James Coombs fights 11-plus secrecy in tribunal case challenging CEM test provider

James Coombs, of Comprehensive Future’s steering committee, is challenging 11-plus test company, CEM, to release the anonymised raw scores of test-takers. He first requested information about how the 11-plus results are standardised in 2012. Now a tribunal on March 4th, could finally force the test provider to release the information, adding greater transparency to the processes involved in selecting children for grammar school. CEM are fighting to keep the scores secret, claiming the release of this information would breach their commercial interests. They claim that if the raw scores were revealed this would help 11-plus test tutors teach to the test.

James, who is studying for a Masters in Data Science, plans to question the test provider’s ‘tutor proof’ claim, and to insist that the public interest is best served by transparency around 11-plus scoring. James argues that there is no such thing as a ‘tutor proof test’ and challenges CEM’s right to make this claim as a key selling point.

This lack of openness and transparency is hampering research into the system. The appeal isn’t about whether selection works but about gaining access to the information needed for the public to draw their own objective conclusions on this controversial subject. The real reason raw marks are withheld is to mask changes in raw pass marks needed to be admitted. I hope to persuade the Tribunal that public understanding of how the system operates is more important than 11-plus providers’ profits. Parents deserve to know what’s going on.

Comprehensive Future Chair Dr Nuala Burgess said, “We applaud James’s tireless efforts to bring greater transparency to 11-plus testing. It seems extraordinary to us that no official body scrutinises how the 11-plus is administered, or that many grammar schools sell mock tests for profit. It takes someone with James’ tenacity and gifted approach to statistical analysis to be able to challenge CEM on the very figures they appear so keen to hide. The fact that James has been forced into taking legal action to get CEM to reveal how they use raw pass marks is proof of a highly dysfunctional system. 11-plus testing has become a commercialised racket – a market which has a very tenuous claim to be in the interests of children’s education. All school admissions should be open and transparent so that everyone has access to exactly the same information. It goes without saying that knowledge about how the 11-plus test is run is in the public interest.”

Prof Stephen Gorard, a former member of the CEM team, has also been refused raw 11-plus test scores, and argues that this data could be used to answer the fundamental question posed by selective education, whether the school makes any difference. His previous research work has found that the excellent results achieved by grammar schools are entirely explained by their intake. Gorard and his team would like to compare those who passed the test but didn’t go to a grammar school. He spoke to the Guardian and said, “The approach we are suggesting is as powerful as doing a randomised trial, and that would be a decisive step forward.

Dr Nuala Burgess concluded, “There is far too much smoke and mirrors surrounding 11-plus testing. A formal investigation is long overdue, and James has started the process with this tribunal. All of us at Comprehensive Future wish James the very best of luck ­­next week. I have every intention of attending and cheering him on.

The hearing will take place in London on 4 March 2020 at 10:30 at Court number 7, Field House, 15-25 Breams Buildings, London,EC4A 1DZ. It is open to the public should you wish to attend and support James case.

 

2020-03-03T08:35:24+00:00