Secondary Education Report – 11 Plus

Probably one of the most divisive subjects that we have had to debate this term. It formed part of the Education Department’s policy letter proposals for secondary education. I thought it a very disappointing report with little in the way of evidence or desired outcomes. Financial information was sparse and the public consultation was totally ignored. The accompanying letter from Treasury & Resources was scathing. In fact the whole situation was unacceptable, with 2 Departments unable to reach consensus over 2 years. That can’t be allowed to happen again.

It was no wonder that the report was heavily amended. It had to be. A decision on the 11+ was needed before deciding the structure of schools.

Here is my speech on the 2 amendments which set out whether or not the 11+ should continue. The States voted to get rid of the 11+. This was followed by a subsequent amendment to retain selection through a combination of assessment and tests. I supported it, but this too was defeated.

 

 

Sir, as expected, there are many here who have strong views about the 11+, both for and against and these positions have been expressed well yesterday and today.

It’s hardly surprising, given that there is an abundance of material on the matter and that anyone can provide evidence to support their point of view. Indeed, I believe there is a whole industry dedicated to providing information to support a particular viewpoint and I think many educationalists have done very well indeed out of such debate over the years.

And really that’s the point. There is no overwhelming evidence either way to say whether the 11+ is better or worse than no selection at all.

So, as someone who has not nailed her colours to the mast of the 11+ or alternatively said scrap it altogether, I have found it very difficult to determine the best thing to do. Perhaps that reflects my experiences. I was brought up by a teacher who often made it clear she believed it should go, someone who attended a Grammar, which at the time I was there has the teachers working to rule, oh the delights of the late 70 and early 80s, and having a child at the Grammar school who has blossomed there.

I hear what my good friend Deputy Le Clerc said but I don’t think we should look at personal experiences but rather what is in the best interests of the Island as a whole.

For me, how I vote focuses around 2 claims. The first is the limitation and long term impact on children and the other about the shortcomings of the exam itself. I am going to focus on the former.

EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY

So, firstly, the big buzz word is that the 11+ does not provide equality of opportunity. This was said by all those not in support of the 11+.

The reasoning seems to be around restriction of access to the curriculum. That sounds reasonable. I mean if you can’t get access to the course you want, then that is not equality of access.  However, I have been scratching my head as to why and how that means the solution is to scrap the 11+.

Will it be possible to offer all subjects under the system Education proposes? I do wonder the logistical nightmare of managing a timetable across 4 separate sites. I suspect there may well be a call for some new software to enable that to happen.

SOCIAL HOUSING

Now, I have been trying to get to the bottom of why there are such low numbers of chidlren from social housing that go to the Grammar and Colleges. We are told they are low, but no explanation. However, it is an argument made to demonstrate inequality of opportunity.

 

Now this is looked at in paragraph 7.8 where it states that in a 3 years period, of the 230 children in social housing only 3 went to the Grammar. Just over 1%. That is low.

BUT it goes on to say that the teachers only assessed 31 out of the 230 as being capable of going to either the Grammar or Colleges.  So that is just 13%. However, the top 25% from any year go there.

I’ve not heard anyone today explain that difference and why it is the 11+ that is to blame.  Doesn’t that demonstrate the equality of opportunity exists before Year 6?

Is it the primary school system? We hear they are wonderful, and they’re mixed ability, no one has a bad word to say for them. Or is it the family circumstances of those children? Is this something which demonstrates the importance of the 1001 days programme? We need to sort things out before the children even get to school?

I do see that the numbers from social housing are less than those in private sector. But is it the 11+ concept that is at fault?

SETTING

I do understand that setting can be a solution, althought the report is vague on this and should this amendment be passed I would be happy to second an amendment referred to by Deputy St Pier, to ensure that it is.

However, there will be a fundamental difference between setting students across 4 mixed ability schools than setting under a selective system, which exists now in core subjects. I know it does at the Grammar

Taking the top 25% of a distribution and setting that gives you much tighter ability levels in each set rather than the comprehensive model that takes the whole distribution and divides it up into sets, resulting in much wider ability levels in each set. Of course the alternative will be to have more sets and perhaps that is a solution.

 

GEOGRAPHY

Now, one issue that hasn’t been clarified is whether results will be published by campus or as one school?  Frankly I think the public will demand it by campus. Well, I think the Housing Minister might quite like that as it could well stimulate the housing market with parents moving to the most desirable catchment area. Something that has been done in respect of primary schools. Of course, those in social housing aren’t able to make those same choices.  So we will have selection, but based on geographic accident, or perhaps not,  of where your parents are, rather than ability

 

MENTAL HEALTH

Finally, Another commonly cited problem, is that the 11+ can cause mental health issues. I can understand that a child who does not get a Grammar school place may, wrongly see themselves as failures. It is hard not getting what you want and looking like you are not as good as someone else.

However, as Deputy Minister of HSSD, when I heard that children were damaged by the system I did think it was beholden on me to find out more.  The response I got from the mental health service was that they have come across children over the years who have attributed low self esteem ,anxiety and low mood to failure at the 11+ but often there are many other factors which contribute to the development of children’s mental health disorders so it is difficult to say there is a direct link .

Interestingly though, they are  seeing a rise in the number of young people  presenting with low mood ,anxiety , self harm and eating disorders as a result of exam pressure around GCSEs and A levels. I would hope that the initiative under the CYPP that we debated 2 weeks ago will help alleviate this.

 

However, clearly for some it will be upsetting to not get to the Grammar  or Colleges. I know that many like Deputy Duquemin consider this a very important point. Deputy Brehaut’s comments that it’s the only test you can only take once, it is all or nothing, but that is true of other tests. Going for a job, you either get it or you don’t. And degrees, post-graudate qualifications are limited, if not by the institution, certainly in terms of money.

 

INHERENT ISSUES

So, finally and more briefly, turning to the argument on the  structural problems of the 11+ we do hear that in the last 2 years there are more girls than boys at the Grammar School, a minority from social housing and that many children are coached. Can’t these issues be dealt with through changing the structure rather than getting rid of it totally?

 

On this I thought I’d look at my old school’s website. It is still a Grammar, but now has the benefit of being a locally managed Academy School, with Humanities College status, which was rated as outstanding by Ofsted at its last review. I was interested to find out all its policies are published on the website and that included its equality objectives. These are based around equality of access, equality of provision and equality of outcome.

In relation to the former it have the following policies;

  1. To give preference to students on free school meals in the admission border zone.
  2. To ensure the 11+ reading test does not have a ‘middle-class’ bias.
  3. To set a test that restricts the benefit of an 11+ tutor.

These policies have increased the proportion of childnre on free school meals who attend the school from 6% to 8% in 2015. So, it can be done.

I suppose to me the most important issue is not about equality of opportunity but fairness, which is part of the criteria that the department are said to have considered. Is it fair that every child gets the same education rather than the education that its them? We don’t have a failing system. All the schools are doing very well, or so we’re told.

So, why would we want to throw everything up in the air and hope that a bespke untried system will work better, when we don’t know what better is? That is the issue for me. I don’t have a strong ideological viewpoint, but I wish I did as it would make it so much easier. I just don’t see that getting rid of the 11+, or selection generally, will lead to Nirvana.

For that reason I can’t support Amendment 1 but will support Amendment 2.



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