The Department for Education has asked grammar schools to move 11-plus exams to November. This will put pressure on the majority of grammar schools to make adjustments to current plans, with most only considering rescheduling the test to late September. The DfE said moving the test will “minimise the disadvantage caused by the lengthy period many children have had to spend away from school.” They pointed out, “This disadvantage is likely to be especially acute for children eligible for the pupil premium, and for children who face particular barriers to their education.”

It seems the DfE realise the problems for poorer pupils, but are content to try to ‘minimise’ their disadvantage, while accepting some unfairness is inevatible. Children who have suffered problems with their education during four months of lockdown will not be on a level playing field with children who have employed online tutors to work on 11-plus preparation. It is also worth pointing out that this unfairness is a problem every single year.

The DfE admission that children need an extra month or more to ‘catch-up’ at school also dispels any thought that grammar school tests are judging innate ability. If these tests are influenced by preparation and high quality teaching, then the system is obviously flawed because test tuition will always buy advantage.

The changes proposed by the DfE mean that parents will not know the outcome of 11-plus tests when they make secondary school choices. The guidance suggests local authorities should offer parents 6 school options so they can put a mix of selective and non-selective choices on their application forms. We suspect many parents will not relish the uncertainty this brings, clearly school “choice” in selective areas is no real choice with so many schools choosing who they will educate.

Comprehensive Future’s chair, Dr Nuala Burgess, said, “I cannot be alone in being alarmed by the Government’s confusing and inconsistent guidance on running the 11 plus and school admissions in selective areas this year. It’s an unholy mess.

“It should be obvious to everyone but the most wilfully ignorant, that the easiest and fairest way to sort school admissions in selective areas this year is to scrap the 11-plus and use a comprehensive admissions system, with agreed catchment areas for every grammar school. I still cannot believe that it is deemed unsafe and unfair to run SATS, GCSEs and A levels, yet safe and fair to subject 10 year olds to the 11-plus test.

“In Northern Ireland, 12 selective schools have decided that this year’s extraordinary events demand extraordinary measures and they will not be running their 11-plus. You have to ask yourself how it can be that educators in Northern Ireland can see the wisdom of running comprehensive admissions this year but selective counties such as Bucks and Kent cannot.

“The bottom line is this: the 11-plus cannot be run fairly this year. Too many 10 year olds have, through no fault of their own, missed out on full-time education. It seems particularly cruel that the most disadvantaged children are the ones who have lost out the most.  I doubt I need to rehearse here the many ways in which poorer children have been disadvantaged through the lack of access to online resources, full time parental support and homes with enough space for quiet learning.

In other words, the very group which successive Tory governments insist stand to benefit most from the 11 plus and grammar schools are the least likely to access a grammar school in 2021.

This year is a golden opportunity to rethink our values and rethink school admissions in selective areas. There is no shame in admitting that school admissions in these areas need to be run differently. Every part of our working and educational lives have had to adapt owing to the Covid pandemic. I fail to see why the 11 plus is an exception.”