Children from better-off homes still come out on top under ‘tutor proof’ 11+ exam

A report published today sets out new evidence that the introduction of the so-called ‘tutor proof’ 11+ exam in Buckinghamshire has failed to help children from more disadvantaged homes get grammar school places.

Who benefits? The new ‘tutor proof’ 11+ exam in Bucks describes the startling way in which the 11+ continues to select for children’s background rather than ability – and how the situation has got worse not better under the new exam.

The groups of children who appear to be worse off with the introduction of the new 11+ exam include:
• local children (Bucks children compared to non-Bucks children)
• children on Free School Meals
• children of Pakistani heritage (the largest BME group in Bucks)

The difference between the pass rates for children from Bucks’ private schools and children from Bucks’ state schools remains considerable (70% vs 20%) and has increased since last year. A private school child is now over three and a half times more likely to pass the 11+ than a state school child.

Rebecca Hickman, who wrote the report, said:
“Far from increasing social mobility, Bucks’ selective system is simply reinforcing existing patterns of disadvantage. The vast tutoring industry has been unaffected by the new exam, and the evidence shows that children from better-off homes still come out on top. It is a system of winners and losers that has created one of the biggest attainment gaps in the country – with the children who most need our help losing the most.”

The new 11+ exam was introduced in Bucks, a fully-selective county, last year. At the time, both the test provider CEM and The Buckinghamshire Grammar Schools (TBGS) claimed that the new exam would be more resistant to coaching and therefore fairer. However, responses to multiple FOI requests submitted by local residents, Derek Berry, Dr Katy Simmons and Rebecca Hickman, paint a stark picture of the performance gap between children from different backgrounds. A newly formed campaign group, Local, Equal, Excellent, is now calling on the exam to be abandoned until and unless an alternative can be developed which does not select on the basis of a family’s ability to afford tutoring or any other home attribute.

Dr Katy Simmons, Chair of Governors at Cressex Community School, said:
“This new exam was paid for with public money, so taxpayers have a right to know who benefits from it. The evidence so far suggests that the new exam has been little more than an expensive exercise in spin. Until it is demonstrated that it is fair to all it should be withdrawn.”

The data also show that a sharp rise in the number of non-Bucks children sitting the 11+ exam last year, increased the standardised pass mark, effectively squeezing out local children who may have previously passed. At the same time, far more children than in previous years made successful appeals after failing the exam – a rise of 54% in a single year; a strong indicator that the new exam has been less, not more, effective in identifying what the grammar schools themselves define as ‘ability’.

Local education campaigner, Derek Berry, said:
“This information goes to the heart of how the selective system is working – and in whose interest it is working. Our state-funded education system should be egalitarian, but the Bucks selective system is depriving the majority of our children of an equal chance to succeed during their school years.”

Despite receiving hundreds of thousands of pounds from local schools’ budgets to develop and deliver the new exam, the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring continue to refuse to publish the full pilot test data or analysis which they have used as the basis for their claims that the new exam would be more resistant to tutoring. In addition, Buckinghamshire County Council’s due diligence report on CEM reveals concerns at the lack of evidence that children from Black and Minority ethnic backgrounds would not be disadvantaged by the new exam.

For interviews and comment, contact Dr Katy Simmons on 07970 656153 or at katy@nashdom.dircon.co.uk, or Rebecca Hickman at becks_hickman@hotmail.com

To access the full report and supporting information go to www.localequalexcellent.org.uk

Notes to editors:
1. Approximately 25% of children in Bucks attend grammar schools, with the other 75% attending ‘upper’ schools.
2. The Buckinghamshire Grammar Schools (TBGS) is a company established by the grammar schools to oversee implementation of selection in Bucks. TBGS spent £77,000 of public money on developing the new 11+ exam, and £295,000 on delivering it for 2014.
3. The Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM) is based at Durham University.
4. There are currently five cases lodged with the Information Commissioner’s Office relating to the withholding of information by TBGS, CEM and Bucks County Council.
5. See press coverage of the introduction of the new 11+ exam in January 2013: http://bit.ly/BFPnewexam
6. See Professor Strand’s ‘Mind the Gap’ report (2014) on the attainment gap in Bucks: https://democracy.buckscc.gov.uk/documents/s49242/Steve%20Strand%20report.pdf
7. Local, Equal, Excellent supports fair access to secondary schools for all Bucks children. See www.facebook.com/localequalexcellent