One of the UK’s leading headteachers today lifts the lid on the “underhand” tactics employed by many schools to get round curbs on selecting pupils.
Dame Sally Coates, who turned around Burlington Danes Academy in Hammersmith and Fulham in West London, is demanding a review of school admissions policies to investigate what she claims is the widespread use of covert selection policies. “When it comes to admissions, too many schools pay lip service to their fair admissions policy while employing underhand tactics to ensure they recruit brighter applicants,” she claims.
Methods include fixing so-called “fair banding” entrance tests which are meant to ensure that schools admit an equal numbers of bright, average and weak candidates. By setting the mark bracket for the lowest ability band artificially high, schools can rig the process to accept more of the brightest candidates. “In reality, some schools set extremely challenging tests which over-fill the lower end so that 60 per cent of applicants might find themselves in the bottom stream,” she writes in a new book, Headstrong, published next week and previewed in today’s Independent.
“In doing so, the school has made it much more difficult for students of low and average ability to gain a place. It’s no surprise that where schools operate such measures there is no redress for parents: they can’t ask to see the exam paper once it’s marked.”
Dame Sally says the “time has come for an independent review of admissions across the country”. In particular, she says she would like to see banding tests set and marked independently from the school.
A second covert selection tactic used by headteachers involved taking advantage of a government policy allowing schools to select up to 10 per cent of pupils as a result of aptitude (but not ability) tests for a school’s particular specialism. “This becomes absurd when schools have a specialism for business or enterprise as if budding entrepreneurs can be identified at the age of 10,” she says. In practice, the tests become a smokescreen for selecting by ability.
A third tactic involves faith schools asking parents for evidence of their religious faith, which is often easier for affluent families to demonstrate, meaning their children are more likely to be selected.