Is a curriculum based 11 plus fair?

In 2014 Kent County Council decided that an 11 plus based on Reasoning skills was too prone to tutoring. The council decided to change the test to make it more relevant to the year 5 curriculum, and they added a test for  English. Roger Gough said this of the change, ‘We are sharpening the focus on the school curriculum by introducing an English paper alongside the maths and reasoning tests, so assessing each child’s ability in the context of what they will be learning at school, as well as their thinking skills.’

Interestingly in June of that year Altrincham Grammar School for Boys was forced to remove an English paper from its 11 plus test.  An objection was made that, ‘Changing the entrance examination may disadvantage unfairly children where English is not their first language, and able children with special educational needs.’ The admissions code is very clear that admission’s authorities, “Must ensure that their arrangements will not disadvantage unfairly, either directly or indirectly, a child from a particular social or racial group, or a child with a disability or special educational needs…” Kent County Council do not link their 11 plus data to details from the pupil database so they do not check how specific children such as those with English as an Additional Language perform in the test.

The School Admissions Code states, ‘Tests for all forms of selection must be clear, objective, and give an accurate reflection of the child’s ability or aptitude, irrespective of sex, race, or disability. It is for the admission authority to decide the content of the test, providing that the test is a true test of aptitude or ability.’  Although the Reasoning papers may have been prone to coaching, isn’t judging a child on what they have learned at school not a ‘true test of ability’ because it is influenced by the teaching a child has received? A child who is highly able may have poor quality teaching and not make good progress in English and Maths due to attending a troubled primary school. A test of taught subjects will always be biased towards those who have extra lessons or high quality teaching. Clearly after-school maths and english lessons will benefit any child, because education works! Children with tutors have this advantage, while children in a school rated ‘Inadequate’ will perform less well than if they were given teaching that helped them achieve their potential.

We would suggest that the quality of a child’s teaching at school, and the amount of additional maths and english tuition they have received, will have an impact on test pass rates. Indeed when we look at 11 plus pass rates by the quality of school it is clear that a child attending a troubled primary school is less likely to pass the test than a child attending a high quality school. Is this because in an Outstanding school they receive better teaching and excel in the English and Maths papers?

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Clearly ‘Outstanding’ schools give pupils twice as much chance of passing the 11 plus as ‘Inadequate’ rated schools. There could be many reasons for this, but we do worry that basing an 11 plus on curriculum learning doesn’t make it tutor-proof at all.

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