Grammar schools prepare to ditch the 11-plus
By Julie Henry, Education Correspondent, Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 12:35am GMT 04/02/2007
Grammar school entrance exams could be scrapped and replaced by continuous assessment or teacher recommendation under controversial proposals.
A working group of headmasters and education officials will meet later this month to draw up alternatives to the 11-plus tests taken by thousands of primary school children each year, to determine whether they will win a place at 33 grammar schools in Kent, England's most selective county.
Their review could have repercussions for selective areas all over the country. Officials say the review has been prompted by the Government's new admissions code, which places a duty on local authorities to be "fair and equitable" in the allocation of places.
Grammar school supporters fear, however, that replacing the 11-plus will fatally undermine the selective system.
The move comes weeks before a delegation of anti-grammar campaigners is due to meet Jim Knight, the schools minister, to put its case against selection.
Nick Seaton, the chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said: "Most parents will think it is wrong if Kent removes the objective 11-plus exam and replaces it with a more subjective form of continual assessment or teacher recommendation. There is also the question about how it will be administered. If you make it more complicated for primary schools to administer, or for parents to put their children in for, over time it will reduce the number of children who are even trying, thereby undermining the system and eventually cutting numbers."
The entrance exam, once compulsory in Kent but made optional some years ago, is taken by about 8,000 11-year-olds each year. The 33 selective schools, a fifth of the remaining grammar schools in England, provide about 4,000 places.
Ian Craig, the county council's education director, said that Kent was "committed" to grammar school education and that the review would not affect the number of places available.
"We would like to look at continuous assessment because it seems more sensible to look at a child's progression over a number of years, rather than a one-off test," he said. "Some children can do tests better than others. Some perform better over a period of time. It would cut down on cramming before the test and measure consistent quality over a period of time."
Susan Rowell, the head teacher of the Weald of Kent Grammar School for Girls in Tonbridge, said an overhaul of the system was long overdue and that alternative strategies should be found to prevent coaching for tests. One option may be to use the results of national curriculum tests, taken at 11.
This proposal is similar to a plan in Lincolnshire, where officials are discussing the use of results in national tests, rather than entrance exams.
Despite Labour's attempts to marginalise grammars, such as ballots of all parents in an area on their futures, the number of children attending them has increased by nearly 27,000 since 1997.
The expansion of many grammars, often in the face of town hall opposition, shows parents' enduring faith in the 11-plus as a means of ensuring bright children are stretched in the state school system.
Lord Adonis, made an education minister to drive through the city academy and trust school reforms, recently suggested that dismantling the grammar system in the Sixties and Seventies destroyed many excellent schools without improving the rest.