Department for Education guidance has been updated to inform grammar schools that they may need to make changes to next year’s 11-plus exams. The DfE say, “Admission authorities for schools which test ability in English and maths may wish to consider if any changes to the test need to be made, in light of the fact that most children were out of school for a significant period during 2020 and early 2021.”

The vast majority of grammar school tests do use English and/or maths papers. Only 14 grammar schools in Lincolnshire use a test without any judgement of children’s curriculum skills. The Lincolnshire Consortium of Grammar Schools offers an old fashioned ‘IQ’ style test with papers judging Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning. It is our understanding that 149 grammar schools and 40 partially selective schools will need to consider whether to drop maths and English papers to improve fairness. It seems highly unlikely they will make any changes, for one thing, grammar schools will be aware that many parents pay for expensive tuition, and tutors will have coached pupils for 11-plus tests in their current format.

Comprehensive Future’s Chair, Dr Nuala Burgess, said, “We strongly suspect it will be business as usual for the 11-plus test. This exam appears to be the only test with inbuilt immunity to the disruption Covid brought to our children’s education.

“This year more than ever, the odds are stacked against disadvantaged children. While children from more affluent families have had access to online 11-plus coaching throughout lockdown. Children from poorer backgrounds have suffered an especially hard year.

“We’ve been told of parents who can afford to be at home with their children taking advantage of lockdown to step up 11-plus practice. We believe it is highly likely that this year many more grammar school places will be filled by children with parents who can pay for coaching and who have also had the time to supervise 11-plus practice.”

The DfE guidance says the 11-plus test will not be delayed this year and grammar schools are advised to use catch-up funding, together with pupil premium money, as “a single total from which to prioritise support for particular pupils according to their need, including for potential applicants who come from disadvantaged households.”

Dr Nuala Burgess said, “The logistics of targeting disadvantaged pupils for test preparation are hugely complicated. We would like to know how grammar schools, who have very little experience of working with disadvantaged pupils anyway, plan to do this. It’s a particularly messy picture this year. Thousands of children have experienced extremely difficult learning circumstances but they are not officially classified as ‘disadvantaged’. There is also the problem that when you select children for tuition to boost their chances in the test, you leave other children behind.

“Grammar school admissions cannot be ‘fixed’ with a generous dose of extra tuition for the lucky few. This is the year when selective schools have a real opportunity to plan for fairer schools admissions. The easiest and fairest way to sort school admissions in selective areas  is to scrap the 11-plus and use a comprehensive admissions system.”