Catholic trust's 'inoperable' ban on 11-plus tests lifted

A ban which prevented a Catholic academy trust’s 19 primary schools from hosting 11-plus exams has been lifted after its Archbishop ruled that it is “inoperable”.

In September last year a letter was distributed across the Kent Catholic Schools’ Partnership (KCSP) which said academies “must now cease enabling, facilitating or, especially, administering the Kent test (or any other 11-plus derivative)”.

The letter, from chief executive Clive Webster followed a reminder from Archbishop John Wilson – who leads the Archdiocese of Southwark and is responsible for catholic schools in the selective authorities of Kent, Medway, Bromley and Bexley.

Wilson reminded members “it is diocesan policy . . . that school premises are not used to promote non-Catholic schools”.

However, a new ruling by the archdiocese seemingly sees a U-turn on the policy – determining Kent Catholic primary schools should continue to offer 11 plus tests, whilst encouraging parents to choose a Catholic secondary school.

A position paper from the Archdiocese of Southwark Education Commission states it must “recognise the choices of some parents whose children might have specific learning needs, that can seemingly be better catered for in grammar schools”.

Therefore it “cannot resolutely reassert a policy that does not have universal validity, is not supported Canonically from the Bishops’ Conference and has clearly been inoperable for many years”.

It adds: “The Archdiocese would always desire that Catholic parents choose a Catholic school for their child, but makes no judgement about any other choice.”

In practice, schools that have previously administered the tests “may continue to do so” – if withdrawing would mean younger siblings did not have the same opportunity as older brothers and sisters.

But schools which “have not previously administered the tests must not start doing so”. The statement adds such schools will be “fully supported by the Archdiocese if they come under pressure now to begin to do so, and will not be required by the Archdiocese to co-operate with the Local Authorities in this way”.

Of the KCSP’s 19 primary schools, 16 will once again continue to administer the 11-plus test while the remaining three stay as “designated neutral sites”.

Additionally, the Education Commission’s position paper said the prominence of selective education meant Catholic secondary schools are “losing many of the most-able Catholic children to local grammar schools” and the previous advice was an “attempt to preserve Catholic Secondary education”.

It also warned non-Catholic schools will not be allowed “to market themselves within Catholic primary schools” and headteachers should “continue to promote the Catholic option” even after a child has opted to take the test.

Webster added: “I welcome the clarification provided by the new position statement. As a Trust established by the Archdiocese of Southwark, we have always worked to ensure compliance with diocesan policy for the benefit of children, and will continue to work with colleagues across the Archdiocese, its academies and partners to ensure the new position works effectively for children, parents and carers.”