CREDIT: This story was first seen in The Telegraph
Private primary schools have been threatened with a Grammar school exam ban after they were caught “coaching” children for the Eleven Plus, The Telegraph reports.
Schools in Kent are not allowed to teach pupils how to pass the Grammar school entry exam on the basis that this may give some children an unfair advantage over their peers.
An undercover BBC reporter, posing as a parent, approached ten fee-paying primary schools in Kent and found that nine of these were giving pupils special tutoring for the Eleven Plus.
It comes amid a debate about the extent to which Grammar schools should change their admissions policies to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Selective schools are under pressure to demonstrate that their entrance exams do not favour children from middle class families who can afford fees for primary schools or private tuition.
Earlier this year, Damian Hinds, the Education Secretary, announced a £50 million fund for Grammar school expansion, but only on the condition they can prove they will take in more children from lower income backgrounds.
In a series of recordings with private schools teachers, one said: “It’s ridiculous they say you can’t be tutored for it… we prepare children for the Kent test – 100 per cent.”
Others discussed how they give children examples of past papers, and mock tests “structured in a very similar way” to the Kent Test.
Just one out of the ten schools denied giving any extra tutorials, saying “no school should be coaching children”.
The county council said it would “always look at any firm evidence that suggests a school may have engaged in coaching”. Schools found in breach of the rules could be banned from holding future exams.
Three schools were warned about coaching by the council in 2016, but no further action was taken and the council has never banned a school from holding the exam.
Joanne Bartley of Comprehensive Future, which campaigns against grammar schools, said: “It’s an open secret – everyone knows you pay for a primary and hope to save money on a grammar school.”
She said that even with a ban on private schools coaching children for the test, some children are still in a better position than others. “There are people who pay for tutors or even just practise at home – dedicated parents with time on their hands are at an advantage to single mums,” she added.
Angela Culley, who is vice-President of the Independent Schools Association, said: “Where does tutoring begin and teaching end? There is a very grey line and Kent does not actually define what ‘coaching’ means.”
Ms Culley, who was headmistress for 30 years at The Mead School in Tunbridge Wells, a fee-paying primary school, said the “dream” of many parents was for their child to get a place at one of Kent’s grammar schools.
Jim Skinner, chief executive of the Grammar School Heads’ Association, told The Daily Telegraph: “Those private schools have been there for many years and some will do everything they can to help youngsters to get through the Eleven Plus.
“And actually, of the children who are at independent schools and those who are tutored, a very large number of them would pass anyway – it is referred to as ‘comfort tutoring’.
“A great deal of effort has been put into making these tests as resistant and possible to coaching. Of course most or virtually all grammars these days are trying very hard to provide as much support as they can to primary schools.”
Roger Gough, Kent County Council’s cabinet member for children, young people and education, said that there is no “official definition” for “coaching”.
“However, the council does highlight to schools that staff must not retain or copy materials provided for single use in earlier years in order to drill children in formats and question types and how to approach them,” he said.
“It should be apparent that this is not an appropriate approach to a process which seeks to identify the most suitable type of educational placement for children leaving primary school by assessing their ability.”
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