Education watchdog says 11-Plus unfair

Gary Jefferies

POORER pupils with the same SATs score as their wealthier peers are much less likely to pass the Kent Test, according to new research by an education think-tank.

The study by Education Datalab, a leading independent think-tank, found that the entrance exam for grammar schools in the county, known as the 11-Plus was a ‘loaded dice’ against pupils on free school meals [FSM] as they were not able to be coached for the exam, setting them at a significant disadvantage compared to their better off peers.

In an attempt to make tests fairer, the researchers recommended poorer pupils should be given extra marks and state primary schools in Kent should be allowed to practise the reasoning test with pupils.

The research is described as the most detailed examination of how the 11-plus operates in a single part of the country, with data collected from over 20,000 pupils starting secondary school in Kent in 2016.

It is particularly pertinent as the Conservatives finalise their plans to extend academic selection to other areas of England if they are re-elected on June 8.

The most significant finding appeared to be the fact that free school meal pupils who got the same SATs score as non-FSM pupils received an average 8.7 points lower on the 11-plus test – indicating they struggled more with its style.

The 11-plus tests aptitude rather than subject knowledge, and is centred around three papers on English, maths and reasoning. To gain a grammar place, pupils must score 106 or above on each paper, and get a score of 320 or above across all three papers.

FSM pupils might struggle because they were ‘not prepared for the reasoning component’ of the test, according to researchers.

Zoe Browne of AIM, a charity which offers free 11-Plus tutoring to children from low-income backgrounds, said the group felt ‘continued frustration’ at the report’s findings, adding: “Education Datalab has produced evidence to support the fact that the grammar system does not promote social mobility.

“Our frustration stems from the fact that the conversation on this issue continues, yet little is being done to address the disadvantage experienced by children from low income homes.

“We believe that students from less well-off families should be provided with similar preparation as other students and this system should see actual reform rather than continued discussion and repeated analysis.”

Kent County Council said it was working to boost social mobility in grammars.

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