Impacts of academic selection at age 11

In March 2022, Pivotal was pleased to be commissioned to complete a policy and literature review about the impacts of academic selection at age 11 for Northern Ireland’s Independent Review of Education.

Academic selection at age 11 is a long–standing contentious issue in Northern Ireland. External reviews commissioned by the Department of Education in 2001 and 2003 gave clear recommendations that academic selection tests should be abolished, but there was no political consensus on the way forward. The last government–run tests took place in 2008, but were quickly replaced by new unregulated tests supported by grammar schools.

There is little evidence of the benefits of academic selection at age 11. While there are some examples of children from more disadvantaged backgrounds doing well within a selective system, overall the evidence shows that selection reduces rather enhances social mobility. Data show that children from more disadvantaged backgrounds are under–represented in grammar schools and therefore less likely to benefit from the higher academic attainment that is associated with these schools.

A focus on preparation for the transfer tests impacts on curriculum delivery in the last two years of primary school, with an emphasis on preparing pupils for the tests rather than wider learning. The ‘high stakes’ nature of the tests impacts negatively on children’s wellbeing.

A review of approaches taken in other countries shows that the vast majority do not use academic selection at such a young age. Where selection does take place, it is generally at an older age and by continuous assessment rather than tests.

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