New 11+ Policy – Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. Why have you suddenly changed your admissions policy?
A. Although this may appear a “sudden” change to those outside the schools, this is a matter we have thought about very carefully. Our schools are successful and given this is a significant change we have not taken the decision lightly but have as you would expect undertaken research and consultation and considered our options. This has taken a number of years. More recently we have all been challenged to address the social mobility of children in education and the Government has urged selective schools (grammar schools) to increase the number of children in our schools who come from less privileged backgrounds.
Q2. Why does your policy only give priority to children eligible for pupil premium?
A. We can only work with the “tools” that we have been given by central Government. Whilst we recognise there are other less privileged families, at present we can only change our admissions criteria to assist this specific group. Surely it is better to be engaging with this initiative than doing nothing at all?
Q3. Why are you changing your selection criteria to be more inclusive now?
A. We are keen to address social mobility in this city, and we believe that we are returning to the original charitable aims of our organisation, which was to provide education for the children of Birmingham. Specifically the grammar schools were set up over 130 years ago to provide opportunities for the ordinary folk of Birmingham.
Q4. Why are you discriminating against pupils with a higher threshold score? Surely this is not legal?
A. Pupils with higher scores are not being discriminated against. The recent expansion of our schools means that we can now accommodate the additional children eligible for pupil premium who have achieved the qualifying score. We would not undertake changes to our admissions policies without obtaining legal advice.
Q5. Will this mean that if you are poor you won’t have to score as high in the 11+ admission tests?
A. That is essentially correct – up to 20% of places (25% at Aston) are set aside for pupil premium children who achieve “a qualifying score”. This qualifying score will be set before the test in September after we have reviewed data in order to ensure that children who achieve the score can flourish in our schools.
Q6. Why don’t you want the cleverest children at your school anymore?
A. We want our schools to represent the City of Birmingham and the diverse backgrounds that our children might come from. We believe that there are clever children out there who just don’t have the same opportunity to succeed as those from more privileged backgrounds and we want to try to do something about that.
Q7. Won’t your new selection criteria harm the comprehensive schools?
A. Our schools cannot and do not take all the bright children in the City. We hope that our familiarisation programme and outreach work with primary schools makes children better equipped to deal with their new “big school” wherever that may be. The number of children in Birmingham is increasing hugely, so the expansion in the size of our schools simply keeps pace with this. The proportion of pupils we take in the future will be the same as now.
Q8. Why did you increase the size of your schools?
A. Our expansion programme is the result of many factors. As previously stated the number of children in the City is increasing and our expansion simply caters for this increase. In addition, due to the recession there have been significant cuts to our school budgets and increasing pupil numbers will enable the schools to continue to offer as broad and balanced a curriculum as possible to our pupils.
Q9. Won’t increasing class sizes affect teaching standards and mean that children get less attention?
A. The funding cuts to our schools will lead to some increased class sizes. None of our classes are planned to be above 32 children, most will not exceed 30, and this is common in schools. We have the advantage that our children are from a relatively narrow, high ability range and our teaching staff are experienced in engaging with them, stretching them, and bringing out the best in terms of their potential. The change in admissions policy is not related to the increase in class size.
Q10. Why weren’t you interested in doing this earlier?
A. We have been considering such a change for some years. Now we have a way, albeit imperfect, of giving some priority to children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Q11. Is this change politically motivated
A. It isn’t politically motivated but it is certainly politically driven.
Q12.Won’t children from less fortunate financial backgrounds struggle to integrate with other children in the school?
A. Definitely not. This is one of those urban myths we hear time after time. All of our schools take children from a variety of ethnic, faith and socio-economic backgrounds and it is one of the great strengths of our schools that there are no social issues whatsoever. We simply want to increase numbers of children from some backgrounds who are under-represented in our schools.
Q13. What effect do you think this will have on other schools in the area?
A. Our schools cannot and do not take all the bright children in the City. Projections of pupil numbers in the City show that our expansion simply means that we will take the same proportion of pupils, a little under 5%, in 2019 as we did in 2012. We hope that our familiarisation programme and outreach work with primary schools makes our children better equipped to deal with their new “big school” wherever that may be.
Q14. Will this create a two-tiered system of pupils in your school?
A. No. Definitely not. We have evidence of children across all of our schools who continue to amaze us with their achievements who come from an extremely diverse range of backgrounds. We know our pupils and will, discreetly and professionally, ensure that no child is excluded from accessing any part of our curriculum offer by reason of their financial circumstances. We already do this very effectively.