EXCLUSIVE: DfE stands by selective school popularity data despite counting ineligible applications

Janet Downs's picture

‘No applicant for a selective school…is ‘ineligible’ to apply,’ the Department for Education says.

This applies even if the applicant has not passed a selection test. 

Including applications from parents whose child has failed the 11+ boosts the number of grammar school applications.  This gives a misleading impression of the popularity of grammar schools.

The government uses analysis of first preference applications to inflate the supposed popularity of grammar schools.   

Two years ago, the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) said the DfE should give further information about the ‘eligibility status’ of grammar school applicants to help interpretation.    UKSA said it had ‘discussed with DfE the value in doing further work to understand the proportion of first choice applicants who have not passed the 11-plus, both to assist user interpretation of these statistics and to support the development of any future selective school policy.’

How far has the DfE got with this ‘further work’?  Not very far, according to a Freedom of Information response.  The DfE explained:

1   It wasn’t involved in coordinating admissions.  Local authorities weren’t always the bodies running 11+ tests.  Without relevant figures from these ‘different bodies (data controllers)’, any DfE analysis wouldn’t truly reflect ‘the number of applicants involved’.

2    General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) applied.  Information about whether an applicant passed the 11+ was protected under GDPR and needed parental consent for it to be shared.

But a great deal of personal information is already shared in the School preference (child level) data collection.  And DfE guidance to schools about data privacy appears to imply consent for this to be shared with bodies such as the local authority and, of course, the DfE.

3   Applying for a place in a selective school without passing the test is the same as applying for a place in an oversubscribed comprehensive school from outside the catchment area, the DfE argued.  In both cases, the preference is valid but the chance of gaining a place is low.

This is a false comparison.  Entry into a grammar school is contingent on passing the 11+.  Applicants could live within 100 yards and still be barred entry if they failed.  Applicants to non-selective schools are subject to oversubscription criteria which can include distance.  But distance can be changed; failing an exam can’t.

4   Drilling the data to find additional information about ‘applicant priority’ would ‘place significant additional burdens upon LAs and schools’, the DfE said. 

The DfE has had nearly two years since UKSA asked it to consider including ‘eligibility status’ in information about grammar school applications.  Apart from a bland footnote added to the methodology explanation in the ad hoc analysis of secondary school-level applications by school type, it appears the DfE hasn’t really given it much thought.


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