Parent fights to prove 11-plus doesn’t add up

This Thursday an indignant parent, James Coombs, will stand in front of a tribunal to argue that the controversial 11-plus test needs greater scrutiny and that families should be shown their children’s raw scores. Why shouldn’t this important test, which changes the course of children’s lives, be open to evaluation like GCSEs and other life‑changing exams, he asks. The Guardian reports. 

“It’s an existential problem to the grammar system. If you demonstrate that you cannot administrate a selective system in a fair way, then what you’re doing is illegal,” he says.

Coombs, representing himself, will be up against a barrister for the Information Commissioner’s Office, defending its decision last year [pdf] to uphold the wish of the test-provider, CEM, to withhold the scores, requested by Coombs under Freedom of Information.

Thursday’s hearing is the latest stage of battle that has so far taken four years. “It started with my son getting his [11-plus] results and not doing well,” explains Coombs. “He was distraught. He went to a small primary and he was always the smartest in the class. I wanted to understand what was wrong with this test.”

“Entry [to selective schools] is dependent on cram-feeding children with expensive tutors that not everyone can afford. Tutoring is an insurmountable problem that makes it impossible to operate in a non‑discriminatory and legal way.”

Coombs wants to demonstrate to parents that grammar school admissions depend not on pupils’ ability plotted against a constant, standardised population, but on their ability compared only to children that year, in that area of the country. “If you had the raw marks, you could see that ‘Oh, my child got the same mark as that child last year, but for some reason they’ve not got into that school that they would have got into last year,’” he says.

He also wants to demonstrate that, as he puts it, “precision is not the same as accuracy” when it comes to test scores. Every test has “confidence limits” – a statistical margin for error assigned because no test can be 100% accurate. A 95% confidence interval would be reasonable for this sort of test, but this would mean that pupils scoring the same number of right answers would be separated through a standardisation process.

Read more Parent fights to prove 11-plus doesn’t add up

Do you think there should be more openness and transparency and pupil’s papers should made be available? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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Categories: Exams, Grammar Schools and Secondary.


  1. The whole point of grammar schools is that they are discriminatory. Mr Coombs son may have been the smartest child in his class at primary but maybe the other children were all well below average. If his son was ‘distraught’, that indicates poor parenting by Mr Coombs who clearly has brought up his son to believe that he is owed something by the rest of the world. He isn’t. Life is intrinsically unfair and we owe it to our children to tell them so.

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