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.
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.
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.
Send me your answer on the form below and I will tell you if you got it right!
In August 2008, Eddie hired a car in Italy. The cost of hiring the car was £620. The exchange rate was £1 = 1.25 Euros.
(a) Work out the cost of hiring the car in Euros.
(b) Eddie bought perfume in Italy. The cost of the perfume in Italy was 50 Euros. The cost of the perfume in London was £42. The exchange rate was still £1 = 1.25 Euros. Work out the difference between the cost of the perfume in Italy and the cost of the perfume in London. Give your answer in pounds (£).
(Question taken from June 2010 paper. A calculator is allowed)
By the way, this was one of the easier questions, being number 3 on the paper.
If you are looking to improve your Mathematics grade, or lacking confidence facing your GCSE course or exam, then I might be able to help.
Currently, I am tutoring several GCSE students at various stages of their courses, from Year 9 to Year 11. My initial approach is to work through past papers and find areas in which they are struggling or need extra help. I would then design sessions which focus on these needs, hopefully leaving them better placed to do well when they next face such questions.
Tutoring is likely to be of most effect by tackling problems as early as possible. So, even in Year 7 or 8, support can be helpful in addressing misunderstandings and addressing areas where a student might be confused. However, some students are just looking for an extra boost in Year 11, often before, or shortly after, their mock examinations. Often there are particular topics – such as algebra – for which they need extra one-to-one tuition and I am happy to help.
When I was at Lawrence Sheriff Grammar School, (many years ago now!) and studying Mathematics A-level, I know that some extra one-to-one sessions made a huge difference to my confidence. It is amazing how much can be achieved in a one-to-one tuition lesson.
If you would like to discuss how I can help, please use the contact form on the front of this website.
September may seem a long time away, but your child could have as few as 20 weeks to get ready for the 11-plus exam.
If you are using a personal tutor to support your child, you should be making sure there is plenty of time left to look at the wide variety of questions contained in the test.
I would recommend at least 20 sessions with a tutor to ensure your child has experienced every type of question which the test will throw at them. Of course, I would say that as I am a tutor myself!
But I really think that even high ability children, who are consistently hitting Level 5 in mathematics and English, need time to rehearse strategies for the 11-plus.
The test is a very specific way of assessing your child, and students are unlikely to have come across its type of question before.
I know – way back – when I took my 11-plus (or 12-plus as it was in those days), I did plenty of practice beforehand, using what were known as General Progress Papers! When it came to the 11-plus itself, I felt confident and nothing in the test surprised me. I felt I was in a position to do justice to myself.
That is all we can ask young people to do – to feel confident and perform to the best of their abilities. So if you think that weekly or twice-weekly lessons with a private tutor can help, then please contact me and I will be pleased to advise you.