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Angry parents claim late secondary applicants in south west Hertfordshire gain exam advantage
Parents who registered their children for secondary school places have reacted with fury after discovering that those who missed the deadline are now to be given the chance to take the same exam.
They claim that will give them an unfair advantage as exam questions and answers are being discussed at the school gates and online.
The South West Herts Schools Consortium comprises seven secondary schools that operate an admission test for a proportion of their intake.
Other admission criteria relate to medical reasons, distance from school, sibling attendance and in some cases, musical or sporting ability.
Parents applying for a place for their child at any of these schools under academic testing were required to register with the consortium by June 15, with mathematics and verbal reasoning exams being held on September 15.
Now they have expressed their anger after discovering that other parents, who do did not register by the deadline, have been afforded an opportunity for their children to sit exactly the same paper at a later date.
A mother, Sarah, who did not want to be named as she feared it might jeopardise her son’s place allocation, said the situation was a sham.
She said: “The system this year has changed, so children have to sit the exams first and then select which schools they want to apply for afterwards. Before it was the other way around.
“We, along with hundreds of other parents, followed the guidelines. We registered by the deadline and our children sat the exams in September. Now we’ve found out that parents who did not register have been told their children can still sit exams, the exact same exams, in November.
Children talk in the playground and among their friends, parents talk on the phone or on social networking sites and already questions that were on the exam papers are being discussed.
“I’ve seen discussions about the exams on Facebook. It’s completely and utterly unfair. Children who sat their exams in September are at a complete disadvantage.
“It’s bad enough that places at these schools are hard to secure, without other children being given an unfair advantage. Not only will they have an idea what questions will be on the paper, but unlike our children they’ve benefitted from extra tuition, they’ve been back at school studying. Our children have come straight from the school holidays.
“My son has received his results and he’s done okay, but if a few marks determines whether he will get a place at his chosen school or not, then it’s all to play for.
“If the schools try to suggest this is because of a new system, it’s not on. We’ve played by the rules, why should our children be penalised?”
Another mother, Lorraine, expressed similar concerns.
She said: “It’s disgraceful. All children should be taking the exams at the same time – this shouldn’t even be an issue.”
About 100,000 children sit the 11 Plus exam in England each year for around 15,000 to 20,000 places, giving each child a one in six chance of gaining a place.
Steve Johnson, deputy headteacher of Watford Grammar School for Girls and co-ordinator of the test sessions, confirmed that in November, 14 children would be sitting the same exam paper sat by prospective pupils in September.
But he vehemently denied there was an issue with questions being “leaked”.
He said: “There are 150 questions and we’re talking about children remembering some of those? It’s just not possible.
“They would have to remember questions verbatim within the time allowed for an exam. Then store that information away when they came to take the second exam and recount all this information to an adult. This is highly unlikely.
“I do not believe there is a leak. If there is evidence of this someone can bring me, I’d be very concerned.
“We’ve had contact from parents at all of the schools and their concerns are being taken seriously, but it’s just not possible that this can be happening. It has to be the same examination paper so results are comparable.
“As to whether it is unfair that parents who did not register their children are able to apply for their children to sit the tests – 14, it’s not a vast number. The test administration authority states we must not refuse children the chance to sit the exams even if the registration date has been missed.
“Counties like Buckinghamshire and Kent who do the full 11 Plus, not the selective one we do, they use the same paper on three separate occasions in order to get all the children including the November session for late applications.
“Our practice is directly in line with authorities who’ve been doing this for years.”