Academics call for 11-plus scrutiny

Senior academics in education have signed CF’s open letter calling on Gavin Williamson to make 11-plus test results accessible for research. An estimated 100,000 school children sit grammar school entrance exams each year. Currently, tests are administered by grammar schools themselves, who do not share their 11-plus data. This means important information is missing from our National Pupil Database where every other piece of pupil data is recorded.

Professor Rob Coe, who was part of the team responsible for the 11-plus when he worked at CEM, spoke to TES about the lack of scrutiny for grammar school tests.  He described a ‘Wild West’ of unregulated tests, and pointed out the particular problems caused by the pandemic.

CF has previously written about the many issues with the 70+ versions of 11-plus tests set by grammar schools. These problems include tests biased to one gender or another, tests with no adjustment for age, tests set entirely by schools rather than by qualified examiners, and schools setting two tests for entry without telling families one test is harder to pass than the other.  These problems might be highlighted if test results were part of the National Pupil Database, but at present the schools can do as they please with no checks at all.

Read more about our open letter HERE.

Selection questioned around the world

The pandemic means no 11-plus ‘transfer test’ will take place this year in Northern Ireland, with the vast majority of grammar schools admitting pupils using distance or lottery admission. The Irish News reports that just two of the region’s 67 grammar schools are still attempting to select using academic criteria. These schools will use the results of primary school tests set when children were just nine years old! There are suggestions that schools using results of these tests, that were not set for this purpose, could be subject to a legal challenge. There has already been a successful legal case that led to the region’s 11-plus being delayed.

Many selective schools in New York have also abandoned academic criteria due to the Covid crisis, with San Francisco schools also planning to ditch selective admissions. Arguments about selection in the US revolve around the ‘systemic racism’ involved in admissions based on standardised testing, with the tests judged to be discriminatory to people with disabilities along with low-income and minority students. There appears to be growing support for removing selective admissions this year, and in some cases a plan to not bring back the tests. Meanwhile, in England, grammar schools seem to be pretending there is no pandemic and continuing as if it’s business as usual.

11-plus tutors getting selective

The Telegraph reports high demand for 11-plus tutors due to the pandemic. It highlights cases where tutors are setting pupil’s tests before deciding to take them on. It is a sad state of affairs that everyone knows families are buying advantage by hiring 11-plus tutors, and rather than pointing out that entry to state schools should be free and fair, politicians mostly look away.

The pandemic means most exams are cancelled. Boris Johnson said, “We recognise that this will mean it’s not possible or fair for all exams to go ahead.” Yet it seems the 11-plus, the most unnecessary of all exams, is a special case and will carry on, whether it’s fair or unfair. And in a situation where some pupils have expensive online tutors, and where some don’t have laptops or internet to do lockdown schoolwork,  it seems quite obvious this test will be unfair.

Our Chair talks to Centre think tank

Dr Nuala Burgess was interviewed by the Centre think tank, and explains why she is passionate about social justice in education. Listen HERE.

Centre have also set up a petition calling on selection to be ended, please show your support and sign! You’ll find it HERE.