The 11-plus seems to be untouchable, even in a pandemic

It feels as if the whole world is talking about educational inequality, almost everyone accepts that poorer children are more likely to fall behind with learning during the pandemic. This problem was acknowledged by the government, with most exams cancelled and replaced by teacher assessment. Yet no changes were put in place for grammar school tests.

Selective schools set their regular English and maths papers as usual last October. So how did that turn out? Mostly we don’t know, because grammar schools have no requirement to report on results for poorer pupils. We asked a dozen admission authorities if they knew how disadvantaged pupils had fared in the test, but only three had checked their performance. Kent is the largest selective county, and a spokesperson for Kent County Council  said, “While early data suggested Covid-19 had a minimal impact on the outcomes of disadvantaged pupils through the selective process, analysis of National Offer Day intake disappointingly shows a reduction in the proportion of disadvantaged pupils securing a grammar school offer.”

Government guidance says that 11-plus tests will go ahead, as usual, in September 2021. As always, the families that can afford it will pay for test tuition, and this will mitigate the impact for wealthier pupils. No one seems to be taking note of the fact that poorer children are going to find this test even more flawed and unfair than usual.

Nick Gibb says no to 11-plus transparency

Comprehensive Future enlisted the signatures of 23 noted education academics who called for 11-plus results to be reported by grammar schools and added to the National Pupil Database. If this was put in place no one would be in the dark about the results of disadvantaged pupils in a pandemic because the tests could be checked properly. This would allow people to understand how they really work, and show differences in pass rates for independent school pupils, disadvantaged pupils and much more.  However Schools Minister Nick Gibb, responded to our letter and said nothing would be done. He thoughtfully pointed out that grammar schools are doing their best to improve access for disadvantaged pupils through such things as outreach schemes. He doesn’t seem to mind that there is no way to tell if these schemes actually work because grammar schools don’t report any data on their tests.

We have come across many 11-plus tests that have an age or gender bias, but we feel these tests should be withdrawn altogether so it’s not our job to collect test data and make complaints to get the problems ‘fixed.’ It’s not anyone’s job to do this… So the ‘wild west’ of unregulated, unmonitored tests of 10-year-olds continues.

A podcast about the problems with selection tests

Dr Sam Sims, of the UCL Institute of Education, was interviewed in an interesting podcast on the theme of social inequality in access to grammar schools. He refers to the Northern Ireland Transfer Test as well as English 11-plus test, and it seems that both tests have poor records for passing disadvantaged pupils. He also penned an excellent opinion piece on what exactly grammar school tests are trying to judge. He highlighted the fact that there are problems if the tests try to assess the flawed concept of IQ, but they face a different set of problems if they base tests on prior learning.  Listen to the podcast HERE

‘If we want poor children to catch up, we must look again at grammar schools’

Fiona Millar wrote a Guardian piece about the impact of the pandemic on selective education in England. “Faced with a deluge of evidence that months of lockdown, patchy school attendance and a digital divide had widened attainment gaps between better and worse-off pupils, the 163 English grammars put their heads down, ploughed on, and managed to run just about the only examinations that took place last year.” Read the article HERE.

Grammar schools in Northern Ireland consider switch to IQ tests

Northern Ireland’s 11-plus ‘transfer test’ was cancelled last year, with the region’s 67 grammar schools managing without academic selection and admitting pupils based on distance or other non-academic criteria. The transfer test usually takes place in November, and with the pandemic ongoing, one school has already decided to use comprehensive admissions again in 2021. One of Northern Ireland’s two test providers is thinking of switching to IQ style test papers, acknowledging that papers testing prior learning in English and Maths will show up inequalities caused by lost learning in the pandemic. Dr Hugh Morrison, a respected educationalist in NI pointed out the dangers of tests belonging to the flawed world of psychometrics. These tests have an extremely problematic past, and anyone who is familiar with the sorry story of Cyril Burt will find it hard to support the flawed idea of ‘ability’ testing.

Academic selection ‘traumatic’

Academic selection “is traumatic for many children, creating damage which often endures into adulthood,” according to a briefing paper from Ulster University’s (UU) Unesco Education Centre.

The paper points out that academic selection benefits “a few (generally already privileged) pupils while damaging the life-chances of a large proportion of the school population”. The researchers call for a change to Northern Ireland’s school system, and state, “It is hard to escape the observation that many of the political class responsible for making decisions on the future of selection, will themselves be the products of the same grammar school system that they seek to defend, and their children in all likelihood also attend such schools.” Read more HERE.

Politicians think they know what a ‘good school’ is, and sadly it isn’t a comprehensive school

A study of grammar school debates in Parliament found that 37% of the time when grammar schools are mentioned, it occurs in conjunction with the word ‘good’. The research found that evidence was only engaged with 32% of the time, with politicians more likely to use a personally held moral position about selective schools being ‘good schools’. The report’s author, Dr Alan Bainbridge, said, ‘Grammar schools, evidenced by Ofsted, are good schools, so the ‘good schools’ claim cannot be refuted, and we do not wish to do so. But we do question why the goodness attributed to them is more worthy of recognition and reward than other good schools. Grammar schools are only 0.6% of all good schools.’ Read the report in full HERE.