The Department for Education has updated the guidance note “Assessment processes for selective school admissions” (the guidance) for grammar schools, partially selective ‘bilateral’ schools, schools which band applicants by ability to achieve a comprehensive intake, and schools which select up to 10% of their cohort by aptitude in a prescribed subject.
The guidance was initially prepared to support admission authorities with the admissions tests for entry in September 2021. The guidance has also been updated to provide new advice on selection assessment processes for in-year and late applications for places. It was updated again to include details about supporting disadvantaged applicants and advice on face coverings.
Most selective state-funded schools use written testing to assess the ability or aptitude of applicants. However, other types of assessment are also used, such as those designed to demonstrate sports or musical aptitude. The Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting protective measures has meant that a number of admission authorities have adjusted their assessment processes for September 2021 entrants, and this may of course be necessary again next year.
The guidance sets out several key considerations which admissions authorities should consider when conducting assessments for selective school admissions. It is designed to support admission authorities in operating selection tests whilst at the same time supporting children, particularly disadvantaged children, and maintaining health protection measures during the selection process.
It does not set out a prescriptive, single course of action for all admission authorities to follow, but rather aims to guide admission authorities to decide the approach which works best for them.
To ensure that the Covid-19 pandemic does not negatively impact individuals, admissions authorities must ensure that children who are unable to attend test centres on specific days are still able to be assessed. This includes individuals who have tested positive for Covid-19 or anyone who has had to self-isolate.
Where children are unable to take a selection test on the specified day, the results of their alternative assessment should be known in time to be included in the rankings and offered a place on National Offer Day. Where there are late applications, or in-year applications, assessments should be carried out and offers made as soon as possible where there are vacancies.
Admission authorities are encouraged to consider assessing the aptitude or ability of late and in-year applications by other means, such as online testing or teacher assessment, rather than looking to test children under exam conditions in schools or test centres where possible. However, tests can continue in schools or test centres where it is not possible, or appropriate, to assess an individual’s aptitude or ability by another means. For the avoidance of doubt, travel to such testing is essential travel.
In addition, where selection testing does take place in a school or test centre, schools and local authorities should implement certain protective measures, including the use of face coverings. This is particularly important as individuals attending tests are likely to be undertaking testing outside of their normal education and social bubbles.
Delaying selection testing
As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Department for Education advised that it was reasonable to carry out aptitude or ability tests later in the year, even where this would mean that results would not be known ahead of the closing date for applications on 31 October 2020. This enabled children to get back into a routine of education prior to being tested, minimising any disadvantage caused by being away from school. However, the result was that parents applying in the normal admissions round were required to choose secondary schools without knowing whether their child had met the standards required for selective schools. It was recommended that at least one additional preference was offered, where possible.
When varying their arrangements, admission authorities must ensure that any changes to the selection process do not make the process of applying for selective schools unnecessarily complex. Where there is currently a unified approach to assessment (i.e. children sit a single selection test for several schools), admission authorities should, so far as possible, continue to work together to simplify the process.
In all cases, admissions authorities must continue to ensure that selection arrangements always comply with equalities legislation. This includes taking account of the impact of their selection process in the context of how it might combine with the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic and public health measures on children and families with protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010.
Admission authorities are also advised to mitigate any impact which might prove to be a barrier to children from lower income backgrounds. This may include lowering selection test pass marks for children who are eligible for the pupil premium.
Whatever arrangements are made to assist parents and children through the selection process, all selective schools must publish entry requirements and the process for selection. This means that the selection process will need to be written into admission arrangements, and therefore admissions arrangements may need to be varied to take account of selection test dates, selection test pass marks and other changes to the section test process.
Please contact Emma Swann on 03301 075 973 or [email protected] if you would like to discuss any of the points raised in this article or if you require any advice in respect of updating or carrying your admission arrangements.