11-plus crackdown on rich kids’ coaching ‘advantage’

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CHANGES to the 11-plus system could soon be made in a bid to prevent wealthier families from giving their children an unfair advantage.

Bucks County Council cabinet member for education, Mike Appleyard, met with the authority’s scrutiny committee yesterday about ways in which to discourage children receiving coaching for entrance exams.

This system, he claims, gives children from higher economic backgrounds an unfair advantage.

Mr Appleyard says he feels especially strongly about the subject having attended a grammar school himself, despite coming from a council estate in the West Midlands.

“The idea is to find a test which is less easy to be prepared for,” he told The Bucks Herald.

“There’s a lot of coaching goes on for these exams, and it’s putting less financially stable families at risk.

“We as a council must do our bit to find a test that doesn’t put families with less money for coaching at a disadvantage. Nobody’s got the perfect answer, but we must strive to do our best.

“All secondary schools are very much in favour of getting this right, – particularly the grammar schools.”

Thousands of children put through the entrance exam – or 11-plus – system each year in the Vale as part of a county-wide scheme in all junior schools.

And in a bid to better their children’s chances many parents throughout the county seek further support from private tuition and group coaching sessions.

A website which offers 11-plus advice and mock papers to parents, www.bucks11plus.co.uk, states: ‘Many parents are now using of private tutors or extra summer classes to make sure that their children attain their highest potential.

‘Sadly, we seem to be at the stage when many of those children who haven’t had extra tuition or practice at home will stand little chance of getting through the selection procedure and entering a grammar school.’

Alan Rosen, headteacher at all-girl selective secondary school, Aylesbury High School, said he would welcome any positive changes to the 11-plus, although he claims that no students who may have been coached for the exam ever fail to keep up with others.

“Once they come to us they are ours, and we make sure they flourish,” he said.

“It’s difficult to know how much of an effect coaching actually has, in the same way as with driving tests or music exams.

“I find it very difficult to pass judgement on coaching, as I cannot criticise parents who have their children’s best interests at heart.”

But Ali Khan, headteacher at Griffin House School, a preparatory primary based in Little Kimble which costs parents around £2,500 per child each year, claims the system does not favour the more well-off, but does put the children under an immense amount of pressure.

“I think it would be a great idea to review the papers, and make the system into a completely level playing field,” he said.

Mr Khan added that despite the children being prepared for the exam at the private school, parents are still forking out even more cash for private tuition – even against the advice of the teachers.

“Coaching schools and the like prey on the fear of parents, and parents continue to get their children extra tuition, even if we plead with them not to – everyone panics.

“But the problem is it’s just too much pressure for the children sometimes.

“There’s been an explosion of these coaching clubs recently.

“These groups can make a difference to a certain extent, but it’s all about timing – the questions aren’t actually that difficult, but many children simply run out of time.

“The most important factor in passing the 11-plus is the foundation education which a child receives up to the age of seven – such as reading from a early age which builds up a good vocabulary.

“If parents want to get their child into a grammar school, they will stop at nothing and parents who must make sacrifices in order to afford extra coaching will do so – so it’s not just the wealthy parents.

“We need to find a way of testing children without putting them under such immense pressure and can test their ability without giving the opportunity for so much preparation.”

Meanwhile, the Vale of Aylesbury Housing Trust is offering free extra tuition services, including 11-plus training, named Flying Start, to its residents in a bid to bridge the wealth divide.

Rhonda Bagley, whose son has benefited from scheme, said: “This unexpected investment is very welcome with so many statistics pointing at deprivation and poor academic standards for children living in social housing.

“This is not a mere gesture of the importance you place upon your tenants, it’s a positive approach to addressing inequality often arising from underprivileged backgrounds.”