Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister, today responded to the Education Select Committee’s ‘evidence check’ report on grammar schools. The Select Committee report was highly critical of the 11-plus test, pointing out the ability to pay for 11-plus tuition was a ‘significant influencer’ on a child’s ability to pass the exam.
However Nick Gibb ignored the committee’s recommendation that test entry should not be the only way to gain a selective school place, suggesting instead that selective schools should ‘take clear steps’ to reduce the impact of tutoring. Nick Gibb described a tutor-proof test as a “holy-grail” but his response did not outline how this might be achieved.
Melissa Benn, Chair of Comprehensive Future, said, “The Select Committee spoke to many experts who outlined the very real problems with grammar schools. They pointed out that very few poor children gain places, there is a huge problem with 11-plus tuition, and children’s academic potential is not even fixed at 11 years old. Nick Gibb didn’t even acknowledge most of these points in his reply.”
“The problem of 11-plus tuition cannot be easily solved. A major flaw with selective school systems is that tuition works. This makes grammar school tests fundamentally unfair. Any child who has expert weekly tuition for a year will obviously score more points than a child who has limited practise. It’s no surprise that wealthy families gain most grammar school places.”
The School’s Minister’s reply stated that the Grammar School Heads Association (GSHA) had agreed to ‘enter a formal agreement’ with the Department for Education to improve the numbers of disadvantaged pupils at selective schools.
Currently, 3% of grammar school pupils claim free school meals due to low family income, while surrounding non-selective schools educate 17% of pupils claiming free meals. Grammar schools have been widely criticised for educating low numbers of pupils from poorer families.
Melissa Benn said, “The grammar school heads will no doubt make impressive promises about improving access to their schools but it simply won’t work. Parents have got used to intensive coaching winning them grammar school places, while primary schools cannot abandon curriculum work to coach children to pass a school selection test.”
In 2015 Kent County Council set up a commission to review the reasons why limited numbers of disadvantaged pupils were educated in their county’s grammar schools. The commission issued a report in June 2016 outlining 16 recommendations to improve access to grammar schools for poorer pupils. It appears that despite the commission’s work the numbers of disadvantaged pupils passing Kent’s 11-plus have not increased.
Melissa Benn said, “In Kent this year 5% of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds passed the 11-plus, which is no improvement on the numbers passing before the commission issued all its recommendations. Kent’s attempt to improve access to grammar schools has failed because test tuition problems are impossible to solve.”
“The Schools Minister’s statement will have no effect on the unfairness of selective education. Parents in selective areas will still have a flawed test and a social divide in their secondary schools. High-quality education should be available to all children.”