It is that time of the year again when we make a big song and dance over the top achievers in the 11+ examinations. They are featured prominently in all the media as they get ready to take their places in the first forms of the elite secondary schools of our island next September. I sincerely wish them well in the next phase of their education and I know that most of them will perform extremely well.
My concern is not about them; it is about this antiquated and inequitable method of transferring pupils from primary to secondary schools. We already know that the 11+ examination has a built-in middle class bias and that it perpetuates huge disparities between schools, based on the type of pupil intake they get as a result of this exam.
Many schools get low-performing intakes every year and yet follow basically the same curricula as the top schools. We also know that in Britain, the 11+ exam was abolished 44 years ago because it was discovered that it was based on fraudulent research carried out by Sir Cyril Burt. 90% of British pupils are transferred from primary to secondary schools through zoning; without any examination. Only a very small percentage of British schools have been allowed to retain the 11+ examination to this day.
I am concerned about the majority of the pupils who are not allocated to the prestigious schools. It seems as though we are willing to write many them off as failures at age 11. We tend to have low expectations of them and it is not surprising that a lot of them feel some measure of alienation from the society. That feeling can cause serious social problems for all of us.
I look forward to the day when we muster the political will to get rid of this examination and find a way to overcome the logistical impediments to full zoning of schools. Then all secondary schools will draw their intakes from the surrounding catchment areas and the system will be more just. By so doing, we will also eliminate many of the social and economic problems caused by large numbers of students crisscrossing the island every day to attend secondary schools which are too far from their homes. We would also eliminate the injustice of having a significant number of schools populated only with underachieving students, while a few elite schools receive all the top students and the best resources. This is not fair to students or teachers.
Standardized continuous assessment of pupils can be done in the primary schools. A report on each child would be forwarded to the Principal of the receiving secondary school and this would remove the necessity for the 11+ examination.