Poor children need help with entrance exams, says study


By Judith Burns
BBC News education reporter

Some entrance tests are so tough that only pupils who have been coached can pass, argues a report.

Some highly selective state schools should do more to help poorer children pass their entrance exams, suggests a government-funded study.

Only children whose parents can afford coaching can pass the toughest exams, says the report for the Cabinet Office.

Such schools “may owe their neighbourhood” more help for poorer children, suggests author David Boyle.

Grammar school heads said their schools were less socially selective than leading comprehensives.

The report, The Barriers to Choice in Public Services, looked at “whether inward-looking admissions criteria, for example by faith and super-selective schools, ought to be balanced by a broad duty to promote a social balance inside the school”.

‘A clear barrier’

It suggests that “state-funded schools which do not adopt some responsibility for the wider well-being of their neighbourhood may not be fulfilling the social contract that people might reasonably expect of them”.

“If schools narrow their intake to those who can afford the coaching to pass entrance exams, then they may owe their neighbourhood some route whereby less advantaged local people can aspire to get their children up to that standard.”

Author David Boyle, of the New Economics Foundation, told BBC News that he was not suggesting that all children should be coached to pass entrance exams into “super-selective” schools, but that the need for coaching to pass some of the tests was “a clear barrier” to some families.

A duty along these lines would not undermine the academic focus of super-selective schools, argues the study.

Barry Sindall, chief executive of the Grammar School Heads Association, quoted from a 2008 Sutton Trust study which suggested that the social make-up of grammar schools was often more diverse than that of the top 100 comprehensives where entrance is decided on proximity to the school, pushing up house prices and excluding poorer families.

Mr Sindall said that many grammar schools already offered “test familiarisation” sessions so that children from poorer families did not turn up at the entrance exam never having encountered those type of questions before.

“We want to make sure they are entering for the tests on a level playing field,” said Mr Sindall.

He said that selective schools were working with academics to develop and adopt entrance tests that were resistant to coaching.

“All grammar schools want tests that are reliable and valid. We know we can’t stamp out coaching but we can stamp out any gain from coaching.”

Faith schools

The report says that the same argument about social selectivity could apply to the entrance requirements of some faith schools which require pupils and their families to belong to particular religions.

“The original purpose of faith schools was also to fulfil the demands of their faith by providing for the local neighbourhood and this objective may have become too secondary.”

The Catholic Education Service rejected the suggestion that their schools were socially exclusive: “Catholic schools in England have higher proportions of pupils from ethnic minority backgrounds with 33.5% of pupils in Catholic primary schools from ethnic minority backgrounds compared with 27.6% nationally.”

The statement also said that Catholic schools educate more children from the most deprived areas with 20% of pupils at Catholic secondary schools living in the most deprived areas compared with 17% nationally.

The Rev Nigel Genders, head of school policy for the Church of England’s education division said: “Church schools, as opposed to faith schools, were set up 200 years ago to provide education for all.

“Church schools are hugely popular with parents, both the education secretary and prime minister send their children to one, and can become oversubscribed.

“In this case Church-related criteria for admissions may come into play.

“This would not detract at all from the school’s commitment to the local community and certainly would not make it ‘super-selective’.”

Ofsted plans to scrap ‘satisfactory’ label for schools

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education correspondent

Sir Michael Wilshaw: “This is about sending the message out that we want all our schools to be good schools”

Education watchdog Ofsted wants to toughen the language of inspections in England – changing the “satisfactory” rating to “requires improvement”.

Ofsted’s chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, wants to send a message that “satisfactory” is now unsatisfactory and that more schools should be pushing for the higher rating of “good”.

This is the latest attempt to improve schools which are seen as “coasting”.

The National Union of Teachers criticised such labels as “insulting”.

But Prime Minister David Cameron said: “This is not some small bureaucratic change. It marks a massive shift in attitude. I don’t want the word ‘satisfactory’ to exist in our education system. ‘Just good enough’ is frankly not good enough.”

Sir Michael wants to see more schools progressing beyond the current category of “satisfactory”, with the change in description intended to emphasise that these schools need to make improvements.

At present, inspectors can judge schools to be “inadequate”, “satisfactory”, “good” or “outstanding”. Subject to consultation, the satisfactory grade will become “requires improvement”.

‘Coasting’ schools

Schools will only be allowed to stay at the “requires improvement” level for three years – and there will be earlier re-inspections, after 12 to 18 months rather than three years, says Ofsted.

Sir Michael was speaking ahead of a Downing Street summit on so-called “coasting” schools – where performance, often in well-off areas, is not necessarily inadequate but has failed to impress.

“There are too many coasting schools not providing an acceptable standard of education,” says Sir Michael.

“Of particular concern are the 3,000 schools educating a million children that have been ‘satisfactory’ two inspections in a row.

“This is not good enough. That is why I am determined to look again at the judgements we award, not only so we are accurately reporting what we see, but so that those schools that most need help are identified and can properly begin the process of improvement.

“I make no apology for making even greater demands of an education system which has to respond with greater urgency to increasingly difficult and competitive economic circumstances.”

Prime Minister David Cameron, who hosted the summit, said: “To those who say that this will alienate some schools, I say we’ve got to stop making excuses and start doing what is best for our children: demanding excellence and confronting complacency wherever we find it.”



But teachers’ unions criticised the changes – with the NUT claiming that the re-labelled category would be used as a way of pressuring more schools into becoming academies.

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“The government’s real agenda behind this change is of course inventing yet another category of schools that it will then seek to force into academy status.”

Chris Keates, head of the NASUWT teachers’ union, attacked the proposals as “another crude ruse to enable the secretary of state to push more schools into the hands of profit making, private companies”.

“The seemingly tough talk we have heard from the government today, may have popular appeal but the reality is that it has nothing to do with raising standards,” she said.

“Instead, it is about ratcheting up pressure on schools, without providing the support and resources they need to assist them in securing further improvements.

“This announcement will encourage a culture of vicious management practices within schools which will have a profoundly negative effect on the workforce and children and young people alike.”

Labour’s shadow education secretary, Stephen Twigg, said coasting schools “need more than just a new label” and criticised the removal of routine inspections of outstanding schools.

“Outstanding schools can quickly slip back, so this measure could undermine confidence in the system and mean parents only get out of date information.”

The change to the “satisfactory” category was welcomed by the RSA think tank, which warned about such schools “performing inconsistently”.

“What needs to be addressed in particular is the variable quality of teaching. We need to find ways to incentivise the best teachers to join these schools and new ways of helping schools to improve,” said the RSA’s director of education, Becky Francis.

But head teachers warned that when it came to inconsistency it was Ofsted that needed to get “its own house in order”.

“Inspections are too often at the whim of inspectors with little experience in the field they are inspecting and who have already made up their minds before they enter the school,” said Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT head teachers’ union.

“Heads feel the results can be the luck of the draw. If inspections are getting more severe, then they need to be more consistent and of higher quality or there will be no justice in the findings.”

Maths advantage for pupils who read for pleasure

By Katherine Sellgren
BBC News education reporter

The influence of reading for pleasure was greater than that of having a parent with a degree, the study indicated

Children who read for pleasure are likely to do better in maths and English than those who rarely read in their free time, research suggests.

The study, by the Institute of Education, London University, examined the reading habits of 6,000 children.

It indicated reading for pleasure was more important to a child’s development than how educated their parents were.

The researchers concluded a wide vocabulary helped children absorb information across the curriculum.

They analysed the results of tests taken at the age of 16 by 6,000 children, all born in one week, from the 1970 British Cohort Study.

The findings showed those who had read often at the age of 10 and had been reading books and newspapers more than once a week aged 16 had performed better than those who had read less.

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A child who has a narrow vocabulary may constantly be coming across things they don’t understand”

Dr Alice Sullivan

Institute of Education

There was a 14.4% advantage in vocabulary, a 9.9% advantage in maths and an 8.6% advantage in spelling, the research found, once parents’ background and reading habits were taken into account.

The study said: “The influence of reading for pleasure was greater than that for having a parent with a degree.”

The total effect on children’s progress of reading often – reading newspapers at age 16 and being a regular library user – was four times greater than the advantage of having a university-educated parent, the study suggested.

The Institute of Education also looked at the impact on test scores of having brothers and sisters and found that those youngsters with older siblings were less likely to do well, particularly in vocabulary.

It suggests this could be because children in larger families spend less time talking one-to-one with their parents and have less chance to develop their vocabulary skills.

There was less effect if children had younger brothers and sisters, although they may score lower on vocabulary, the study found.


Absorbing information


Study author Dr Alice Sullivan said: “It may seem surprising that reading for pleasure would help to improve children’s maths scores.

“But it is likely that strong reading ability will enable children to absorb and understand new information and affect their attainment in all subjects.”

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, she said: “It absolutely makes sense that you would expect reading for pleasure to improve children’s vocabularies.

“But I think that that also does improve children’s ability to take on new information and new concepts across the curriculum.

“A child who has a narrow vocabulary may constantly be coming across things they don’t understand.”

Top GCSE grades improve for private school pupils

More pupils from private schools are taking the international GCSE exam

Almost a third of GCSE entries from pupils from private schools achieved the top grade, figures have shown.

The Independent Schools Council (ISC) said 32% got an A* grade in GCSEs and international GCSEs (IGCSE), a rise of one percentage point on last year.

The ISC said private school pupils scored four times as many top grades as students across the country generally.

Among pupils at ISC schools, IGCSEs accounted for 32% of entries – up from 24.9% last year.

On average, each pupil achieved two A* grades and seven A grades in their results.

Westminster School topped the table with 98.16% of entries awarded A or A*, and 100% at C or above.

The school, attended by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, takes only boys between the ages of 13 and 16 and admits girls in the sixth form.

‘More stimulating’

In second place was the girls-only North London Collegiate School with 97.94% of entries at A or A*, and 99.9% at at least C grade.

The school’s headmistress, Bernice McCabe, said more students were taking IGCSEs because GCSEs were not challenging enough.

“We have found that in many subjects IGCSEs are more stimulating for our students,” she said.

IGCSEs are based on final exams rather than ongoing assessment – and because they are available in different countries they do not have to adhere to the English national curriculum.

Girls’ schools occupied seven out of the top 10 places in the league table, along with two boys’ schools and one mixed.

ISC chairman Barnaby Lenon said he was pleased with the results.

“It is remarkable that the proportion of entries awarded grade A* has risen, bucking the national trend where there has been a fall in the proportion attaining the top grade,” he said.

‘Invisible’ poor children let down by schools, says Ofsted head

By Angela Harrison
Education correspondent, BBC News

Sir Michael Wilshaw said a spotlight needed to be shone on local authorities that are failing children

Many of the poor children being left behind in schools now are in suburbs, market towns and seaside resorts rather than big cities, England’s chief inspector of schools has said.

In a speech, Sir Michael Wilshaw said such pupils were often an “invisible minority” in schools rated good or outstanding in quite affluent areas.

He wants a new team of “National Service Teachers” sent in to help.

Sir Michael has praised big improvements in London schools.

And he says other big cities, such as Birmingham, Greater Manchester, Liverpool and Leicester, have also made great strides.

‘Unseen children’

“Today, many of the disadvantaged children performing least well in school can be found in leafy suburbs, market towns or seaside resorts,” he said in the speech in London.” Often they are spread thinly, as an ‘invisible minority’ across areas that are relatively affluent.

“These poor, unseen children can be found in mediocre schools the length and breadth of our country. They are labelled, buried in lower sets, consigned as often as not to indifferent teaching.

“They coast through education until, at the earliest opportunity, they sever their ties with it.”

Sir Michael told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that many of the 1.2 million children in England on free school meals (FSM) were not doing well and that “two-thirds of these are white British children”.

“Where the problems now are, are in schools, good schools, outstanding schools, in county areas, with small proportions of poor children that are doing extremely badly.”

Top state schools ‘flooded with over 1,000 applications’


Up to 18 children are competing for each place at the most popular state schools amid a desperate scramble for a “Rolls-Royce” education, the Telegraph has learnt.

Parents are flooding an elite group of grammar schools, faith schools and flagship academies with more than a thousand applications, it was revealed.

Experts warned that demand for the most sought-after places was being driven by an increase in the number of recession-hit parents seeking a top-quality free education as an alternative to private schools.

But the sheer number of applications for England’s top schools has led to the introduction of controversial admissions rules designed to stop middle-class parents “playing the system” to secure places.

Around one-in-six of the most oversubscribed are selecting equal numbers of high, middle and low-ability pupils or using lotteries to engineer a more comprehensive intake, figures show.

The move means that some pupils could be overlooked in favour of peers living further away from the school gates.


Al-Hijrah School, Birmingham, 18.35 (F)

Herschel Grammar, Slough, 14 (AC / SEL)

Langley Grammar, Slough, 13 (AC / SEL)

Sutton Grammar for Boys, Sutton 13 (AC / SEL)

Harris Academy Crystal Palace, Croydon, 12.3 (AC)

Tiffin Girls’ School, Kingston upon Thames, 12.3 (AC / SEL)

Tiffin Boys’ School, Kingston upon Thames, 12 (AC / SEL)

The Latymer School, Enfield, 11 (SEL / F)

King Edward VI Five Ways, Birmingham, 10.6 (AC / SEL)

Slough Grammar, Slough, 10.5 (AC / SEL)

King Edward VI Camp Hill for Boys, Birmingham, 9.7 (AC / SEL)

Queen Mary’s Grammar, Walsall, 9.4 (AC)

Dixons City Academy, Bradford, 9.3 (AC)

Burnham Grammar, Buckinghamshire, 9 (AC / SEL)

West London Free School, Hammersmith & Fulham, 8.9 (FR)

Sir Henry Floyd Grammar, Buckinghamshire, 8.4 (AC / SEL)

Graveney School, Wandsworth, 8.3 (AC)

William Hulme’s Grammar, Manchester, 8.3 (AC)

Queen Mary’s High, Walsall, 8.2 (AC)

King Edward Grammar for Boys, Essex, 8 (AC / SEL)

Kingsdale School, Southwark, 7.7 (AC)

St Olave’s Grammar, Bromley, 7.5 (SEL / F)

Dunraven School, Lambeth, 7.5 (AC)

Archbishop Tenison’s CE High, Croydon, 7.3 (F)

Sandwell Academy, Sandwell, 7.3 (AC)

Sir John Cass’s Foundation, Tower Hamlets, 7.2 (F)

Chelmsford County High for Girls, Essex, 7 (AC / SEL)

The Charter School, Southwark, 6.8 (AC)

Ashcroft Technology Academy, Wandsworth 6.6 (AC)

St Marylebone CE, Westminster, 6.6 (F)

NOTE: Schools listed by number of applications (all preferences by parents) and local authority area. AC= academy, F= faith school, SEL= academically selective, FR= free school.


The Department for Education insisted it had introduced new powers to enable the most oversubscribed state schools to expand, creating additional capacity.

But the latest figures suggest that tens of thousands of parents are still being left disappointed.

The Telegraph requested data on the most oversubscribed schools in each council area. Figures obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show:

• A Muslim secondary in Birmingham – the Al-Hijrah – was the country’s most sought-after school, with 18 pupils competing for each of its 60 places;

• Two grammar schools in Slough – Herschel and Langley – had 14 and 13 applications for each place, respectively;

• The Harris Academy in Crystal Palace, south London, was the most sought-after school without a religious ethos or academic selection, with 2,212 applications for 180 places – 12 pupils for each vacancy;

• In total, 20 schools in England had at least eight applications per place;

• The majority of England’s most popular schools had secured academy status, giving them complete control over admissions and the curriculum, while one-in-eight were grammar schools and one-in-six were faith schools.

The disclosure came as The Good Schools Guide – established 26 years ago with a focus on helping parents secure the best private education – started running its first dedicated state school consultancy service because of the sheer demand for places at “Rolls Royce state schools”.

Janette Wallis, the guide’s senior editor, said it had seen a sharp rise in parents seeking a top state school after being priced out of fee-paying education.

“Grammars, top faith comprehensives and academies are more in demand than ever,” she said. “There are some brilliant ‘supercomps’ out there now, often led by superheads and getting super results.

“In most cases, however, these highest achieving comprehensives have some element of selection, whether via geography, church attendance or a percentage admitted on the basis of aptitude.”


Matt Richards, founder and senior partner of School Appeals Services, said some families made unrealistic applications, adding: “It is still the case that many parents don’t make preferences that are achievable. You may get hundreds of kids sitting a grammar school entrance test when their parents know they don’t have a hope in hell of getting in.”

The Telegraph requested data on the three most oversubscribed schools in each council area, although some authorities could only name one or two schools.

In all, 102 out of 152 authorities in England supplied complete figures relating to 291 schools.

Parents can usually apply to between three and six schools each, although heads have to treat each application equally and cannot prioritise families naming a school as their first preference.

Rules introduced under Labour also gave heads the power to impose new admissions systems to give all pupils a fairer chance of accessing top schools – stopping middle-class families “buying” their way in by moving into the local catchment area.

Under the move, schools can place all or some pupils into a “lottery” and award places using a random ballot. They can also use “fair banding”, in which applicants sit aptitude tests and an equal number of high, middle and low achieving pupils win places.

According to figures, 47 out of 291 used at least one of these admissions processes. Eight used both systems, while 12 ran lotteries and 27 employed fair banding.

Parents in London were most likely to face these admissions rules, although they were also employed by popular schools in Bradford, Manchester, Bristol, Derby, Liverpool, Northampton, Middlesbrough and Brighton.

Al-Hijrah School, in the Bordesley Green area of Birmingham, which had 1,101 applications for 60 places this year, currently uses random allocation.

Bradford’s Dixons City Academy, which received 1,532 applications for 165 places this year – more than nine-to-one – used both fair banding and random allocation.

The same system is used by William Hulme’s Grammar School, a former fee-paying school in Manchester that converted into a state institution in 2007. It had 996 applications for its 120 places in 2012 – eight-to-one.

But Mrs Wallis said: “Lotteries and fair banding drive many parents’ blood pressure through the ceiling.

“Most parents we speak to hate lottery-style admissions policies because it feels arbitrary. Fair banding has an underpinning of logic but drives parents mad when a child in different band from their son or daughter gets a school place even though the child lives further from the school than they do.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We are creating thousands more school places and raising standards throughout the country so that every child has the chance to go to a good local school.

“We have made £2.7 billion available since 2011 for those local authorities that face the greatest pressure on places and this month we announced an extra £1 billion to build new free schools and academies and expand existing good schools.

“Last year we revised the admissions code to make it fairer and simpler for all parents and we have banned councils from using lotteries as the principal method of allocating school places.”

By Graeme Paton, Education Editor Telegraph



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