By Dr Alan Bainbridge

There is a global pandemic, and life for many of us has changed to an extent that could not have been imagined as we wrote our present lists and began to stockpile cranberries and chestnuts for Christmas 2019.

How times have changed. We have been prevented from either celebrating birthdays, or saying a final farewell to our loved ones.  Asked to make only the most essential of journeys out of our neighborhoods, wear face-masks on public transport, to stay at home and communicate via screens instead of face to face.

These along with many other restrictions the vast majority of us have complied with. People have done so, understanding that such actions will reduce the chance of the coronavirus spreading throughout our communities. This is what we should expect to happen: people behaving in a way that will not put others at an unacceptable risk. I don’t wear a face-mask in my local Co-op to reduce the chance that I will be contaminated. I wear a face-mask to make sure that if I am carrying a potentially lethal virus I do not pass that on to somebody else. Human society works best when we behave in way that will not harm, ourselves, others or the planet we all share.

So why on earth, when there is so much that needs to be done to respond to the COVID-19 lockdown, are there still plans to test 10 year olds early in September to decide what secondary school they should go to?  By the way the test is called the 11+ to deflect from the fact that 10 year olds are being tested, just like I used to pretend that the sprouts I had to eat were Ferrero Rocher chocolates.

If someone can convince me that by getting 10 year olds to sit this test there will be great benefits to individuals, society and the planet, I’m all for it. If someone can convince me that testing 10 year olds will do no harm, I’m all for it. If someone can convince me that testing 10 year olds during a global pandemic, when all public exams have been scrapped and most children will have not attended full-time education for almost 6 months, is the best educational way forward, then I am all for it.

I wait to hear what those who are in charge of education at a local and national level have to say about why there are still plans to continue with an education practice that is a relic of a past long gone. Those who continue to support the testing of 10 year olds must:

1). Support the continued use of a short 11-plus (sic) style test that is dishonestly presented as an accurate predictor of either current or future academic ability while typically misplacing around 20% of the children who sit it.

2). Support damaging equal opportunities and social cohesion by promoting the segregation of children from the age of 10, many sitting the 11-plus when they are 9 and a few weeks old.

3). Support limiting aspirations thus reducing social mobility by promoting a test that selects on socio-economic status, socio-cultural background, birth date and gender.

4). Support an unequal competitive system that favours those already successful in education and with access to funds to pay for private tuition (£2bn/year spent on this).

4). Support the unfair assumption that schools are uniquely responsible for social mobility and not the political climate and economy.

5). Support the creation of a climate of disrespect towards the pupils who are labeled as failures and are now destined to attend schools deemed ‘not as good’.

6). Support the creation of an unnecessary burden on primary school teachers and families distorting the curriculum and educational experience of young children.

7). Support the avoidance of consistent research evidence that after taking intake factors into account, that individuals in no one type of school out perform any others in terms of academic achievement.

8). Support the continued destruction of a local and national education system by encouraging individual school/academy control of intake that will lead to gaming where ‘choice’ is in reality only available to a few.

9). Support the negative impact of selective schools on the local community and that their presence damages the potential pupil intake, recruitment and retention of teachers and resources available to all other schools.

10). Be able to justify all of the above to children, parents, teachers and local communities (and themselves?) in a time of extraordinary educational crisis … instead of thinking about how we might take this opportunity to organize our schools differently.  

To ignore all of the above and continue with plans to test 10 year olds is at least an act of educational folly, or at worse the selfish act of desperate politicians and civil servants to scared to admit that for decades they have got this one wrong.

The testing of 10 year olds is damaging for those who take the test, their peers and ultimately the society we all have to share.

It is possible to act responsibly, to think of and protect others – COVID-19 has at least taught us that: we can wear face-masks, keep 2 metres apart, wash our hands until the skin cracks, not cuddle our nearest and dearest, not gather in pubs, cancel the football, keep children out of school, cancel Glastonbury, work from home, follow a one-way system around Tesco, clap every Thursday night, take exercise we never thought we wanted, make meals out of left-overs like our Nan’s did … but tragically it seems beyond the wit of some people to cancel a silly little test that does not work.

Dr. Alan Bainbridge is the joint coordinator of the Kent Education Network and member of Comprehensive Future’s Steering Group. He currently lectures in higher education having previously taught in secondary schools for 20 years. He is writing this article in a personal capacity.

Our Future Thoughts series of articles are opinion pieces designed to provoke debate, they represent the views of the author and not Comprehensive Future policy.