Exposed: Racial bias at the heart of 11-plus selection

Evidence collected by Local Equal Excellent*, drawn from analysis of data collected over several years, has revealed that Buckinghamshire’s 11+ test contains clear and substantial bias against children from certain ethnic groups, in particular children of Pakistani and Black Caribbean heritage.

The ‘new’ 11+ exam, developed by the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM at Durham University) was introduced in 2013 by The Buckinghamshire Grammar Schools (TBGS) with claims that it would reduce the impact of coaching and therefore be ‘fairer’. Local Equal Excellent, using Freedom of Information requests, secured data from TBGS on the ethnicity of all Bucks state school pupils who took the 11+ exam for 2014 and 2015 entry (nearly 5000 children in total each year). The figures are summarised in the attached briefing.

The figures show that in both years, children from Pakistani backgrounds performed significantly worse in the exam than the majority of other children and were only half as likely to pass the exam as children described as ‘white British’. In addition, in 2014, of the 40 children from Black Caribbean heritage who sat the 11+ exam, not a single child passed.

Dr Katy Simmons, a spokesperson for Local Equal Excellent said, “It is particularly disturbing that even high attaining children from Pakistani backgrounds are affected by this bias.” Dr Simmons cited a report obtained from CEM showing that in three primary schools where nearly all the children were of Pakistani heritage, of the 46 children categorised as ‘high attainers’ according to their Key Stage 2 results, only 7 passed the 11+ exam.

“It is the Verbal Ability section of the exam that shows the greatest bias against Pakistani children,” said Rafiq Raja, Chair of the Muslim Parents Association in High Wycombe. “This is because the tests do not take account that English is an additional language for many of the Pakistani heritage pupils. The Non Verbal Ability section shows the least bias but it carries fewer marks in the test. TBGS say that they have no plans to change the weightings of the exam components to produce more equal outcomes. Does that mean they are not concerned about the clear unfairness shown by the outcomes of their test?”

Local Equal Excellent data also show that the outcomes cannot be explained simply because the children disadvantaged in the test by ethnicity come from less well-off homes. The figures show that Black and Minority Ethnic children from more well-off homes are still disadvantaged by the exam.

Local parent Dr Neal Skipper has written to TBGS presenting analysis of the unfairness of 11+ outcomes for children from different backgrounds, and calling for them to withdraw the tests at the earliest possible opportunity. Dr Skipper said:

“It is my view that TBGS appear to have failed in their duty to conduct open and thorough due diligence on the tests, which they have purchased with public money. Furthermore it is impossible to know the extent to which grammar school head teachers understand and take seriously the deep problems with the test, because the minutes sent to us of their discussions with the test supplier are nearly entirely blacked out.”

Rebecca Hickman, speaking for Local Equal Excellent, said:
“The new evidence paints a disturbing picture of a selective system underpinned by clear and substantial bias against children from certain ethnic groups. This is entirely preventable discrimination at the heart of our education system. So long as grammar schools effectively select on the basis of racial and social factors, the system is not only profoundly unjust, but the whole rationale for selection is fatally undermined.”

Local Equal Excellent has sent their analysis of the data to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, asking them to investigate and, where necessary, to intervene.

Rebecca Hickman: 07748 905101 or at
Neal Skipper: 07792454844 or at

Notes to editors:
1. The full data provided by The Buckinghamshire Grammar Schools is available on request.
2. * Local, Equal, Excellent supports fair access to secondary schools for all Bucks children. See