Senior figures from both the main political parties have called for an end to the 11 + exam at the launch of a new campaign Time’s Up for the Test in central London on December 1st.
There was remarkable unity across the political spectrum on the harm, and the brake on aspiration, that the 11 + represents.
Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester and a former shadow education secretary, told the packed meeting how his father had failed the 11+ and how it had made him feel a failure for life. Burnham called the exam ‘an instrument of social immobility… in which some start half way up the mountain and the rest are left at the bottom without a rope.’
Burnham went on, ‘Education is about all children of all skills and talents learning together. I believe in that idea as passionately as I do in the NHS.’
He ended his speech with a passionate appeal to his party to be ‘ bold’ and ‘to call time on the test. Let us recast comprehensive education for the 21st century. Give all children an equal chance to 18.’’
Burnham’s sentiments were echoed by Steve Mastin, Executive President of the Conservative Education Society, who described how, working with Conservative Secretary of State of Education Michael Gove, they realised that continued selection ‘would not improve the chances of all children.’
Grammars, said Mastin, diminish parental choice and mean ‘ schools select children, not the other way round. They are fundamentally unconservative.’
Mastin concluded his speech by calling for ‘cross—party support to phase out selection’
Time’s Up for the Test is a cross-party campaign to turn England’s remaining 163 grammars into comprehensives. Other speakers at the launch included former BBC Director-General Greg Dyke – for whom the 11+ was “a family tragedy” – and Jackie Malton, the former Detective Chief Inspector who was the inspiration for Prime Suspect and also failed the test.
The coalition has also won the support of the psychologist Dr Tara Porter and the former OFSTED Chief Inspector Michael Wilshaw. The launch event included a contribution from Porter and from Andreas Schleicher, director for education and skills at the OECD (the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) who argued that some of the best education systems in the world do not use selection or tracking of students.
The 11+ holds back social mobility, harms neighbouring comprehensive schools and can blight the lives of the 75 per cent of ten-year-olds who fail the test.
17-year-old Jack Deasley, who failed the 11+ and is now a student at Cambridge University, featured in a short film for the launch. Jack said, “When I hear people say the 11+ is a fair system, my main thought is: what about the others, what about those who weren’t selected, who failed the test? What happens to those people, to their careers, their lives, their happiness? It’s a neglect.”
Other supporters of Time’s Up for the Test include podcaster Alastair Campbell, children’s author Michael Rosen, mental health campaigner Natasha Devon, Lord Kinnock, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, the founding director of the Fair Education Alliance Lewis Iwu and Oxford University academic Danny Dorling.
Eleven organisations are coalition members. They include the Campaign for State Education, the Centre for Education and Youth, Comprehensive Future, Headteachers’ Roundtable, More than a Score, the National Education Union and Rescue Our Schools.