FAQs

Later test dates for 2021 entry due to Covid-19

TBGS is planning to test children later than usual this year. The FAQs below provide more information about the reasons for this and answer questions raised by parents.

Why is TBGS planning to test later this year?

Schooling has been severely disrupted for children since March. Most Year 5 children will have had little or no time at school from 20 March until September. TBGS considered several options but did not consider it fair for these children to take the test at the usual time. Testing later will allow more time for children to settle back into school. Later testing will also allow schools more time to get used to the new working practices with more children on site.

Alternative arrangements were made for this summer’s GCSE and A level exams. Why is TBGS not following a similar approach?

The Secondary Transfer Test (STT) is designed to assess ability rather than current academic achievement so it is not comparable with GCSEs and A levels. The alternative arrangements for GCSEs and A levels in summer 2020 is an extremely complex process and one supported by statistical information held nationally about individual students and schools in relation to the qualifications being assessed. These temporary arrangements have required extensive effort from secondary teachers and leaders, the implications of which have not been fully assessed. TBGS would not wish to inflict a similar position on primary colleagues and also does not have the same regulatory powers as the Department for Education, Ofqual and the JCQ.

How are you going to ensure testing is safe for children?

TBGS wants testing to be as safe as possible for children, families and the staff involved. Testing will be carried out in line with government guidance current at the time of testing. This is likely to include measures concerning social distancing and additional cleaning practices. This will mean fewer children are tested in each session so that desks can be further apart. There will also be a test window for testing rather than two fixed days so that testing is manageable for schools and test centres.  Children attending Buckinghamshire and Partner primary schools will be tested in their own schools following the schools’ processes. Out of county children being tested at grammar schools will need to follow the rules prescribed by the school in which they are tested.

My child has been preparing for testing in September. Isn’t it unfair that they now have to wait longer until they are tested?

TBGS does not support excess preparation for the Secondary Transfer Test. We provide familiarisation materials in the Summer term and all children have the opportunity to take a practice test before taking the STT. Further free familiarisation materials are available on the GL Assessment website. Advice on what parents can do to support their child is provided in the main FAQs

The government has said that all children will be back at school in September. Doesn’t that mean that testing should go ahead as originally planned?

TBGS believes it is fairer for children to have time to settle back into school before they are tested. This view is endorsed by the Department for Education in their guidance on assessment processes for selective school admissions.

Why are you not planning to test all children on the same days?

Children sit the practice test first and then, two days later, the Secondary Transfer Test. In a normal year there are two set dates for this.  We do not know what the guidance for schools about Covid-19 will be in the Autumn this year but we are planning on the basis that it is highly likely that some form of social distancing will still be in place and also that enhanced cleaning will still be required.  This would mean fewer children can be tested at a time in each room and rooms will need to be cleaned between test sessions.  How schools will manage social distancing and cleaning requirements will vary. To give schools flexibility to arrange testing in a way that works best for their circumstances we are planning 4-day test windows. The windows will be slightly different for in and out of county testing.

Why are the test windows not the same?

The proposed test window for out of county testing in grammar schools is Tuesday 27-Friday 30 October. The proposed window for in-county testing is Monday 2-Thursday 5 November. The later date for in-county testing is because primary schools asked for testing to be as late as possible. Grammar school testing is proposed for half term week as to keep children as safe as possible we would prefer not to have them on site at the same time as grammar school students. Testing during term time would potentially necessitate grammar schools closing for four days which is undesirable given grammar school students have also been away from school since 20 March. We also want to avoid a possible clash with Autumn examination series for A level and GCSE examinations which are expected to take place in October and November this year (details are yet to be confirmed by Ofqual and the Awarding Bodies).

Won’t having two test windows give children taking the test later an advantage?

No. The standardisation process uses the date that a child actually sits the STT so children are not advantaged or disadvantaged by the date when testing takes place. Although most children usually sit the STT on the same date in normal years, some have always taken it on different dates, e.g children moving into the area. 

All schools where testing takes place are required to follow strict security and confidentiality arrangements which include secure storage of test materials at all times. Children are also highly unlikely to remember details about test content accurately after they have left the test room.

Are the tests going to be changed?

No, the format of the format of the test will be the same as in previous years. There will be a practice test and the Secondary Transfer Test. Both will comprise two test papers. One test paper will assess verbal skills and the other non-verbal and mathematical skills. The length of the test papers will be the same as previously.

Will there be a practice test this year?

Yes. The practice test is designed to give children the opportunity to sit a test in exam conditions before they take the Secondary Transfer Test. All children have the opportunity to take the practice test so that they know what to expect before the take the STT. Although it would make testing arrangements easier if there was no practice test this year TBGS felt that it was much fairer to children to provide this opportunity as usual.

How will the test be fair given the experience of learning children have experienced since March has been so variable?

The Secondary Transfer Test assesses ability rather than current achievement. All children will have experienced some disruption to their education. How much learning they will have been able to do will vary and some disadvantaged children may have been particularly badly affected. This is the key reason why we want to test later this year as this will allow all children to settle back into schooling and back into learning.

If, when results come out, the result is not what was expected and there are reasons why a child may have been particularly affected by Lockdown then parents can make their case to the Selection Review Panel and/or appeal. SRPs will be asked to ensure that consideration is given to matters that may have affected a child’s performance in the test.

We have already booked a family holiday for the half term week. Can our child be tested later?

Yes, so long as the holiday has been booked before 17 June. Evidence that the booking has been made before that date will be required.

Is the date for expressing secondary school preferences going to change?

No, this will remain as 31 October. This means that preferences for grammar schools will need to be expressed before test results are known and parents are strongly advised to include a non-selective local school in their list of school preferences.

What happens if there is another spike and testing cannot go ahead on the preferred dates?

If  we are unable to test because of another Covid-19 spike, then testing will have to be further delayed.

What happens if my child is ill or self-isolating on test day?

As is the case every year, if a child is ill when they are due to take the test they will be given the opportunity to take the test later when they are well again. This will also apply if a child needs to self-isolate or shield.

 

How can we express our preferences for secondary schools by 31 October if we don’t know the results of the Secondary Transfer Test?

31 October is a national deadline so you will need to express your preferences by then. Test results will not be available until 30 November so it will be particularly important to make sure that you include non-selective school(s) as well as grammar school preference(s) when you apply to ensure your child is allocated a place at a secondary school. This year, exceptionally, Buckinghamshire Council will allow you until 10 December to amend or add preferences to your application to include a school for which your child has qualified if you have not already done so. If you do not live in Bucks please check the arrangements in place at your own Local Authority.

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What are the key dates for 2021 entry? Updated 24 July 2020

5 May 2020, 3pm - registration opens for parents of children who do not attend a Buckinghamshire LA primary school

25 June 2020, 3pm - registration closes

27-30 October practice and Secondary Transfer Test (out of county children)*

31 October 2020, 3pm - deadline for secondary school applications

2-5 November practice and Secondary Transfer Test (children attending Buckinghamshire primary and Partner schools)*

30 November 2020 - Secondary Transfer Test results*

1 March 2021 - National Offer Day

* Owing to Covid-19 TBGS has moved these dates to later in the Autumn term than previously planned.

When do parents need to register their children to take the test?

Children attending Buckinghamshire primary schools do not need to be registered. Details of how and when to register are available on the Buckinghamshire Council website along with other useful information for parents about moving up to secondary school in Buckinghamshire and the secondary transfer testing process.

Will my child get a grammar school place if I don’t live in Buckinghamshire?

Buckinghamshire grammar schools are very popular and, as such, are usually significantly oversubscribed.  Once children have qualified for a grammar school place, the admission arrangements for each grammar school for which a preference is expressed will be applied to the child's application, and it is the oversubscription criteria in these which determine which children are offered a place.  You can find the admission arrangements for each school (including an Admission Policy) on their individual websites.

Not all admission criteria are the same, however places are usually offered to siblings of current pupils first, then to children living in catchment, and then other children, in order of the distance between the child's home address and that of the school, with those living closer having higher priority. This therefore means that children who qualify for Buckinghamshire grammar schools, but live outside their chosen school’s catchment area, have a lower chance of achieving a place at that school than those living in catchment.  You can see how many children obtained places in your area by looking at the ‘grammar school allocations by location’ files on our test data page.

 

Are children in Buckinghamshire primary schools automatically entered for the test no matter where they live?

Yes, unless parents notify their child’s head teacher that they do not wish their child to take the test.

How many test papers are there?
The Secondary Transfer Test comprises two test papers. One paper includes comprehension, technical English and verbal reasoning questions. The other paper includes non-verbal reasoning, spatial reasoning and maths questions. This will be the same each year, although the questions will be different. Children answer questions on separate answer sheets.

​How long does each test paper take?
Each Secondary Transfer Test paper takes about 45 minutes. This means that it can be administered in approximately an hour including the introduction and practice examples.

When is the Secondary Transfer Test taken?
The Secondary Transfer Test is taken in the September of Year 6 and all children sit the test on the same day no matter where they live or go to school.

Are the test papers taken on the same day?

Yes. Both Secondary Transfer Test papers are taken on the same day with a short gap in between.

When do children not attending Buckinghamshire primary schools take the test?

Children not attending Buckinghamshire primary or partner schools take the practice and Secondary Transfer Tests on the same days as children at Buckinghamshire schools.

Where do children attending out-of-county schools take the test?

Children attending out-of-county primary schools take the test at one of the Buckinghamshire grammar schools or at another central location.

How are the tests administered?

Pupils are supervised by a teacher or invigilator. Each child has a question booklet and a separate answer sheet for each test paper. The question booklet contains all the necessary instructions about taking the test and all the test questions. The teacher or invigilator uses a supplied audio file to take the children through the initial example questions and to play the instructions about starting and finishing the test and to time all the sub-sections of the test.

How does TBGS make sure that all schools administer the test in the same way?

In collaboration with Buckinghamshire primary school headteachers, a protocol has been prepared so that all headteachers (Buckinghamshire primary and partner schools) have an agreed standard set of procedures for administering the tests. The use of audio files to administer the test is another way of standardising practice.

What happens if a child is ill on the day of the test or during a test?

Schools have clear instructions about how to deal with such circumstances. If children are unable to take the test, they will be able to do so on a later occasion.

What does the test assess?

Children are tested on verbal, mathematical and non-verbal skills. Verbal skills are tested in the first test paper and include English comprehension, technical English and verbal reasoning questions. In the second paper children answer non-verbal, spatial reasoning and maths skills questions. All the questions are multiple-choice.

What is meant by technical English?

Technical English covers English grammar, punctuation and spelling and in the STT children are assessed on the sorts of things they are familiar with from national curriculum work and testing.

Are all test questions equally rated and are all the sections equally weighted?

All the test questions are equally rated (i.e. every correct answer will gain one raw mark). The sections are not equally weighted. The verbal skills section has a weighting of 50%. The mathematical and non-verbal sections each have a weighting of 25%.

What is the rationale behind the weightings in the test?

The Secondary Transfer Test assesses a range of verbal, mathematical and non-verbal skills. The verbal skills areas tested are English comprehension, technical English and verbal reasoning. Non-verbal, spatial reasoning and maths skills are assessed as well. The weightings of the three sections that  make up the Secondary Transfer Test Score (STTS) are as follows: verbal – 50%; mathematical – 25%; non-verbal – 25%. The weightings indicate the proportion of the test devoted to that skill, and also provide a balanced view of a child’s developed ability.

What allowances are made for children with special educational needs?
Headteachers are able to apply to a Special Access Panel for special arrangements for specific children with special educational needs. For example, there is the opportunity for certain children to be given up to 25% extra time and large print question booklets and answer sheets are available for children with visual impairments.

How can you tell that the test selects the right pupils for grammar school entry?

Tests such as the ones being used for selecting students for entry into Buckinghamshire grammar schools are in common usage across England. As per the Schools Admissions Code, grammar schools select their pupils on the basis of high academic ability, and the tests are designed to achieve this purpose.

Can a child’s performance in other tests such as CATs be compared with the outcomes of the STT?

No. Tests are designed for different purposes and therefore how a child performs in one test does not necessarily correlate or predict similar performance in another different test.

Is the test age appropriate?

The Buckinghamshire STT is designed to be taken at the beginning of the Autumn term when children move in to Year 6.  Literacy levels in the test are kept as low as possible to ensure that the test assesses reasoning ability rather than levels of literacy. Additionally maths or English content in the test does not go beyond what the national curriculum expects children to know and be able to do by the end of Year 5.

Are children able to practise for the test?
Yes. Before taking the Secondary Transfer Test pupils take two practice test papers each lasting about 25-30 minutes containing questions that are similar to those they will encounter in the Secondary Transfer Test. The practice test gives children experience of test-taking conditions as well as giving them the opportunity to work through example test material. The practice test papers are not be marked or taken home from the school. The Secondary Transfer Test includes instructions given aurally and the practice test also familiarises children with listening to instructions from an audio file.

How can parents best help their children to prepare for the test?
There are a number of things that parents can do to help their children. They can:

  • ensure that they have experience of working quietly on their own, uninterrupted by noise or distractions;

  • ensure that they do any homework that is set;

  • help their children to read with understanding, for example by asking them what certain words mean and what is happening in the passage or book that they are reading;

  • encourage them to solve problems by themselves or to look up things for themselves;

  • work through the familiarisation materials that will be available in the summer term of Year 5 with their children as these will show what the test papers and answer sheets look like;

  • use the free familiarisation materials available on the GL Assessment website.

Are tutoring and coaching required?

The Secondary Transfer Test is designed to enable all children to demonstrate their academic potential without the need for coaching or excessive preparation. Primary and partner schools that undertake testing on behalf of the grammar schools are asked not to tutor or coach children in their school prior to the test over and above enabling the children to follow the national curriculum relevant for their age.

In order to be able to prepare children appropriately for the STT, parents of children in Year 5 are provided with a familiarisation booklet in the summer term so that they can familiarise children with how the test papers will look. All children are also encouraged to prepare by taking the practice test so that they have the experience of taking a test under similar conditions to the STT. Additional free familiarisation materials are also available on GL Assessment’s website should parents wish to use them.

How much preparation do children need to do?

TBGS supports the view of GL Assessment that all children should have the opportunity to experience sample questions as part of the familiarisation process and that this is an essential element of a fair testing process. This is why we provide familiarisation materials for parents and children ahead of the STT and also have a practice test.

To support this process, GL Assessment has also published a series of free 11+ familiarisation materials, which parents are welcome to download from the GL Assessment website. The familiarisation papers cover verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning, English and maths. GL Assessment has also published free parents’ guides for both VR and NVR, which you can also download from their website.

Views about the amount of preparation needed vary considerably, however we believe that the materials highlighted above will provide a useful degree of familiarisation for all children.

How representative of the Bucks test are the free materials available on GL Assessment's website?

The types of question used in the Bucks STT will vary each year and will include a range of question types including some that may be included in the free materials.  Parents of Year 5 children are provided with familiarisation materials specific to the Buckinghamshire test in the summer term and should use those with their children. There is no requirement to use the free materials provided by GL Assessment which comprise a selection of question types that appear in tests that they provide for various grammar schools and local authorities around the country not all of which may be included in the Buckinghamshire test.

Why does GL Assessment sell practice tests if they are not a necessary part of test preparation?

In addition to the free familiarisation materials mentioned above, GL Assessment has developed a comprehensive range of further practice papers, in case parents/children would like to do more.

 

How are the tests marked?
Children answer questions on separate answer sheets which are then machine-marked (scanned).

Do children have marks deducted for incorrect answers?

No. Children are awarded marks for correct answers. Marks are not deducted for incorrect answers.

What is the pass mark?
The test does not have a pass mark. Instead there is a qualifying score for admission to grammar school. The qualifying score for Buckinghamshire grammar schools is a Secondary Transfer Test Score (STTS) of 121 or above. The STTS is calculated by age-standardising the three section scores and then adding them using the following weightings:  verbal – 50%; mathematical – 25%; non-verbal – 25%.  The total is the STTS.

Why is age standardisation needed?

The purpose of the age standardisation process is to eradicate age differences among the children to ensure younger children are not disadvantaged.

Does it matter what score a child gets?

To qualify in the Buckinghamshire Secondary Transfer Test a child needs to achieve a Secondary Transfer Test Score (STTS) of 121 or above.When applying their admission rules grammar schools do not use STTS scores to rank order children so children with higher scores are not at an advantage for entry to grammar school. Grammar school entry is entirely dependent on whether or not a score of 121 has been achieved. Beyond requiring a qualification score of 121 or above each grammar school sets its own criteria for admissions (please refer to each individual grammar school’s admission policy for details).

Must a child achieve the qualifying score of 121 in both test papers or just one?

A child’s final Secondary Transfer Test score (STTS) takes account of the marks from both test papers.

Is a child’s score from the Buckinghamshire Secondary Transfer Test transferable to another authority?

No.

When are results available?

Results are communicated to parents before they have to submit their child’s secondary school application, i.e. before 31 October. The exact date will be published in advance each year.

Where do parents go for further information?

 

Further information about the testing arrangements is available on the Buckinghamshire Council website.

2020 entry testing issues

Can you explain what it means if the test is ‘reliable’?

‘Reliability’ is a standard statistical term that is frequently used to describe tests. It refers to the extent to which scores produced by a test are consistent, dependable and replicable.

In relation to the reliability of this year’s Secondary Transfer Test to determine whether or not a child is suited to a grammar school in Buckinghamshire, our analysis has found that the overall reliability of the test has not been compromised.

The results indicate that both the Verbal Reasoning and English sections score well above 0.80 reliability, which is considered to be very good. (The maximum reliability score is 1.0.) For comparison, in 2019, GCSE English Literature and Language exams had a reliability of 0.52.

 

What are completion rates?

Completion rates show the proportion of children who reach a specific question in the test, and/or who complete the test as a whole. 

 

In a normal, timed administration of a test, not all children will complete the test. We have therefore been able to look at how completion rates differ to investigate how children may have been affected by the errors.

As highlighted in GL Assessment’s letter to parents on 1 October, the analysis of this year’s test found that, while the test reliability and completion rates as a whole remain statistically sound, there was evidence that completion rates started to drop during the last six questions of the VR section of the paper. The solution has therefore been based on this evidence.

Does the qualifying score remain the same?

Yes. The qualifying score remains 121.

If you are removing six questions from the Verbal Reasoning section, how can you still have a qualifying score of 121?

A child’s final score is an age-standardised score rather than a raw score. (A raw score is just the total of the correct marks on the papers.) The standardisation process has taken into account the removal of the last six Verbal Reasoning questions in order to maintain the qualifying score at 121.

 

Standardisation is described on the Buckinghamshire Council website.

Won’t the solution penalise children whose strength is Verbal Reasoning?

No, both because there are a high number of VR questions within the paper so each child will still be able to demonstrate their strengths in VR, and because the weightings of the sections of the test will not be changed. Verbal Skills will continue to have a weighting of 50%.

 

It is important to reiterate that the independent statistician has looked in detail at how children performed in the Verbal Reasoning section of the paper, taking into account the different conditions under which the children sat the paper (i.e. the children who were advised not to attempt the questions, children who were told part-way through the paper, and children who were not informed). The independent statistician has verified that the outcome of the test, without those questions, is still fair for all children, highly reliable and above the accepted conventions for admissions tests.

How are the different sections of the test weighted?

Each of the three sections within the Transfer Test is standardised separately. The overall standardised score is used to determine which children are deemed suitable for grammar school and is based on the sum of the following:  

  • 50% of the standardised score for the Verbal Skills section

  • 25% of the standardised score for the Mathematical section

  • 25% of the standardised score for the Non-verbal section

Will we still receive the results on Friday 18 October?

Yes, results will still be sent to parents, as planned, on Friday 18 October.

Can I appeal if my child doesn’t reach the qualifying score of 121?

When results are released on 18 October, as in all previous years, you have the option of going to Selection Review or Appeal if your child has not qualified with the score of 121.

The process for review will be exactly the same as in previous years and therefore please note that success at Selection Review or Appeal requires strong academic evidence of grammar school suitability and not just details of extenuating circumstances.

We understand that you may focus upon the testing error. However, with the statistical analysis and solution implementation this will not be sufficient grounds for reviews or appeals on their own. Academic evidence supported by your primary school will be the first port of call in any request for appeal or review.

Could you please explain the process that I would need to go through in order to appeal the decision for my child?

If you feel that there are exceptional reasons for your child not qualifying, the next steps to take following receipt of your child’s results are detailed on the Bucks Council website.

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