Teaching banned in private shools

Private primary schools have been threatened with a Grammar school exam ban after they were caught “coaching” children for the Eleven Plus.

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.

Guess they’ll all have to stop sitting mock GSCEs as well then.

33 thoughts on “Teaching banned in private shools”

  1. What is British education if not just a sequence of exam coaching sessions?

    It certainly made me able to see clearly what was wanted on any exam paper I sat later in life and write my answers accordingly.

  2. Tell the state to fuck off and set up your own exam structure.

    Any legal shite ask parents to turn out and put their fists in copper’s faces.

  3. @john77

    No, not in Kent.

    All schools there are banned from test prep in the hopes that this levels the playing field.

    The fact parents will do it at home, or hire tutors if they couldn’t afford it, doesn’t seem to have occurred to the authorities concerned.

    One major problem of the 11+ exam is that it is coachable and higher socioeconomic groups get a lot more coaching – one way to even this out would be try finding a less coachable style of exam (hard though, kids who have at least had practice runs are still going to deal better with things like the test format or the pressure of the day) and another would be to force the state primary schools to provide test prep, the opposite of the current policy…

    The threat of a ban on kids from a particular school taking the test sounds pretty hollow to me – it is obviously unfair on the kids and parents, particularly when other kids who take the exam will also clearly have received coaching/tutoring from other sources.

  4. But state schools can spend two terms coaching children to pass the 11+

    No, not in Kent.

    What! Kent is supposed to be a Conservative council, not one run by the usual useless leftie CM twats. How the hell did that happen?

  5. On a related note, there was a long discussion on R4 Today programme this morning about new rule in France to ban use of smartphones on school premises.

    As in a long discussion about whether this was a good thing or not, rather than an incredulous one of “how is this not already completely blindingly obvious policy”.
    WT actual F?

  6. @ MBE
    Test preps are only a small part of coaching for the exam. Focussing your teaching solely on the subjects to be examined is coaching. When I was 10, the local state primary school had one PT lesson a week and the rest was Arithmetic and English which were the two subjects tested while I was having lessons in History, Geography, French, Latin, Scripture, Algebra and Geometry, as well as Arithmetic and English and the compulsory PT. Was that a level playing field? [There was also an IQ test for which I assumed they got some coaching]

  7. @PF

    Because they misguidedly thought they could level the playing field this way. They have correctly identified a problem – the socioeconomic split in 11+ passes means their grammar schools are basically providing free private-school-style education to the well-off and are not fulfilling their objective of raising social mobility by providing private-school-standard education to bright kids from poor families.

    Their solution to the problem, though, is nuts.


    We are talking about the rules in Kent today though, not your childhood. And the rules in Kent state that no school, state or private, is allowed to coach kids for the 11+. Unsurprisingly it is the private schools who are allegedly paying less attention to this bizarre rule – it is part of what their customers are paying for, after all, and they’re less under authority control/supervision generally. (Though I do wonder if any state schools particularly in well-to-do areas are also ignoring the rule, but just wouldn’t provide such a good journalistic scoop as to attract media investigation.)

  8. PF: “Kent is supposed to be a Conservative council, not one run by the usual useless leftie CM twats. How the hell did that happen?”

    Where have you been, PF? That is what passes for a modern ‘Tory’ now.

  9. @Ben S

    Indeed, everything is gameable.

    Noteworthy that several continental countries still have grammar schools but not an equivalent of the 11+ … Everything is done on teacher recommendations instead. Doesn’t work well either because it turns out teachers promote kids from the “right sort of family” anyway. At least the exam system has some transparency to it, since you can see what mark your kid got, whereas teacher recommendations remain veiled and subjective. (I also wonder how they deal with issues like end-of-term gifts to teachers and general social hobnobbing in those countries, but I do know the evidence of bias in recommendations is very strong.)

  10. Mr Lud / Julia

    “genuinely” might be stretching..;)

    But yes, quite, lest I forget why I’ve not voted that way since (at least) Campo.


    Thanks, that’s interesting. I know they’re politicians, but all the same it’s actually quite hard to imagine that level of ineptitude (or the irony).

  11. @PF

    Some other areas with grammar schools have gone the other way, laying on extra workshops and advice for potential applicants who might not have afforded private tuition. In terms of meeting the policy objectives this is obviously more expensive, but is at least less hare-brained.

  12. The alternative possibility is that the Kent Tory councillors are middle-class sleeper agents trying to monopolise the top schools for their preferred class by preventing state primary schools from helping poorer kids get in and trying to shroud the 11+ in secrecy, on the pretence this means it will distinguish raw “ability”, while knowing full well that fellow middle-class parents will be using tutors and the private schools won’t give two hoots what the supposed restrictions are. Maybe they’ve got stakes in the tuition business themselves – we aren’t just talking about peripatetic private one-on-one tutors here but big test prep centres that teach evening and weekend classes. (They’ve got good names too, saw one 11+ and SATS prep institution called, iirc, MegaBrain Academy….)

    This is the only alternative I can think of in which the councillors can be credited with any intelligence. If pure stupidity is the real answer, then one wonders just what depths their policy responses to other issues might plumb.

  13. Bloke in Costa Rica

    Intelligent, motivated parents with intelligent motivated children will always find a way round any bureaucratic obstacles placed in their way. It’s a truism that government efforts to skew the system end up being captured (or gamed) by the middle classes. It’s the main reason why getting rid of government programmes is so damn hard.

  14. Surely the exam is testing literacy, numeracy and comprehension. What on earth are the state schools teaching if not these essential skills?

  15. @Ljh

    Different regions with grammar schools use different 11+ exams, but interestingly some deliberately avoid testing stuff wot gets taught in primary schools. The point of the exam is not to pick up those kids who were performing well at their primary school, but to find those who have the potential to learn fast at secondary school – essentially, to test for raw intelligence rather than prior attainment. So more like an IQ test, verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning (can you spot patterns in pictures?) rather than things that are familiar from school.

    The idea is to make it harder to coach, but the lack of familiarity still gives an advantage to kids who have been acclimatised to the test format, how to pace yourself working through an exam (not something most 10 year olds are familiar with) and so on. And in fact there is a bit of a knack to pattern-spotting in pictures (learning what to look for in terms of shape, shading, position, orientation etc) that yields some low-lying fruit when coached, even if you can’t easily raise someone’s actual IQ.

    Some regions use a mixture of exam papers so they cover numeracy/literacy as well as general intelligence testing. This is what Kent do. Note that even the numeracy/literacy tests can be coached separately from the issue of actually being able to read, write and do arithmetic in terms of being familiar with the test format, understanding what the examiner is looking for, learning sensible guessing strategies, learning how to manage the exam time etc.

  16. Some people ask me advice about getting their kids ready for the 11+.

    I always tell them to make sure the kid is familiar with the style of the test paper, the format of the questions, and working to a a time limit – all things they are unlikely to have seen before at that age and need a bit of practice. A couple of practice run-throughs maybe.

    But other than that, just to concentrate on the numeracy and literacy skills, try to get them into reading as much as possible and applying their maths skills to real-life situations, and see how they get on. If they don’t pass the 11+ then those skills are still a great basis for whatever educational path they do follow. If they can only pass the 11+ by overcoaching then they aren’t going to thrive at a grammar school anyway. It’s not a fun environment to be drifting along at the bottom end of everything.

    And what on earth is the point spending hours and hours practising spotting patterns in shapes, in a high-pressure environment, just in case it helps you pick up that extra mark in an exam? It is not a skill that’s likely to help much in later life and yet ambitious parents can absolutely ram it down their kids’ throats. I can only think of a couple of exceptions when it might be handy – if you want to be come a doctor and you need to sit the UKCAT to get into medical school, if you want to become a pilot and you have to take the flight school tests. And I’m not convinced that prepping for the 11+ aged 8 or 9 (or even 6 or 7, the tuition centres do encourage parents to start young!) is still going to help with those tests you when you’re 18 or 21 anyway.

  17. @BICR

    It’s less “intelligent, motivated parents with intelligent motivated children” that are the problem with the 11+, since those are the kids the system is intended to select anyway. It’s “intelligent, motivated parents with children whose intelligence has regressed towards the mean”…

    There was a very good blog on the counterproductiveness of all this by Hector Drummond:

    The reason for making the exams harder is to separate out the brilliant students from the good ones, which hasn’t been happening enough in the past. But an awful lot of parents of good students are refusing to let this stop their children from getting into the brilliant category, so they push and push them to work like dogs so that they still get into the top category.

    Well, it’s your family. But you can hardly then turn around and complain that Gove is the one taking the fun out of learning. If you’re the one hiring a tutor for your children then it’s you as well, isn’t it?

    I’m all for the pursuit of excellence, and hard work, and pushing your boundaries, and all that malarky, and setting high expectations for your kids, but there comes a point where the pursuit of excellence becomes the degradation of life for no good reason. And it’s worse when it’s not you you’re doing it to, but your children.

  18. PG: school rules prevent cell phones, but they don’t provide sanctions.

    If a kid uses a phone I can tell them off. But I can’t take it, as that would be theft — it’s not mine to take. But in France the teacher will be able to take it, as the child is breaking the law.

  19. @Chester
    Can you no longer confiscate the phone and return it at he end of the school day? That’s how it would have been dealt with in my schooldays (a long time ago, now).

    Systems to block mobile phone systems (particularly indoors) are not expensive.

  20. @ MBE
    I was giving an example of what actually happened in real life as opposed to theory.
    Can you compare the range of subjects taught in Preparatory schools today with those in State Primary schools? The latter are, at least near here, focussed on getting pupils through SATS not on a wider more rounded education. Prep schools focus on getting kids through Common Entrance involving teaching a wider range of subjects than the 11+ (and to a higher standard in the “non-core” subjects – I could have passed 4 or 5 ‘O’ levels when I was 13), while Primary Schools only teach towards the 11+.

  21. @john77

    It’s a fair point, the prep schools will still need to prepare students for private school entrance exams as well as (in practice) the 11+. But I’d note that some (most? – certainly all the ones I looked at a few years ago when I did a bit of tutoring for them) of the private entrance exams seem to have cut down to focus much more on maths, reading and writing now, compared to a few decades ago. So the gap with the 11+ is narrower. Also note that state primary schools often have very low uptake for the 11+, it wouldn’t be untypical for perhaps four in a year to take it and on average one will pass. Higher figures in well-to-do areas, of course, but you can see why such schools aren’t going to prioritise “teaching to the test” for the 11+ even if the local authority permitted or even encouraged it.

  22. @ MBE
    I am amazed – and I suppose I must apologise for having disagreed with you as I cannot understand why state primary schools should not want to focus on getting bright poor kids into Grammar school. That is, to my mind, the whole purpose of Grammar schools.
    When I was young the local state primary school expected all-but-one of the top set and nearly half the second set (out of three sets) to get into Grammar School and most of the rest of the second set to get into the Secondary Tech. Of course this is a bit abnormal since the average was around one-third or a bit less going to Grammar School but the overwhelming majority of the catchment area was respectable working-class.

  23. @j77

    Grammar schools do vary in their competitiveness but I can’t think of any areas where 30% of the population now go to grammars. But competitiveness varies between grammar school systems, with some areas having under 5% and others about 30% of applicants being let in. Not all kids, in fact only a minority, will be applying. And London fringes like Kent and Essex are particularly competitive because pushy London parents will think nothing of sending their bairns to weekend 11+ prep classes for 4 years and then sitting the different 11+ exams for three or more school systems, in the hopes that one of them turns out good. If they get a pass then they are happy to stick the bairn on a 90 minute train ride out of London each weekday to get out to their newfound school.

    For the local primary schools, getting kids ready for the 11+ has always been a minority sport. If you’re up against the local prep schools, the posher kids at the better-off local primaries whose parents have forked out for a tutor, and the (frequently but not exclusively Asian and West African heritage) London transplants who are trying their luck everywhere, then what odds do your kids have, realistically? Is it even worth the bother? I have even heard media reports of primary schools in grammar catchment areas who have zero kids taking the 11+.

  24. @j77

    I attended prep school. In my class all bar one were expected to and did pass 11+

    State primaries only entered those with a ~>60% of passing – to keep their pass rate high and to not waste time.

    Past papers were available for practice. I enjoyed doing them.

    Number passing each year was top 20%-25% – number sitting varied each year, Grammar places didn’t.

  25. @Pcar

    One might not expect intelligence to be absolutely equally distributed between private and state schools, but such a huge disparity in pass rates does seem indicative of the effect environment can have – particularly a “good” school and supportive/ambitious parents. If the 11+ were really an ungameable test of raw intelligence – as in its “purest” form it might aspire to be – that kind of split ought not happen.

  26. @ MBE
    60 years ago we had two Boys Grammar Schools, of which the newer one was significantly bigger, one Secondary Technical School and IIRC boys four secondary modern (it might have been three). For girls there was the new Grammar School and a “Girls Public Day School Trust” school which mostly took girls who had passed the 11+ (they had a much smaller number of fee-paying pupils and an even smaller number with “Foundation Scholarships” (we discovered those existed because the Headmistress gave one to my big sister because she was too young to take the 11+ when she moved up into Senior School)), no Secondary Tech for girls and four (I think) Secondary Modern Schools; you may deduce that more girls than boys went to Secondary Modern although the pass mark was the same because boys were better at maths.
    So a bit under one-third went to Grammar schools.
    Later the council massively expanded Newton Secondary Mod (I think it may only have been started a bit later because it was Co-ed but it might have been a small single-sex school initially) so the proportion going to Grammar School declined.
    @ Pcar
    My prep school existed to get kids into Public School, but when I was 9 it started to encourage pupils to take the 11+ so that if their father died they would be placed in a Grammar school instead of being dumped in a Secondary Modern [I do not know why but the obvious suspicion is that someone’s father had died and the widowed mother could not pay the school fees]. The first year there was no coaching and only my little sister and one (out of half-a-dozen) of the boys passed. My year there was some coaching – most of which I skipped because it took place during soccer, but eventually someone insisted that I go to the last few sessions – and a bit over half of us passed. It was very amateur – my father, with a couple of degrees in Chemistry, was ask to coach the son of an accountant in English!!
    In my youth everyone in state schools had to take the 11+.

  27. @MBE

    Prep school entry was selective as only ~30 places pa. I still remember the interview – talking & reading to teacher and doing some tests.

    Bangor Grammar was ~125 places pa, thus near 100% 11+ pass would be expected.

    Also, Northern Ireland – not many private schools.


    There were some fee-payers at Grammar, but they were advised to move to Secondary if struggling as were 11+ passers. There was also transfers from Secondary.

    Don’t know anything about the Tech College other than my father taught night classes there for a few years until younger brother old enough for mum to return to teaching.

  28. @Pcar

    “Prep school entry was selective” – makes sense, thanks.


    I think in most places the balance has shifted away from grammar schools due to the restrictions against building new ones, although they may have expanded by adding extra intake the population has risen and new secondary schools have opened. So the % going to grammar schools has generally dipped. And near big cities in particular, the proportion of locals going has fallen because of places going to kids from the city (I know this happens in areas near London but am told it happens near other major population centres too). Also, while making all kids take the 11+ was clearly cruel on those who never had a chance, having entire schools where none are taking it despite a grammar school being nextdoor seems perverse…

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