The "tutor proof" test makes schools more, not less, socially selective

Fiona Millar's picture
Last weekend the Observer published an article about a new "tutor-proof" test that has been introduced by some selective schools, allegedly to try and increase the diversity of their intakes. Clearly the extremely low percentages of pupils eligible for Free School Meals gaining access to the grammars is becoming a bit of an embarrassment.  Even the Chief Inspector of Schools Sir Michael Wilshaw  recently noted that grammar schools tend to be "stuffed full of middle class kids" and have little part to play in improving social mobility.

So how is the new "tutor proof" test going? In 2013, Bucks grammar schools introduced a new 11+ test for the 2014 entry, which they claimed would be ‘tutor proof’. An LSN supporter has sent us the data published by Bucks County Council in February 2014 showing how the test is working in practice. It shows:

Under the new 11+ test, a child from a state primary school in Bucks had a 20% chance of getting a grammar school place, while a child from a private school had a 50% chance. The probability of a child from a state primary school in Bucks ‘passing’ the 11+ decreased by nearly 4 percentage points with the introduction of the new test.

Between 2013 and 2014 the proportion of Bucks grammar school places going to children from local state primary schools decreased from 44% to 38%. Despite the number of applicants from Bucks state primary schools increasing by nearly 300 in 2014, 110 fewer children from these schools won a grammar school place.

The number of Bucks grammar school places going to children from out of the county increased by 336, or 40%, between 2013 and 2014.

In short access to grammar schools for the least affluent and local children in Bucks seems to be getting worse, not better. As I suggested to the Observer, parents with know-how and money will always be able to buy their children competitive advantage in selective systems. They will work out how to prep for whatever test is going. A much simpler solution to the blatant unfairness of the 11 plus test , which will always mean the majority of children are rejected at 11, would be to abolish it altogether.

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A Cooper's picture
Wed, 12/02/2014 - 21:13

The 11+ was tutor-proof in the 1970s when the test was much more low key - in fact I didn't even realise I had been entered for it because there was no preparation for it: it really was a test of innate ability. This meant that my grammar school consisted of a large proportion of bright children from working class families - at least 30% coming from the two surrounding council estates.

In stark contrast the parents of the children I teach are employing tutors as soon as the children enter Year 4 in preparation for the batch of tests they will take at the start of Year 6. We advise all parents not to start any preparations until the middle of Year 5, but this always falls on deaf ears.

Brian's picture
Wed, 12/02/2014 - 21:49

Like you, but ten or more years earlier, going to a grammar school helped this product of many generations of financially very poor families to achieve social mobility. I'm not sure what percentage of my grammar school was from similar backgrounds to me ... I certainly can't remember what % came from the council estates. Indeed I'm sure I never knew and nor did anybody else. What I do know is that almost all the grammar school entrants from my primary school went straight into the C form and stayed there. Two of us went into the A form and only one stayed there ... not me. Most left at 16 with very few, if any, O levels and only three of us went to university. I suspect the grammar school as an engine of social mobility is a myth.

A Cooper's picture
Wed, 12/02/2014 - 22:48

Certainly, my evidence is anecdotal, based on my class of 28 I know that ten came from the nearby council estates because we were all friends. That mix was pretty much uniform across my four-form entry grammar school. We weren't streamed once we got there, classes were arranged in alphabetical order. One of my council estate friends is now the managing director of a very large American pharmaceutical research company, whose parents still live on the same council estate we were brought up on. If that's not an example of social mobility then I don't know what is. And, of course I became a qualified teacher, although some might not regard this as being a profession of particularly high status these days.

John Mountford's picture
Wed, 12/02/2014 - 23:44

Fiona, your conclusion is quite accurate. The tests are socially divisive. Not only that, but any alternative method of selection into these schools will not deal with the fundamental problem. The way forward is to remove grammar schools from the system.

As a headteacher in the eighties I had direct experience of the administration of the twelve plus tests that existed then in Bucks. We were allowed to undertake a limited amount of coaching under the rules of the scheme. The teacher in charge of the year sevens had a great deal of experience of working with the children effectively to boost their raw scores when compared with those recorded over the two years leading up to the 12+ without any coaching. Whereas this did not alter the rankings of the individuals involved, it did give us a competitive advantage over other local schools who might not have the capacity to improve outcomes through coaching to the same extent. The net result being, we were able to get a few more of our pupils through. We were playing the game then, just as schools are doing all they can today to prepare children in light of the unacceptably high level of testing as required by the random changes foisted on education by short-sighted, short-lived political meddlers (in terms of the time-frames required for meaningful reforms). Nothing changes, it would appear!

As to these new 'tutor proof' tests, give me strength!! If the intention is to try and establish a level playing field for testing in the drive to improve social mobility, it isn't going to work. There would have to be an extremely wide diversity of tests available to the grammar schools, selected randomly each year under the strictest secrecy and even then there would be those with the clout to throw money at the challenge and come out on top. But that is not why I believe the grammar school system should be dismantled.

It never ceases to amaze me that when commentators compare the achievements of comprehensives negatively with those of grammar schools, they do so by fantasising about some golden age of education. It never existed. The process of selection was, and remains, socially divisive. I have heard Brian's final remark, though anecdotal, oft repeated and for good reason. Sadly, society is divided producing winners and losers with random abandon. The way forward is to build a fair system of access to good and outstanding, locally accountable schools. That is not to be achieved easily and never under the present system of politically driven governance of education. If I didn't believe sincerely that it can be achieved, I could not go on serving as a governor and campaigning for a better deal for our young people.

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Thu, 13/02/2014 - 07:12

The highest performing school ( I refuse to say top of league tables) is the selective gra!mmer in Devon which has no catchment area and children travel miles ( my go daughter attends and lives twenty miles away. If you banned catchment areas , the grammers would serve the real high achievers from far and near, and the local comprehensive wouldn't be considered inferior; the grammar would serve the Sheldon and Leonards of the world who can be marginalised in comprehensive education.

Brian's picture
Thu, 13/02/2014 - 08:13

From Regression 2 we find that this effect is not present for students from lower social classes, which indicates that Grammar schools do not have a positive impact on social mobility

EC331 Research in Applied Economics 2010

'Are Grammar schools beneficial and do they improve social mobility?'

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 13/02/2014 - 08:50

In Lincolnshire, according to the website "elevenplus", coaching is "strongly discouraged". It may be "discouraged" but it's widely practiced. For example, this Lincolnshire private primary school (second link) offers "comprehensive preparation for a wide variety of entrance examinations, including 11+".

"11+ exams forum" has a long thread about the pervasiveness of coaching in Lincolnshire (third link - warning anecdotal).

At the same time, Bourne Grammar (one of the Tatler's best state schools) has increased its PAN. It scoops up more high ability children from a wide area including Rutland, Spalding, Peterborough and beyond. It is a very good school - pity it doesn't open its doors to all children instead of creaming off the highest attainers.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 13/02/2014 - 09:22

Comprehensive schools can do an equally good job with high ability children as grammar schools. Take Devon as an example:

Colyton Grammar School's GCSE cohort for 2013 was 100% previously high attaining pupils. 100% of them achieved the benchmark 5+ GCSEs (or equivalents) including Maths and English. Much as you would expect given the intake.

At Uffculme School, a comp with 32% previously high attaining pupils, 80% overall reached the benchmark in 2013. But 98% of the previously high attaining pupils did so.

At Oakhampton, with only 25% previously high attaining pupils, 71% overall achieved the benchmark, but 95% of previously high attaining pupils did so.

At the other end of the scale:

Great Torrington: only 25% high attainers: 45% overall reached the benchmark but 97% of the previously high attainers did so.

Honiton: only 24% previously high attainers: 45% overall reached the benchmark but 95% of the previously high attainers did so.

Grammar schools aren't interested in serving the local community but scooping up as many high ability pupils as they can even if they encroach into areas which operate a comprehensive system. This undermines the comprehensive system in neighbouring counties. In turn, this allows politicians to say comprehensives are "failing".

… at ways to improve selective tests to bring about ‘fair access’ to grammar schools. But as Local Schools Network has reported tutor proof tests are not the answer to a divided education system. The answer is to …

N Skipper's picture
Thu, 13/02/2014 - 21:39

The 5 Warwickshire grammar schools have been using these CEM tests since 2008 (for entry in 2009). The number of year 7 children eligible and claiming FSM in these schools is below.

Column #1: Census date
Column #2: Number of year 7 children on roll
Column #3: Number of year 7 children on roll and eligible and claiming FSM


mistemina's picture
Wed, 15/10/2014 - 08:13

This appears very similar to Bucks.

Mark's picture
Mon, 23/06/2014 - 08:41

The tests are not tutor proof. It appears a lie pumped by Durham to sell their tests.

Warwickshire, Birmingham, Bucks, Gloucestershire etc all confirm they have no evidence that this is the case and Durham fail to provide any evidence when asked.

Mark's picture
Mon, 23/06/2014 - 08:46

Now the Sutton Trust believe in discrimination. If you work hard and try and avoid benefits your children need to score higher marks than others for a grammar school place.

This left wing organisation is dangerous and has dubious research. Pupil Premum is valid for 6 years and a poor indicator of disadvantage.

High earners can easily work via a limited company, owned by relatives, pay minimum salary and then qualify for pupil premium, valid for 6 years. Then stop benefit and transfer shares to themselves. Job done. That's people earning £100K qualified for Pupil Premium!

mistemina's picture
Wed, 15/10/2014 - 08:12

mistemina's picture
Mon, 05/01/2015 - 13:34

Latest from Bucks on Selection. 60% vote to scrap Grammars in Local Bucks Paper.
Vote, then the site will update with result.
Remember the 60% 'to scrap Grammars' vote is despite a lot of anti-Grammar voters not bothering up to now, we in Bucks have been encouraged to think ‘’Selection must be right if the politicians, Grammar School Heads and estate agents say so’.

This vote follows several months of work from LocalEqualExcellent,, when statistics were exposed on the working and results of the 11+ exam. Some of the statistics were quite damming of the capital of Bucks only 16% of the children made it to Grammar Schools. The figure should be around 30%.
All these allegations went without any meaningful repost from Grammars or the LA.

All this hopefully is waking up the majority of Bucks parents, alerting them to the real dangers to their children's futures.

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