • how many pupil premium pupils and pupils in receipt of free school meals take the test
  • whether disadvantaged pupils in receipt of free school meals have been on them for just a few weeks or for a substantial period of time before taking the test
  • how patterns of school entry relate to 11-plus admissions, such as how many pupils access grammar schools through appeals, or take a 12-plus or 13-plus test to access a grammar school place.

Most importantly of all,

  • we cannot evaluate 11-plus results against children’s SATs and GCSE grades and young people’s A levels without vital 11-plus data.

We urge the Department of Education to (1) make it a statutory requirement for all admission authorities to submit the results of their admissions tests; (2) bring the 11-plus in line with all other exams by linking test results to the National Pupil Database.

The inclusion of 11-plus data in the National Pupil Database would bring the same level of transparency to the 11-plus test as that to which every other public exam is subjected. It would also allow academic researchers access to vital information about the 11-plus and, by furthering research, MPs and members of the public in selective areas could be in a position to better understand their local school system.

The current Covid pandemic has highlighted as never before the ways in which family poverty exacerbates educational inequality and the chances of accessing a grammar school place for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The inclusion of 11-plus data in the NPD is a matter of national importance.

Yours, 

Dr Nuala Burgess, Chair of Comprehensive Future
Prof Lindsey Macmillan, Director of the Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities, UCL Institute of Education, University College London
Prof Stephen Gorard, Director of the Durham University Evidence Centre for Education
Prof Danny Dorling, Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography, University of Oxford
Prof Robert Coe, Director of Research and Development, Evidence Based Education
Prof George Leckie, Professor of Social Statistics, Co-Director, Centre for Multilevel Modelling, School of Education, University of Bristol
Prof Alice Sullivan, Head of Research, Social Research Institute, University College London
Prof Steve Strand, Professor of Education and Fellow of St. Cross College, University of Oxford
Prof John Furlong OBE, Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oxford
Prof Francis Green, Professor of Work and Education Economics, UCL Institute of Education
Prof Simon Burgess, Professor of Economics, University of Bristol.
Prof Vikki Bolivar, Professor of Sociology, Durham University
Prof John Jerrim, UCL Institute of Education, University College London
Prof Becky Allen, School of Education, University of Brighton
Prof Sally Tomlinson,  Emeritus Professor at Goldsmiths London University and an Honorary Fellow in the Education Department, University of Oxford
DrJake Anders, Deputy Director, Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities, Academic Head of Research
Dr Gill Wyness, Deputy Director of the Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities, UCL Institute of Education
Dr Sam Sims, UCL Institute of Education, University College London
Dr Matt Dickson, Institute for Policy Research, University of Bath
Dr Nadia Siddiqui, Associate Professor in the School of Education, Durham University
Karen Wespieser MBE, Chief Operating Officer at Teacher Tapp, former Head of Impact, National Foundation for Educational Research
Dave Thomson, Chief statistician, FFT Education Datalab
Timo Hannay, School Dash
Carl Cullinane, Research and Policy Manager, the Sutton Trust