Guidelines on 11-plus testing still not published

Most schools have broken up for the summer break, but there is still no formal DfE guidance on how 11-plus tests should be handled this year. Many grammar schools are still planning to run admission tests in the first few weeks of September, acting as if it’s business as usual despite the disruption caused by Covid-19.

The more general DfE school reopening guidelines considers the need for all schools to have contingency plans for local school closures. Yet we have seen no grammar school discussing plans for how they can operate selective admissions if schools are closed and 11-plus exams are unable to take place. We feel there is still huge uncertainty about schooling in September, not to mention clear inequality for pupils who have experienced difficulty learning at home while schools were closed. Of course, the pupils who have found their education to be most disrupted are those from poorer families who may not have access to a computer, may have no internet, or nowhere to work quietly.

Comprehensive Future writes to Gavin Williamson

CF has urged education secretary, Gavin Williamson to consider cancelling the 11-plus this year. We cannot see how this test can be fair for all when children’s education has been so severely disrupted by the pandemic. CF’s letter highlights the moral leadership of the many grammar schools in Northern Ireland that have chosen to adopt comprehensive admissions this year.

CF’s Chair, Dr Nuala Burgess, said, “It seems very wrong that in a year where every formal exam has been cancelled the 11-plus test is set to go ahead. The 11-plus is the most unnecessary of all our exams. Thousands of young people attend schools for which there is no entrance test and do extremely well. In Northern Ireland twelve selective schools have chosen not to run the 11-plus this year. We cannot see why schools in England should not follow their lead.”

Does the pandemic finally bust the myth that grammar school tests judge “ability”?

Fiona Millar wrote in the Guardian about the odd logic that sees grammar schools claim the 11-plus is an “almost magical” test of ‘ability’, at the same time as most are moving the test a few weeks to allow children affected by the pandemic extra time for preparation. Fiona said, “This is proof, if ever we needed it, that selection is not a test of fixed innate ability – and that such a thing doesn’t exist. If lost learning time makes it harder for pupils from certain backgrounds to pass the test, then more learning time – the norm for wealthy families in the most selective areas – must make it easier.”

A grammar school that is now a successful comprehensive

CF’s vice chair, Melissa Benn, wrote for the Guardian, about a lack of opportunity for private school’s to enter the state sector. She highlighted the interesting example of Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, in Blackburn, Lancashire, a school founded in 1509 that converted from a direct grant grammar school, to an independent school, and become a state secondary school in 2014. A quote from a parent expresses the advantages of this change, “I am glad that my daughter is in a more diverse school, mixing with people from different backgrounds. It is not good to be educated in a bubble.”

If only there was greater understanding of the need for inclusive education, then we might finally have a fully comprehensive school system.

Our Zoom webinar ‘A relic of the past – time to phase out the 11-plus’

If you were unable to attend our first-ever webinar you can find a video of the event online here. Thank you to our excellent speakers for contributing to an interesting event.