The idea of ‘selecting’ pupils in Rugby has been a hot topic for decades. Every time there are proposals to change the system, impassioned voices are raised on both sides of the argument – and little seems to happen.
Opponents of the current arrangement – in which some children are accepted by the town’s three grammar schools at the age of 11 – say it is unfair and brands a majority of young people as ‘failures’ at a time when their confidence could do with a boost.
Here is what actor and writer Stephen Fry says about the 11-plus in his book “Moab is my washpot”:
“A stupider and more divisive nonsense has rarely been imposed upon a democratic nation. Many lives were trashed, many hopes blighted, many prides permanently dented on account of this foolish, fanatical and irrational attempt at social engineering.” (p122)
Well, that said it! I must admit I have some sympathy with this view but I would argue it is rather out-dated. The 11-plus test is, effectively, an entrance exam for grammar schools. It is also voluntary. Parents will hopefully discuss with their children whether they would like to sit the test, which takes place each September. Many students actually enjoy preparing for and sitting the test, which is a series of problem-solving puzzles.
A few weeks after the test, each child receives a score. There is no pass or fail. There is no label. Parents express a preference for which school their child would like to attend. Schools and the local education authority will then set a minimum score for entry into their school. On that basis, they will offer places to those with the appropriate score.
But is the whole idea of ‘selection’ wrong? Well, if that is the case, then our complete education system is wrong and would crumble into a heap.
Children are selected almost from the day they begin school. Wander into a Year 1 classroom and you will see children sitting in groups for Maths or English. And do you know how they came to be in those groups? Well, they have been selected on ability. The groups may be called Blues, Greens, Reds and Yellows or Hexagons, Circles, Squares and Octagons: but they will have been selected so that those of roughly the same ability sit and work together.
This happens throughout a child’s school experience. Some primary schools even have different Maths and English classes across a school year, again selected by ability. In comprehensive schools, students are selected by ability to be in different groups across the school year. There could be as many as ten different Maths groups, all selected on ability.
And why is there so much selection? It’s because students, indeed everybody, makes the best progress by learning with those on a similar level. Teachers will know that if they set work just a little bit harder than their students’ current ability, then the opportunity to learn will be the greatest. If you have a disparate group of children, all of different abilities, in one group, then the chance of learning for all of them will be reduced.
It is unfair on those of low, medium and high ability to be working in mixed ability groups for most subjects. So, the idea of selection is not only prevalent in our schools and colleges, but it is the very bedrock of our theory of learning.
On that basis, you could view grammar schools are just another aspect of selection by ability. If you like, this is the ‘Hexagons’ or ‘Yellow’ group learning along with their peers of similar ability, but at a senior age.
Perhaps this is a controversial view (no doubt!). The other important part of this argument is that the schools that are not grammars should offer something different. For instance, children with a passion for the creative arts or physical education or practical learning should have a school to choose which supports their passion. If I were running such a school, I would make at least two-thirds of the curriculum arts-based or practical-based. Not enough of that is happening.
I will leave it to you to put a value on education from an experienced, qualified professional. Is tuition for your children more or less valuable than the other services on this list?
As a general point, I would argue that education professionals are greatly undervalued in our society (not in some other countries though, I may note). Teachers work long hours and are generally poorly rewarded. Most have been to university for three, four or five years and have then started in the profession at the bottom and had to work their way up.
I respect everyone on this list and can hardly blame them for trying to make as much money as possible. But what price education?
These were the qualifying scores for grammar schools in Warwickshire to gain entry in September 2016.
The three figures show the admission number, Automatic Qualifying Score (QS) and Minimum Score for the Waiting List.
King Edward VI School 81 232 226+
Stratford Girls’ Grammar School 120 222 216+
Alcester Grammar School 150 217 212+
Lawrence Sheriff School 120 207 202+
Rugby High School 120 205 200+
Ashlawn Selective 36* 203 198
*The Admission number for Ashlawn Selective is based on the Pupil Admission Number of the current Year 7 cohort within the school. The school have agreed to offer 36 selective places for 2016 entry.
This is how the standardised score is calculated. This is calculated by adding
the average (mean) of the combined Numeracy (Num) and Non-Verbal Reasoning (NVR)
scores to the Verbal Reasoning (VR) score.
Example: VR score = 130, Num score = 120, NVR score = 80.
Mean average of Num and NVR = 100.
Add this to the VR score (130) = total score of 230. (Source: Warwickshire County Council).
People often ask me: What is your percentage success rate at 11-plus tuition?
My reply is somewhat complicated. I usually say that all of the students who come to me, who are of the right ability to succeed at grammar school level, have passed the 11-plus. So, to that extent, the ‘success rate’ is 100 percent.
However, things are a little more complicated than that. Not every student I have taught has managed to get to the grammar schools in Rugby (Rugby High School, Lawrence Sheriff Grammar School and part of Ashlawn School). That is because not every student is suited to study at those schools. They offer high-level, fast-paced education and it would be wrong for a student to be ‘tutored’ through the 11-plus, only to find they struggle and are unhappy at a grammar school. That is not fair on anyone.
So my policy is to be honest with parents. I am happy to tutor any child in preparation for the 11-plus: but early on, usually after six sessions, I will give an assessment to the parents. I will say one of the following:
Yes, your child has a good chance of passing the 11-plus and going on to do well at grammar school
If your child works hard and practises for the 11-plus, they have a borderline chance of passing and could cope with grammar school level education; or
I feel your child does not have the ability to do well at grammar school and would be better suited and more comfortable in a different school.
I then leave it up to the parents to decide if they wish to continue with tuition. I will keep them updated with how their child is doing. If I have any concerns, I will voice them. Honesty is best and honesty is also the kindest thing to do in the long-run.
If you think this is the right approach, and would like to find about more, please get in touch. See the Contact page.
As far as reading is concerned, many primary schools focus on a similar group of writers – mainly because they are good, and they are accessible! These include JK Rowling, Roald Dahl, Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson and David Walliams.
I think the most important thing for primary school pupils is that they read with parents, and they read independently. It is crucial to discuss a book with someone and check on understanding. So, children reading anything is better than children reading nothing.
I used to encourage my pupils to read at least one classic novel, and there are so many to enjoy:
In Key Stage 1 SATS English, there will be a Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling Test from 2016. The spelling test will take about 15 minutes, and the grammar, punctuation and vocabulary test will take about 20 minutes.
The Government booklet states: “The tests are designed to enable pupils to demonstrate their attainment and as a result are not strictly timed since the ability to work at pace is not part of the assessment. Guidance will be provided to schools to ensure that pupils are given sufficient time to demonstrate what they understand, know and can do without prolonging the test inappropriately. Table 1 opposite provides an indication of suggested timings for each component. The total testing time is approximately 35 minutes. If teachers or administrators change the test time significantly, the test outcomes will be less reliable.”
There will also be two English Reading papers – the first of 30 minutes and the second of 40 minutes. The first reading paper comprises a selection of text(s) with questions interspersed. This component contains 20 marks. The second reading paper comprises a selection of texts and an associated reading answer booklet . This component contains 20 marks.
In Mathematics, there will be two papers – one of 20 minutes (arithmetic), and one of 35 minutes (mathematical reasoning). The tests are designed to enable pupils to demonstrate their attainment and as a result are not strictly timed since the ability to work at pace is not part of the assessment. However, elements within the curriculum state that pupils should be able to use quick recall of mathematical facts and the arithmetic paper is designed to assess some of these elements.
Paper 1 – 20 minutes
Paper 2 – 35 minutes English Reading
Paper 1 – 30 minutes
Paper 2 – 40 minutes Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling
Paper 1 – Spelling Test
Paper 2 – Grammar, punctuation and vocabulary 20 minutes.