Should the Eleven Plus be abolished?

Martin McGuinness gets plaudits for the most memorable piece of legislation from the old Stormont Executive – abolishing the Eleven Plus examination. No one can serious argue that the exam was not antiquated, and inadequate for testing abilities beyond the crude aggregate measure of IQ. But as Angelique Christafis points out, this is a step that the British government is reluctant to take in England and Wales. Peter Hain talks about the apparent contradiction. Will it put NI’s high levels of social mobility at risk? Will middle class Catholic parents vote with their feet and go independent?

  • Crataegus

    The 11 plus fails many children and brands them. It is unfair for children who are nervous or who have a disadvantaged background but the problem is the alternative proposed has not been properly thought through and could lead to greater problems.

    With falling pupil numbers they also fail to properly address the fundamental problem of state, maintained and integrated systems. The pupil profiles favour middle class children and there has been little progress in targeting resources in primary education in disadvantaged areas. The root cause of disadvantage and under achievement is the lack of proper support and encouragement that many children receive from the ages of 3-7. By 11 it is too late.

    This needs to be properly thought through in detail before we throw the system into confusion and end up using a generation of children as Guinea Pigs and then need to revisit 10 years on.

    It is also interesting to note that Hain thinks that people here have less rights than those in England. His South African background surfacing perhaps?

  • Alan

    *the problem is the alternative proposed has not been properly thought through and could lead to greater problems*

    What nonesense, where is the evidence for that outrageous statement!

    *The pupil profiles favour middle class children and there has been little progress in targeting resources in primary education in disadvantaged areas.*

    Pupil profiles work well in GB and elsewhere. Middle class children are favoured by their parents, rather than the pupil profile.

    The grammar lobby have never approached this on the basis of finding a solution, but,rather, they keep wishing to prolong the agony. The only suggestion they ever came up with was a computer aided system which is fine if your child has access to a computer and is good at maths, but doesn’t answer the fundamental question of equality.

    I am sick to death with people who keep saying put this off, put this off. As a parent, I say make the change now, people are already being trained in the new system, so why lose any more time.

    The existing system is an abhomination, and continues to blight childrens lives. Last Saturday another cohort was forced to go through this trial by numbers, enough is enough.

  • Crataegus:

    His South African background surfacing perhaps?

    Am I reading you right, that he viewed blacks as second class? If so, you may want to take that back. Hain’s anti-apartheid credentials are hardly in doubt.

    I agree with your broader point that the current system should not be abolished until we have something better to replace it with. Nothing of the kind has yet been brought forward.

  • susan

    Pupils are not forced to go through the 11 plus – they can opt out. Many parents do so to avoid labelling a child who they suspect will not achieve an a or b grade. Unfortunately unless they can afford to send their children to an independent school this means their choice is limited to a secondary school. The present system doesn’t work. Many middle class children receive coaching and practise on past papers. This has been shown to make a difference to results. Unless you can devise a system which is completely different every year a system based on examinations is open to abuse. Comprehensive schools can work but the successful schools use streaming or selection by ability in a subject. This approach works when you have a child who is poor at maths but good at english. They will recieve remedial help in the maths class and be able to develp in the english class. Comprehensive schools are harder to get right than grammar schools. You have a broader range of ability, social backgrounds and behaviour but they can be made to work. There are plenty of examples of comprehensive schools that do work.

  • J Kelly

    Could someone answer a few questions on this topic.
    Do fee paying schools get any support from government?
    What would the expected fees be at an independent school?

  • Crataegus

    Peter

    Sorry I do of course recognise Hain’s credentials on Apartheid, but therefore all the more surprise at the way he is governing here. It is reminiscent of how second class citizens are treated. Water Rates, Council reorganisation, and now education.

    Alan

    Actually I am not a supporter of selection at 11years but think the proposals are insufficiently thought through. Willis provided this link on another thread http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm200506/cmselect/cmniaf/uc726-iii/uc72602.htm and if you read through it there is a lack of precision in the minister’s answers and that worries me.

    “Middle class children are favoured by their parents, rather than the pupil profile.”

    But the point is that this will inevitably feed through into their pupil profiles. I gave an example on another thread of a child who had some knowledge of several languages, grade 3 music in several instruments, went to Guides etc etc do you think this will have no impact on the profile? Of course it will.

    One of the problems with the current proposals is it will lead to school based house purchase. Do you really think the children from the Shankill will benefit from the proposal? They will still go to the Boys & Girls Model and the middle class will buy themselves out of the problem.

    Susan

    Like yourself I would prefer a streamed comprehensive system but I cannot see how it can work with maintained, state and independent systems and without clear direction as to which schools should merge etc. I can’t see how we can fudge this.

  • Alan

    *Comprehensive schools can work but the successful schools use streaming or selection by ability in a subject.*

    Most would use a form of *banding* in which young people are placed in classes for core subjects (English, Maths, French etc) by ability. However, the key is that they can move up or down as they work through the school. That means there is a reward for young people who are prepared to put the effort in.

    On fee paying, don’t quote me on it, but they would not receive AWPU for the fee – paying child. However, most would also have a much larger majority of day pupils who do attract AWPU and effectively subsidise the fee payers in terms of facilities and staff.

    While on the subject, I have heard that there may be an issue around repayment of capital investment (since 1948 ?) for any voluntary and controled schools who wanted to go independent.

  • JD

    Folks, it’s gone, get over it.

  • Alan

    Crat,

    Sorry, missed your post while writing the last one.

    School based house purchase happens already , as I said before, around 25% of one large ( and successful) Belfast Grammar school’s intake comes from one primary – not its prep school.

    On the school numbers issue, any system will have to deal with that. I do, however, think that the Gov’t are committed to tackling this one. They need to be bloody minded about it – a bit more of the Barry Gardiner approach would go well.

  • Les Gray

    Look, this talk of pupil profiles favouring the ‘middle class’ is irrelevant twaddle.

    The draft education order explicitly states that the pupil profile cannot be used by a secondary school to select its pupils. Full stop.

    Therefore it does matter what the socio economic background or ‘class’ of the child is, their parent/ parents can choise to ignore it anyway.

    Plus can anyone tell me in detail what is going to be in these pupil profiles anyway??

  • Congal Claen

    Grammar schools serve those who attend them very well. It’s the secondaries that need sorted. I would actually increase selection. Split the secondaries by ability. If you’re in the top secondary stream you would no longer be a “failure”. I’m a Leeds supporter. We’re not in the premiership but at least we’re not in 1st division. To take the football analogy further I’d also have “promotion and relegation” on a yearly basis rather than the one off 11plus. This would increase competition and reduce complacency of those who happened to get through the 11plus. I’d also have selection from an earlier age. Although some here think 11 is too early, from my recollection of primary school, those at the top of the class in P1 never changed by P7. I’d imagine the situation was largely repeated in Primary schools throughout the country…

    BTW, I wouldn’t put too much faith in Hain’s ability to sort it out. Never mind my child or indeed any other child’s future. Having negotiated the European Constitution when asked any question about it he looked as though he was completely dumbstruck. He wasn’t up to the job of Europe minister and that’s why he was dumped here. A failure…

  • susan

    Secondary schools do need sorting. They don’t have a clear purpose. They were originally founded to provide voational education to non academic children. However because of the error margin in the 11 plus ended up including an academic element. Only because they lacked the resources and teacher support, secondary schools provided academic teaching which was a poor imitation of the grammar schools.

    As Peter Hain says Northern Ireland needs to develop vocational education and improve the skills base of its work force. Unfortunately I am not confident about the method he is proposing – partnerships with Fe colleges -working.
    FE colleges are very different from schools. It is a much more adult, less regulated environment. Taking students out of school is disruptive and wastes time. Providing vocational education in schools i.e. by bringing in teaching staff from FE colleges into schools, doesn’t get away from the problem that some vocational subjects are expensive to start up for example equipment costs.
    Vocational educational has a long history of failed initiatives. Ask Will Haire about Jobskills! Also does anyone remember GNVQs and AVCEs – now being replaced by BTEC Nationals.

  • wild turkey

    The pro-grammar school lobby is peddling dishonest and fraudulent arguments.

    1. The intellectual justification for academic selection is based on research now seen to be fraudulent.

    Academic selection is based on the assertion that intellectual ability is determined far more by hereditary than environmental factors. The original empirical basis for this belief is based on research which is now widely seen as fraudulent.

    Sir Cyril Burt’s work on IQ was the basis of selection at 11+, in the 1944 Education Act. Burt’s most famous work on the genetics of intelligence involved the study of twins. In a series of papers published between 1943 and 1966 Burt concluded that heredity plays a much more prominent role in the development of intellectual ability than does the environment. Due to Burt’s acclaimed reputation, his findings impacted both the international academic community and the local educational system within England.

    However, within a year of his death, however, the legitimacy of his research was being questioned. The questions began to turn into accusations, and by 1976 he was officially accused of fabricating data to prove that intelligence was inherited. The publication of Burt’s official biography by Leslie Hearnshaw in 1979 seemed to seal Burt’s fate by concluding that the charges of fraud were merited.

    2. I would assert that the grammar schools sector new found, and moving, concern with ‘social mobility’ is disingenuous self-serving bullshit.

    What can we expect next from these *!$!ers? A commitment to eradicate, in our time, the plague of tennis elbow afflicting the underprivileged? I could respect the grammar school supporters, if still disagree with their aims, if they had the honesty to acknowledge their penchant for retaining the status quo is because under current system good results and the resulting privileges can , to some extent, be purchased.

    Before ‘Indignant of Cherry Valley’ goes apeshit on that one, 2 questions;

    If coaching and tutoring didn’t deliver results, would parents pay the tutors?
    What family units can best afford the expenditure on selection test tutors?

    A 2005 LSE Report An Intergenerational Mobility in Europe and North America: A Report Supported by the Sutton Trust

    Found that The UK, along with the USA (surprise, surprise), have amongst the lowest measures of social mobility in northern post-industrial societies. In Britain, social mobility is declining .

    Part of the reason for the decline in mobility has been the increasing relationship
    between family income and educational attainment between these cohorts. This
    was because additional opportunities to stay in education at both age 16 and age
    18 disproportionately benefited those from better-off backgrounds.

    And yes, the Belfast Telegraph ran an article on the research

    ‘Grammar schools get thumbs up
    Best way to improve your status, says new research
    By Debra Douglas
    17 May 2005
    New research by the London School of Economics has revealed grammar schools are the best way to improve a person’s social and economic status.’

    The source for the article? A UUP press release!

    One of the reports authors wrote a letter to the Belfast (Impartial) Telly

    RESEARCH MISREPRESENTED

    20 May 2005
    An article headed Grammar Schools Get Thumbs Up (Belfast Telegraph, May 17) quotes research from the London School of Economics as showing “that the abolition of grammar schools in England has had a negative effect on the opportunities available to children from less well off backgrounds”.
    As one of the authors of this study I am concerned that both the article and the source for the story, a UUP press release by Ken Robinson, misrepresent our research.
    We show that the educational outcomes and earnings of poor children have declined relative to those better off when we compare those born in 1970 with those born in 1958.
    However, we do not directly assess the extent to which is this a consequence of the decline in selective schooling over the period.
    There were many changes in education and other policies which could be responsible for the changes we find, of which the abolition of grammar schools is just one.

    JO BLANDEN, Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics

    The lesson in all this: Appeal to the evidence rather than self-serving bias

    Taught, but not practised by grammar schools?

  • Crataegus

    Alan

    “They need to be bloody minded about it”

    I’m not sure that the ministers are on top of this or are even up to the task. That is why I, a person who dislikes the 11 plus, am deeply worried. I also doubt if it will make the slightest difference to those who are grossly under achieving now and if that is the case then one has to ask why are we doing this? Is there anything more to this than blind faith in the proposed system whatever that may be?

    I think a fair number of schools will be giving serious consideration to going independent BRA, Inst, Methodist College, Victoria College etc and I don’t see the residual value of the building stock posing an insurmountable obstacle. If this happens the proposal will be totally divisive.

    Les Gray

    “can anyone tell me in detail what is going to be in these pupil profiles anyway”

    I wish I could. If I have this right these are supposed to inform the parents in the choice of secondary school?*?*** So what is going to be the actual choice on offer? If none then it is pointless. If there is then is this not a form of selection and what are the criteria for choosing? If proximity is a factor will this not merely entrench social divisions?

    Congal

    I agree with your point about the need to keep pupils under a bit of pressure and enjoyed the relegation simile. In a good streamed comprehensive the pupils could easily rise and fall, but in reality can we be sure that this is what is on offer and if so how exactly do we get there?

  • Mickhall

    Good on you Alan for expressing some anger over this matter, before I write about education I would just add, Unionists should hold their heads in shame for holding back from entering the Assembly Administration, for in doing so they are allowing British Ministers to destroy many young Ulster-boys and girls lifes chances, when they administer an education system they little understand. If there is one thing which should be administered locally it is education.

    We are aware of two facts, grammar schools have been a disaster for the majority of children who did not pass the 11 plus. The public and grammar schools were there to turn out the professional classes, those who attended the secondary schools were to be trained as pack animals to do the heavy lifting for society. This being so not only were selective grammar schools a failure, they are also an outrage against common decency.

    Sure many comprehensive schools in England could and can do better, but the comprehensive system has been a magnificent success when compared to what went before it. If one doubts this one only has to look at the numbers of youngster entering higher education and universities today and compare them with past numbers.

  • “If one doubts this one only has to look at the numbers of youngster entering higher education and universities today and compare them with past numbers.”

    By that logic surely we ought to compare the numbers of youngsters entering higher education and universities as produts of Northern Ireland’s selective system and compare them with England/Wales’ comprehensively educated numbers.

    The point was made above that many “middle class” pupils are tutored or use practice papers. The tutoring point I’ll grant you, but what evidence is there to suggest that working-class kids are unable to access past/practice papers?

    The letter from the LSE academic to the Tele fails to mention a single more dramatic change in the English education system over the period in question than the abolition of academic selection. Obviously it wasn’t the only change in policy but it was by far the most obvious and severe.

    The 11+ may be less than ideal, and AFAIK most people who responded to the household survey wanted rid of it – but most also wanted to retain academic selection in some form. So replace the 11+ with something more suitable, fine.

    But without any form of academic selection, leading schools will go private. All the abolition of grammar schools will accomplished is a shift from academic selection to financial selection, and who will that hurt most if not the working and lower-middle classes who can ill-afford to pay hundreds or thousands of pounds per year for schooling.

  • wild turkey

    Beano
    ‘The letter from the LSE academic to the Tele fails to mention a single more dramatic change in the English education system over the period in question than the abolition of academic selection.’

    it could be that the academics letter to the tele ‘fails to mention’ other policy changes as a was responding to a mis-representation of the research.

    again the mis-representation was the research showed “that the abolition of grammar schools in England has had a negative effect on the opportunities available to children from less well off backgrounds”….and the reports author refutes this interpretation.

    will leading schools go private? i don’t know.

    however if all state subventions/subsidies to private are withdrawn,including indirect subsidies through tax allowances, rates, etc. ,its difficult to see that a substantial move to private status would be financially viable.

    the ultimate function of government is where/how to raise revenue and where/how to spend it. how the private education sector is treated by way of govt expenditure and taxation is a political decision… and one that won’t be made by local politicians.

  • Crataegus

    Turkey

    “the ultimate function of government is where/how to raise revenue and where/how to spend it. how the private education sector is treated by way of govt expenditure and taxation is a political decision”

    They could get away with things here that would be impossible in England because not one of us have the opportunity to vote against any of them. Nice to live in a democracy but I doubt that when it comes to the crunch they will be that determined. It will be course of least resistance for not one of them really care about here and those that profess they do are fast disappearing up their own rectum. .

  • No the 11+ should not be abolished!

    There is not other effiencent alternative!

  • willis

    Crataegus

    “I’m not sure that the ministers are on top of this or are even up to the task. That is why I, a person who dislikes the 11 plus, am deeply worried.”

    My thoughts precisely. There seem to be two key questions.

    “Will pupil profiles do the job?” and

    “Will post-primary schools continue to teach different subjects?”

    I do not see many clear answers.

    If Government ministers could provide clear authoritive answers to probing questions they would seperate the worried and concerned like Crataegus and me from the Patronising Begrudgers.

    Compare and contrast these Parliamentary answers: here and here.

    A lot seems to hang on CCEA’s credibility.

    I have no idea if those links will open. They can both be accessed from here, which is a listing of Parliamentary Questions on Education linked from the DENI site.

    The 11+ is deeply flawed, it is not fit for purpose and if we were starting again with a choice between it and pupil profiles, it would lose. A lot of white haired ex working class lawyers have affection for the process which gave them a decent education, fair enough.

    In England and Wales there is a retreat from mixed ability comprehensives but no-one is going back to Grammars and Secondary Moderns.

    The opponents of selection have a good case but are not sufficiently vocal. If you want to see why have a good read through these exchanges and see if you would fancy the job. See the thanks you get from your local MP for being a hard working Headmaster of an over-subscribed High School.

    Late breaking News!

    Press Notice No 10
    PUBLICATION OF REPORT
    EDUCATION IN NORTHERN IRELAND

    The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee First Report of the 2005-06 Session, Education in Northern Ireland (HC 726), will be published on Thursday 9 February at midday.

    The Committee’s Chairman, Sir Patrick Cormack, said “We decided that, whilst it would not be appropriate to launch a major inquiry into the reorganisation of secondary education in Northern Ireland at this late stage, we would give various interested parties an opportunity to submit written evidence and to appear before us. This we have done, and we are pleased to publish, with this Report, all the written and oral evidence we have received as further valuable contributions to the continuing debate on secondary education in Northern Ireland.”

    http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm200506/cmselect/cmniaf/uc726-ii/uc72602.htm

  • willis

    Ulster 1

    You are beyond parody! LOL

  • willis

    and how do you come to that conclusion?

  • btw willis, try to use hyperlinking properly instead of screwing up the whole thread layout, FFS!

  • willis

    Always willing to learn. Please instruct. My html is as good as your spellchecker!

  • Crataegus

    Susan

    “Also does anyone remember GNVQs and AVCEs – now being replaced by BTEC Nationals.”

    Good point, who could forget them and the unfortunate children who came to job interviews bearing virtually meaningless (from an employers point of view) pieces of paper.

  • wild turkey

    No the 11+ should not be abolished!
    There is not other effiencent alternative!

    Ulster 1

    The logic and evidence base of your argument is compelling.
    So here’s the deal
    Why not take the test and see how you do?

    Any grades below A will result in

     immediate dismissal from your current employment
     compulsory entry on a government training programme such as jobskills, new deal
     ineligibility for any and all benefits you and/or your household might have been in receipt of due to changed economic circumstances.

    LINK BELOW

    Would you pass the 11 PLUS?
    BBC Northern Ireland – 11plus
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/northernireland/11plus/practise.shtml

    C’mon, have a go. It’s fun, its exciting, … it’s a an effcent, effifishant, the TRADITIONAL way to separate the wheat from the chaff.

    Its put up or shut up time.

    Best wishes for your continued success.

  • willis

    Ulster 1

    The reason I described you as being beyond parody is that, as Mick says on the intro

    “No one can seriously argue that the exam was not antiquated, and inadequate for testing abilities beyond the crude aggregate measure of IQ”

    The 11+ exam as it currently stands is not efficient. Like any exam you can improve your chances with tutoring. The Grammar schools themselves would prefer a computerised system.

    There are plenty of very reasonable arguements to be made, but you chose a blunt, not an inch, approach on spurious grounds, and no spell check.

    You are absolutely right on your other point. I have made a hash of this page, and I assure you that will not happen again. If anyone can point me to a means of sorting it out, I would be very grateful.

  • willis

    Thanks for tidying up my mess, like many hard working secondary school teachers have been doing after the 11+

  • Crataegus

    Ulster 1

    I passed the 11+ as did my wife and all my children. On face value I should be grateful, but I intensely dislike this exam.

    I went to an appalling Primary school, I am dyslexic and every day at school I was severely caned. Indeed I was considered stupid, but no one in the school was expected to do well. I was the only pupil from that school to pass and the day we all went to our new schools I lost all friends.

    The children at that school were not stupid they simply did not have the same opportunities that middle class children have. I was an exception, I had an unusual background and lots of interests from astronomy to natural history therefore and my parents had wide interests therefore I passed. Things may have improved but to this day some schools don’t even enter many of the children for the exam. The don’t get the chance, they are failed by the school.

    My eldest daughter had a friend, a very clever girl but shy and nervous. That girl was so nervous she did well below her capability and ended up in a secondary school. My eldest is now very well qualified and can look forward to a well paid career her friend is a shop assistant.

    The existing system is failing many capable people and that can’t be right. BUT the problem is we have been presented with a solution that has not been adequately considered

    If Angela Smith presented something really positive and was able to say;
    1 this is how it is going to work;
    2 these are the choices that parents will have;
    3 this what we will be doing to ensure that areas of poor attainment improve;
    4 this is the proposed pupil profile and its exact purpose is;
    5 these are the key subjects;
    6 vocational training will be whatever leading to recognised qualifications; ( come to think of it what isn’t vocational);
    7 the time table for schools to merge will be and if they don’t;
    8 this is what we are proposing for the state, maintained and integrated sectors;
    9 this is how we will cater for pupils of different abilities.
    And so on.

    With falling roles I think they have an ideal opportunity to implement change by focussing around existing centres of excellence and expanding their remit. We could have a brilliant educational system for all but I have a nagging feeling that they are going to botch this.

  • susan

    I failed the 11 plus; I am very good at english but crap at maths, so I doubt I would ever have passed. I have some problem with reading numbers – now I manage a large budget – spreadsheets are fantastic! I went to a very poor secondary school and into the A stream where we were told by 1 teacher ‘you are the mistakes the 11 plus makes’. Very few of my extremely clever class mates went into university. We were almost all from a working class background with no parents or siblings at university.
    Vocational education in the secondary school I went to wasn’t successful. Only the C and D streams did carpentry and metalwork. I don’t think schools should deal with vocational education they don’t have the expertise, the links with industry for placements, or the facilities. Schools should concentrate on ensuring that all pupils have good basic standards of Maths, english etc. and then send those pupils who aren’t interested in university to an fe college at 14. those who want to go to universitycan stay on. Bring back the technical schools!

  • willis

    Congal Glaen

    “Grammar schools serve those who attend them very well. It’s the secondaries that need sorted.”

    This is interestingly a point often made by the Grammar Schools.

    The most significant developments in the Non-Grammar sector are the growth of Integrated and Irish medium schools. These are popular and often over-subscribed. Sammy Wilson is a supporter of the current system so you might think that he too would be in favour of improving the Non-Grammar sector to justify the continuation of the present system.

    Unfortunately not!

    BTW Integrated Schools began in 1982, The Belfast Agreement was in 1997.

    C- in History

  • Crataegus

    Susan

    “Bring back the technical schools!”

    I could never understand why they fell out of favour, I know a lot of good people who went through the old Technical Schools.

    Slightly of subject but recently noticed some system to register tradesmen. I think that this needs to be taken further and we should insist that trades people belong to guilds and the guilds enforce standards in that trade. If this happened you could start to have some coherent apprentice schemes. The professions all support the education of those studying why not the trades? (It would also sort out the dodgy plumber).

  • willis

    This will be the guild you are looking for