Headteacher panels form an important part of the Kent 11-plus process, but as we have seen, there is a question mark over whether they are better at identifying high ability pupils than a simple lowering of the 11-plus pass mark would be.
One group of students who may not be able to realise their full potential in a test, because they are not necessarily being adequately prepared for it, are those eligible for free school meals, and we might hope that a human process such as headteacher panels helps with this.
Data on the proportions of pupils entered for, and successful at, the headteacher panel reveals relatively small differences in success rates for FSM versus non-FSM pupils with the same overall 11-plus score, though.
The table below shows this data, grouping students by their overall 11-plus score. So, for example, FSM students with an 11-plus score of 310-319 have greater success than pupils who are not eligible for free school meals (16% versus 9% successful at panel). But those FSM students with a slightly higher score of 320-329 have less success than others (29% versus 35% successful).
So, on the one hand this analysis of the headteacher panel reveals that FSM pupils are generally not disadvantaged by the process, when compared to others achieving similar scores. But it could be argued that we should expect them to achieve greater success still, for two reasons.
Firstly, 11-plus scores of disadvantaged children are lower than their KS2 attainment. It could be argued that the headteacher panel should be identifying this greater academic potential, and doing more to correct for disadvantaged children’s lower chance of passing the 11-plus.
Secondly, FSM-eligible pupils more frequently live in the east of Kent. There are four headteacher panels, covering four geographical areas and it is generally the case that those in the east are more generous in their decisions than those in the west, reflecting the pressure on grammar school places in each part of the country. So, given disadvantaged pupils more commonly live in the area with the greatest rate of headteacher panel success, it’s of some surprise that disadvantaged pupils are not being passed through the process in still greater numbers.
Children eligible for free schools meals generally have a better success rate at headteacher panels than those who are not eligible. But the gap may not be as great as we would expect, given other characteristics of these FSM-eligible children.