eleven plus

How to pass with flying colours as a parent whilst getting through the 'pass' or 'fail' talk of the 11+

It is possible to get through 11+ time with flying colours  - in every sense!  (image credit: Unsplash)

It is possible to get through 11+ time with flying colours  - in every sense!  (image credit: Unsplash)

Can you pass or fail a test that does not have a pass mark?

Imagine if you were to walk out of your driving test and not be told if you’d passed or failed, but that you’d be told later.  At the end of the day, the top 100 of people who took the test would be awarded a driving licence.  If one person from the top 100 left the UK without collecting her licence, and the 101st person were therefore awarded a licence, would that final person have “passed” or “failed”?

This is how the the 11+ works! So, when we heard Nick Robinson talking about 'pass' and 'fail this week, as we all do, I started to think about the pressure of grammar school testing and what we as parents can do to relieve it... 

How do you talk to your child about the 11+ test?

  • Always ensure your child knows that the grammar school is just one of a few options you are considering. 
  • Make sure you and your child are sure about which non-grammar schools will also be on your list of preferences when choices are made (the time between results and preferences is often just a matter of days, often over the half-term break, so plan ahead).
  • Discuss honestly the pros and cons of different types of education. If your child is currently a “big fish in a small pond” as one of the brighter children in the class, then how will he or she adjust to being in a bigger pond full of bigger fish?
  • Talk about life plans with your child.  If all your child has ever wanted to do is join the army or be a farmer, then perhaps a school with more practical leanings would suit better, regardless of 11+ success?
  • Talk about what you will do if you find that despite winning a place at the grammar school it doesn't turn out to be the right school. It might be comforting for them to know, this is your only endeavour. 
  • Discuss with child whether he or she will be happy in a single-sex grammar school (if that’s your local option) and if the commute is bearable (for many, the local grammar school is much further away than the local secondary school) and take seriously their concerns.

Parent checklist

  1. Make sure you look at other schools too, ensuring it’s clear that they are viable options. 
  2. Ask all the questions at each school that you’d ask if that were the only option available to you.
  3. You might even consider not viewing the grammar school with your child, depending on whether you think seeing the school will add pressure or incentive.
  4. Talk openly and regularly about the pros and cons of all the schools that are options, trying to be as balanced as you can.
  5. Think about whether you really think tutoring is necessary.  A few practice papers will give your child a good feel for the kinds of questions that might come up and if he or she is being intensively prepped through the 11+ the grammar school might not be the right school after all.
  6. If you’re looking at independent schools as an alternative try not to add any pressure on your child by talking about the financial advantages!  
  7. If you have more than one child, remember that how you’re presenting schools will affect other siblings too – small people have big ears so choose your words carefully.
  8. Not all grammar schools are single-sex, but many are.  If you don’t think your child will suit the environment, then think again about the choice of school.

What do you think might be helpful? Join in the debate @schoolhuntersuk - see you there!


Time to go loop the loop - how about turning11+ entry on its head?

A different perspective on eleven plus selection (image credit: Unsplash)

A different perspective on eleven plus selection (image credit: Unsplash)

Roll up, roll up for some creative thinking...

Harold Wilson’s government began the phasing out of grammar schools in 1964 in an act of what Tony Blair described as “academic vandalism” and Margaret Thatcher abolished more than any other prime minister while David Cameron was lukewarm towards them and Theresa May wants to bring them back.  Sometimes it's hard to know which way is up!

The dilemmas we face with parents on the hunt for school places are very often about finding creative solutions to sometimes what can at first glance seem like very tricky scenarios. As we've listened to the constant debate on this hot topic,  and had a fair few of our own around the supper table, we couldn't help throwing out one that seemed to stick...

Top 20 per cent by school - too hair-raising, too simple?

First up. The postcode lottery, access to tutoring, opt-in testing, and prep schools are just some of the things that make the grammar schools inaccessible to many even before the eleven plus test. See our thoughts on barriers to entry around the test here 

If grammar schools are to be retained and even expanded, what if we returned to universal testing of all eligible pupils in the Local Authority area and awarded grammar school places by primary school?

Imagine. Every child takes the test, in primary school and during the school day.  The top twenty per cent of pupils from each primary school are then offered a place in a grammar school. Putting aside any reservations about the selective system, and on the basis of there being some selection within an area's state schools, it just might be more balanced than the current system. Whilst excellent primaries would still attract more reception applications than their struggling neighbours, there just might be less of a fear of missing out - when not everyone can re-locate adjacent to an 'Outstanding' school or indeed access tutoring - and just possibly a fairer social mix. 

Too stomach-churning? Perhaps Justine Greening could give it some thought.


Why Matilda didn’t go to grammar school - 8 barriers to entry under the current grammar school test system

Barriers to entry to 11+ schools (image credit: Unsplash)

Barriers to entry to 11+ schools (image credit: Unsplash)

When I grow up...

As self-motivated and brilliant as Matilda Wormwood was (our favourite Roald Dahl heroine) there would be one thing holding her back from a grammar school application today... her parents!

We believe in good schools and most importantly the right school for the right child. Whether you’re a believer or not in the grammar school system and whether you are pleased or aghast at their contentious proposed expansion - and do see Tom Sherrington's highly informative post on the ins and outs of the arguments - we suggest that if they are to exist then perhaps they should be accessible to all pupils within the catchment area. 

What are the road-blocks to even sitting the test?

1. Planning ahead

Under the current system all children applying to grammar school must apply in Year 5.  Parents are informed about this via a booklet supplied by the county, but there are all sorts of reasons they might not read it – it joins the myriad crumpled letters that never make it home via the book bag and most parents are full-time jugglers of jobs, elderly relatives and young children. It's just one more thing to do. Nothing in the booklets we’ve seen actually recommends applying, or "having a go"..

2. Believing in your child – recognising your Matilda

To think you should register for the 11+, you have to think there’s a point.  While many of us delight in our children's unique talents (imagined or otherwise!) it is sometimes the case that parents under-estimate their child's ability.

3. Confidence

And then there are some parents who do believe in their children, but are a little shy about it.  It takes a degree of confidence to take the registration form into school and ask the headteacher to sign the application form confirming that your child is the person you say he is, exposing your hopes to scrutiny. 

4. a £5 photo

In my local supermarket it costs £5 for four little passport photos – one of which is needed for the registration form.  For many, £5 spent on photos would make a significant dent in the family food budget.  

5. Teachers

While some schools encourage every pupil to register for the test, others are wary.  And of course many teachers simply don’t believe in selective education. How can they be expected to encourage families to register for the test if either they don’t believe in it or fear they will be held to account if results are disappointing. SATS may be quite enough pressure. 

6. Late babies

We have witnessed first-hand the difficulty for summer babies in relation to the 11+ test.  The test itself is weighted to account for the age of children being tested, but parents’ perception is based on their child’s performance in relation to their peers, not the population, and that can have a huge bearing on how they view their readiness for the 11+. 

Summer-born children are only nine years old when registration takes place and for many parents the extra pressure of the grammar school can seem too much for such a young child.  It doesn’t mean young children won’t win places at grammar school, but it does distort their parents’ view of their suitability.

7. Saturday test days

Lots of children have parents who work on a Saturday who are simply unable to take them to a test on a Saturday morning.  For many it’s one barrier too far, too intimidating, too much effort.  The only reason for Saturday testing is to make the grammar schools available to out-of-county pupils… and out-of-county pupils are inevitably the children of the motivated, interested more ambitious parents, so the bright working class pupils politicians are keen to empower are pushed out of the way even before they register! 

8. Getting there

Again, not a barrier to entry to the determined, but as Local Authority budgets are cut and savings sought they are cutting back on school transport and many no longer provide free transport to the grammar school unless it also happens to be your local school.  Pupils on free school meals can apply for the transport, but it’s no longer automatic and is yet another stumbling block to parents choosing secondary schools.


We applaud all the efforts of Local Authorities to prevent cheating, to make the test tutor-proof, to and to make it fair for younger pupils, but there's a way to go before it's truly open to all.