A NEW grammar school entrance exam coming into effect in September will be make it more difficult for children to be privately coached, headteachers have revealed.
Buckinghamshire's 13 grammar schools yesterday outlined a new process, designed to test a wider range of abilities and to tackle the issue of private tutoring.
It has become commonplace for year 5 children to undertake lessons outside of school hours to teach them how to pass the tests, with some parents spending hundreds of pounds.
There will be new types of question, created after extensive, modern research, which are not solely based around the current verbal reasoning style.
There will be two tests of 45-50 minutes taken on the same day in September, rather than on separate days as currently.
The qualifying mark will be an aggregate of the two tests, instead of the highest score which will remain the same 121 marks.
Preparation tests will take place, also in September.
Results will be with parents before the end of October before they have to finalise preferences for secondary school places.
Tim Cornford, who previously worked for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, is a consultant on the new scheme.
He said in taking on the role coaching was one of the priorities and concerns identified. He said: "Since the tests have become multiple choice the amount of coaching has increased. The perceived effectiveness of that coaching has increased, I call it perceived because there is not any data.
"The industry is there and we have to take account of it."
Creators of the new exam, CEM, have told him that freshly introduced non-verbal based questions "are much more difficult to coach". These include questions around diagrams, pictures and sequences.
John Hampden headteacher Stephen Nokes said: "Clearly avoidance of cold coaching was an important factor for us, we want to be as fair as possible.
"Because the items in the test can change year on year as well it will tweak each year which makes it difficult to coach.
"And you can't buy practice papers like you can at the moment which all makes it harder."
Aylebsury Grammar School headteacher Stephen Lehec said children, at whatever exam level, will be taught or coached how to pass.
He said: "What we were interested in creating from the outset was not something designed to achieve this or that, whether it was to eliminate coaching or something else, it was about the most fair and accessible test to put all children in Bucks on an equal footing, that was the most important point."
Some elements of the new tests will not be dissimilar to tasks set for year 5 pupils currently and will include the sort of problem solving children have to do in routine comprehension and maths.
Asked if there are concerns among headteachers at parents' possible reactions, Chesham Grammar School headteacher Philip Wayne said: "People's fears will be assuaged hopefully. Change is clearly always an issue but we're doing our best to make sure the parents get the best and most relevant to help their children through what can be quite a daunting process.
"It certainly hasn't been done on a whim, there's been an awful lot of hours of input and expertise, wrestling and debate, and I think we have a very good system for the future."
DELAYING the introduction of the new exams would only create more uncertainty, consultant Tim Cornford said.
Many parents of children going into year 6 in September will have already spent money on private tutoring and any opposition to the changes is most likely to come from this group.
But Mr Cornford said:"We're also part of a national timeframe which we need to adhere to and once the decision had been made a delay of another year would just create more uncertainty which would be a disadvantage."
Mr Lehec said any such external teaching or coaching will not have been wasted.
He said: "Good learning is good learning wherever you're receiving it.
"The familiarisation practice, which is going to be accessible for all children who are going to take the test, will be more than adequate to be able to then sit the tests. So whatever extra or other preparation they've done is simply part of a wider learning.
Other key points
- Tests will be taken in September, probably during the second week of the month, although a definite test date has not yet been confirmed. Parents must now know results before finalising their secondary school preferences at the end of October under changes made by the Government.
- Pupils will get a leaflet familiarising them with the tests, giving them some test-taking advice and giving them a few example questions. They will be able to take this home.
- Children will take practice exams, each lasting about 25-30 minutes containing test items that mirror what they will find in the full tests. Although the precise dates are unclear they will happen in September.
- The Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring at Durham University has won the tender to create the exam papers.
- The BFP revealed last autumn that more than 1,000 pupils from outside Bucks have passed the latest 11 plus exam and are eligible for grammar school places in the county if there is enough room.
- Buckinghamshire County Council said there were 2,419 out-of-county children who took the 11 plus this autumn, and out of these, 1,023 have automatically qualified for a place at grammar school in Bucks with a score of 121 or higher.