Bucks 11-plus test error 'not sufficient grounds' for grammar school appeals

Parents have been warned an error on the 11-plus test in Buckinghamshire is not enough to warrant an appeal if their child does not get into grammar school, despite  six questions now being discounted as pupils struggled to finish the exam.

The error, which rocked the selective county’s admissions system, was caused after GL Assessment sent out an old version of the answer sheet to test centres which meant two verbal reasoning questions were unanswerable.

In a letter sent to parents, seen by Schools Week, GL Assessment said an independent statistician had confirmed the “overall reliability” of the test to “determine whether or not a child is suited to a grammar school” had not been compromised.

However, there was “evidence that completion rates started to drop” during the last six questions of the verbal reasoning section of the paper, which GL Assessment said was “consistent” with feedback from parents. As a result, all six of these questions have been discounted from the paper.

In addition, all pupils will automatically receive a mark for each of the two erroneous questions.

Schools Week reported last month that two questions on the 11-plus verbal skills paper could not be answered as the options on the answer sheet did not reflect those in the question paper, and there was a further “inconsistency” in one of the practice questions in the English section of the same paper.

Test centres were instructed to tell pupils not to attempt the questions before the exam began. However, some test centres only told pupils during the exam, and others were apparently not aware of the error at all.

In a joint statement, GL Assessment and the Buckinghamshire Grammar Schools group, which represents the 13 grammar schools in the selective county,  said the actions taken will ensure “no individual child is penalised for not being able to complete the test” but insisted the impact of the error was “minimal”.

“However, as children may have been given different instructions when sitting the test, it was thought fairest for all pupils if the last six questions were discounted.

“We would like to apologise once again for any distress this situation has caused parents, carers and children and to thank them for their patience.”

Another letter from the Buckinghamshire Grammar Schools group said any parent who wishes to appeal or review their child’s mark if they have not scored highly enough to attend grammar school will need to provide “strong academic evidence of grammar school suitability and not just details of extenuating circumstances”.

“We understand that you may focus upon the testing error. However, with the statistical analysis and solution implementation this will not be sufficient grounds for reviews or appeals on their own.”

The GL Assessment letter confirmed that one of the verbal reasoning questions did not have an answer on the answer sheet. For the other, it said the correct answer “could be found on the answer sheet, however three of the other answer options did not match the options on the question paper”.

It said a correct answer sheet had been produced and verified by the Buckinghamshire Grammar Schools group but a “failure” in GL Assessment’s final quality assurance process meant a “previous answer sheet was used in its place”.

GL Assessment said it intends to “conduct a systematic review of all our internal processes”  and will appoint an “external independent reviewer” to carry out final quality assurance checks on all future admissions test papers.

Every child in Buckinghamshire is automatically entered into the 11 plus test, used to assess which pupils have high enough attainment to attend grammar school, unless they specifically opt out. The tests assess verbal, non-verbal and mathematical skills.

The tests have been set by GL Assessment since September last year, with Buckinghamshire County Council providing test administration services.