Ministers’ attempts to introduce a "tutor-proof" 11-plus exam as part of plans for a new wave of academically selective schools have been dismissed as being “utopian” by the head of a leading grammar school foundation.
Heath Monk, executive director of the schools of King Edward VI, a group of grammar, independent and comprehensive schools in Birmingham which uses the tests, has poured cold water on the idea that they can ever negate coaching.
“I saw the statement that the ministers are looking for an uncoachable tests. I think that’s a utopia that is a good aspiration but I am not sure it is possible to get there,” he said.
He made his comments after prime minister Theresa May told backbench Conservative MPs on Wednesday evening that she wanted to create a "21st-century education system" with an "element of selection".
Ministers have reportedly suggested that their plan would involve grammar schools using entry exams that were less susceptible to coaching to ensure they take on more children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Mr Monk’s group of schools, which includes five grammar schools, two independents and a sponsored academy, uses entrance exams that were developed by Durham University specifically to mitigate the effects of private tutoring. But Mr Monk said no test could stop parents coaching their children.
“The aim is to make sure there is not too much knowledge and context required," he said. "There’s a lot of research and effort that goes into making these tests about the aptitude rather than the prior attainment.
“But with the best will in the world, the more you do them, the more you are familiar with them. It’s a bit like IQ tests – all the evidence I have seen says the more you do IQ tests the better you are at them.”
The King Edward VI schools are expected to heavily inform the government’s grammar schools policy. Each of the grammar schools in the foundation offers 20 per cent of its places to students in receipt of the pupil premium.
Any new grammar 'will affect nearby schools'
Ms May’s joint chief of staff, Nick Timothy, who is credited with most of the thinking behind the new grammar policy, attended King Edward VI Aston, a boys’ grammar school, which is part of the King Edward VI foundation.
Mr Timothy has previously stated that attending the school transformed his life chances.
Any attempts to bring in new grammar schools is likely to be piecemeal, with a handful of selective schools being introduced rather than a wholesale return to the selective school system dismantled during the 1960s and 70s.
But Mr Monk warned that any introduction of a new grammar school would have an effect on surrounding schools.
“The same arguments were made about free schools – any time you put new places into an environment, it’s going to have an impact,” Mr Monk said. “That’s obviously a policy decision that they will have to make. It’s weighing up the pros and cons of what that impact is that will be the difficulty.
“I don’t think we [King Edward VI] have had a massively detrimental impact on Birmingham. In fact, I think we have enhanced it, but we have been here for 130 or 140 years and are a more established part of the landscape.”
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