Comprehensive Future has written an open letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson, along with MPs and councillors in selective local authorities, calling on grammar schools to abandon 11-plus testing this year.

Comprehensive Future’s Chair, Dr Nuala Burgess, said, “It seems very wrong that in a year where every formal exam has been cancelled the 11-plus test is set to go ahead. The 11-plus is the most unnecessary of all our exams. Thousands of young people attend schools for which there is no entrance test and do extremely well. In Northern Ireland twelve selective schools have chosen not to run the 11-plus this year. We cannot see why schools in England should not follow their lead.”

The letter highlights the significant disruption to children’s education caused by the Covid pandemic. Most grammar schools are planning to move 11-plus tests from September to mid-October, but the campaign group’s letter argues that a month of classroom lessons cannot  compensate for children missing almost four months of education.

Dr Burgess said, “There are many reasons why the test should be cancelled. Firstly, there is still far too much uncertainty over how schools will be run once they open in September. The need for a localised lockdowns, as happened recently in Leicester, would create chaos in selective areas where the 11-plus is planned as part of the schools admission system.

“More importantly, children’s education has been hugely unequal during lockdown. Some children come from families who have suffered unimagined hardship during the pandemic. Others are lucky enough to come from comfortable homes with strong parental support, access to technology and paid-for tuition. The lack of face-to-face teaching in schools leaves some children, though no fault of their own, in need of a far longer recovery period to get back on their feet. To run the test is adding further disadvantage to already disadvantaged pupils.”

“There is no fair way to run selective school tests this year. Indeed, there is no need to use this test at all, ever. Thousands of successful non-selective schools are proof that the 11-plus test unnecessary. We urge grammar schools in this country to follow the strong leadership of the 12 selective schools in Northern Ireland who have decided that the test cannot be run fairly this year and are proceeding with a comprehensive intake.

“We believe that grammar schools can scrap their tests and still be outstanding schools. There are many examples of grammar schools that abandoned the 11-plus 50 years ago and which flourished as inclusive comprehensive schools. The 11-plus is a relic from the past. It’s time for it to go.”

The letter:

Dear Gavin Williamson,

As a result of the global coronavirus pandemic and the consequent disruption to family life and educational settings, all formal national tests and examinations for the 2019-2020 academic year have been cancelled. In Northern Ireland, 12 grammar schools have also decided to abandon selective admissions and will not run the 11-plus test this year.

At the time of writing, there are no plans in England to cancel the 11-plus test. We believe this decision is wrong, especially since children will be expected to sit the test within a few weeks of returning to school after missing almost four months of education. We also question how it can be thought suitable to continue to test 10 year olds when it has been universally decided that to run SATs, GCSE and A levels would be unfair and unsafe.

We urge you to adopt policy that follows the lead of the selective schools in Northern Ireland who, in light of this year’s extraordinary circumstances, have agreed that running a comprehensive admissions system is the only possible and fair way to admit pupils this year.

If you support running of 11-plus tests this year we would be very grateful to have an explanation of how you feel it is possible to run them in a way that is safe for children and fair.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Nuala Burgess, Chair, Comprehensive Future