Grammar school entry tests should be pushed back until as late as November, the government has said, with parents given an additional preference in admission applications.
The Department for Education guidance, which is only advisory, says that no child is “likely to perform to their utmost ability in a test at the beginning of September” because of school closures during coronavirus.
Most grammar school entry tests for the 2021-22 year were due to be held in September. But the DfE “strongly advises” that tests for both grammar and partially selective schools are moved back into “late October or November” if possible.
This would mean parents face choosing which school their child would prefer to attend without knowing whether they would qualify for a selective school.
The guidance states parents should be asked to use their final preference for a local non-selective school if tests results will not be known before October 31.
Councils in selective areas have also been urged to offer all parents applying for a secondary place “at least one additional preference”, but the government said it recognises some contracts with companies providing co ordination software may not permit such changes.
A DfE spokesperson said selective schools are an “important part of our diverse education system and this guidance gives important advice for parents, schools, and local authorities ahead of pupils’ return to classrooms in September”.
However the guidance is only advisory and will not “prescribe a single course of action”. This will be for admission authorities to decide.
As well as selective schools, the guidance covers schools which use fair banding and those that select up to 10 per cent of their cohort by aptitude in a prescribed subject.
Written tests should continue to be run under exam conditions, the guidance states, but schools should follow “stringent health measures”.
Examples include keeping pupils taking a test at school separate from others, avoiding mass pick-up or drop-off times, and running exams in well-ventilated rooms with space between desks.
But as it’s “unlikely to be possible to test as many children in a single hall in one sitting as is normal practice”, the guidance says tests may have to be run over a longer period.
For children who cannot attend for reasons related to coronavirus – such as because they are shielding – authorities may have to rearrange tests or allow them to be completed at home.
Authorities across different areas that use the same tests can continue to do so, but they should “work together to ensure … that such approaches can continue so that any complexities for parents are minimised”.
Schools can also consider “lowering the selection test pass mark for children eligible for the pupil premium”, the guidance adds.
Selective schools have also been encouraged to consider how they can work with target families and children to provide support over the summer and autumn.
However, any changes to admission arrangements, such as test dates, pass marks or arrangements for those unable to attend, still need permission. For local authority-maintained schools, the council must approve applications and regional schools commissioners will sign-off academy changes.
The guidance states submitting these “early” would be helpful, as would having variations in place before the deadline for councils publishing their composite admissions prospectus by September 12.
But should schools that make changes want to revert back to their normal admission policy for the 2022-23 year, they will have to consult on this for six weeks between October 2020 and January 2021.
Separate guidance for faith schools also states any admissions changes must also be approved.
Some councils have already announced changes. Kent, for instance, will run its 11-plus test in mid-October.