Testing, testing - some thoughts on the 11+

(Image credit:Unsplash)

(Image credit:Unsplash)

With the tiniest of state primary school children threatened with the burden of formal testing today, as Steve Bell’s cartoon in the Guardian suggests, exam halls will soon need to be fitted with booster seats!

Perhaps it’s not so much the testing that is at fault, but the inevitable pressure that goes with it. For some children with the right support and encouragement a test itself should not pose a problem. Perhaps particularly if there is as little fan-fare surrounding it as possible.

Tutoring steadies the parental nerves

The pressure inevitably builds with the kinds of testing associated with entrance testing. There is no escaping the fact that life-changing outcomes depend on how each child fares in the test – whether it be entrance to a local grammar school or highly selective independent. For those with the least options, it could not be a more important day. Parents are as nervous as children. And, then the tutoring begins. Whilst, we see tutors as providing valuable support in on-going learning, in tutoring for the test the system rapidly spirals – with the tutees, perhaps the most pressured of all. The playing field becomes most definitely un-level, and it becomes harder than ever to spot natural talent and ability.

Perhaps hence why so many schools are now supplementing testing with interviews, which in the right hands can discover a great deal about how a child might gain from a particular school place and whether they are a good fit – which is best for both school and child. And, increasingly schools are looking to design testing that does sift talent and potential from teaching.

Can we turn back the clock please?


In the meantime, with an eye on our experiences of 11+ testing for the Warwickshire grammar schools, and fond memories of back when dinosaurs roamed, of the crisp winter day when we simply found out ‘today is the day’, could we offer a few additional suggestions:

  • Move the test back to a weekday in October or November and make it something that every child would sit. If every child in the county is taking the test there is a much better chance of finding the gems.
  • If the only pupils taking the test are those that feel they have a chance of winning a place, as currently, then the whole test environment is inevitably high-pressured.
  • If the exams are just one of those things that everybody does, then the buzz around “are you entering?” is diminished.  And once the tests are routine, then perhaps tutoring for them would not seem so much of a ‘must do’.
  • If the test is taken in school time then the date need not be made public in advance – it’s hard to have hype if you don’t have a date. 
  • The date of the test which is currently in early September, distinctly advantages tutored pupils.  The rest, with any luck have barely picked up a pencil all summer, perhaps having even climbed the odd tree, but definitely haven’t got back into educational gear when the test takes place, whereas the tutored have been heads down all summer.  A prep school we know even returns to year 6 a week earlier than the other pupils for the sole purpose of tutoring.   

We believe in the right school for the right child…and relaxing summer holidays… until the current entrance testing environment changes we will continue to work with it… but let’s hold that thought… 

(Image credit: Unsplash)

(Image credit: Unsplash)