Lancaster Royal Grammar School proposals to lower entry exam pass mark to help less privileged children

Lancaster Royal Grammar School head, Dr Chris Pyle.
Lancaster Royal Grammar School head, Dr Chris Pyle.

Lancaster Royal Grammar School could change its admissions policy to help children from less privileged backgrounds gain access.

Consultation is currently under way into plans to lower the 11+ entry exam pass mark for pupils receiving free school meals and pupil premium.

Governors at the school want to see barriers broken down and a more level playing field for all youngsters across the district.

Headteacher Dr Chris Pyle said around 10 other grammar schools across the country operate a similar policy.

LRGS has already been working on a primary school outreach programme, and this would follow on, he said.

“It’s about opening doors and being more accessible,” Dr Pyle said. “We already have free school meals in the admissions policy but we wanted to do something that was more meaningful that would level the playing field a little bit where maybe there’s a background of deprivation.

“This is part of a process that we are doing to fulfil the school’s historic message, which wasn’t to be an elitist establishment but one that opens doors and opportunities for every child in every street.

“One of the things that we are concerned about is the way that the school is seen – we are not an elitist school.”

The school currently takes in 70 per cent of pupils from the Lancaster City Council district, with the other third mostly from the Garstang and Preston area or further afield.

“Our main focus is onmaking sure we are delivering for Lancaster and Morecambe,” Dr Pyle said. “That’s where we want to make an impact.”

Dr Pyle said concerns had been raised about the access to private tutoring that some youngsters have prior to taking the 11+.

“There’s no hidden code to taking the 11+ but there’s still a lot of parents out there who will think about tutoring, but that isn’t an option for some,” he said.

If a pupil applicant is on free school meals, or has been at any point during primary school – a ‘pupil premium’ pupil – then the proposals would see the pass mark lowered across the three 11+ exam papers by 15 marks – a drop of about five per cent.

“We have looked at how many pupils that might affect and it’s not a position of dramatically transforming our admissions policy but there’s a chance it will make a difference to at least a handful of pupils,” Dr Pyle said.

“Over time we would love to see the succcess stories of those pupils and for that message to filter back down to their primary schools to help take down some of the barriers.

“It’s not going to make it perfect but it will make it a bit better.”

Dr Pyle said anyone passing the entry exams via this method would be treated with strict confidentiality once a pupil at the school.

He said additional support is already available to help pupils needing help to access the full curriculum, such as with the cost of school uniforms, school trips and music lessons.

The consultation document is available on the school website for anyone to respond to until the end of January.

If governors agree the process goes ahead, it would be likely to be brought in from September 2021 – with current Year 5 pupils being the first involved.