11 Plus Exams: A Controversial Conversation

Education is a hot topic among policymakers, media outlets and parents gathering at school gates. Not everyone can agree on everything, but everyone is trying to provide solutions to make schooling systems and children’s learning experiences better.

One topic that has divided opinion for years is the 11 plus exam and grammar schools. Not everyone agrees with the concept of grammar schools, their current admissions testing - and some want immediate changes. To understand the situation better, here is our debrief on the ongoing conversation around these topics.

What Is the 11 Plus Exam?

The 11 plus exam is the test used to admit pupils into grammar schools. It is designed to find the primary school pupils who have a natural ability in mathematics, English and verbal and non-verbal reasoning skills.

Grammar schools have been a sought-after schooling destination because they are geared up to prepare children for challenging study, which can often result in further education and glistening careers. Grammar schools have been found to help students achieve better results in physics, maths, English and languages.

These schools should not be confused with private schools as they are not the same. Grammar schools remain a form of public school. However, some grammar schools may charge but this is not for tuition. It is most often for boarding costs, if the grammar school is in fact also a boarding school.

As grammar schools are in demand among many parents, the competition for places is high and thus the 11 plus exam is competitive. Even high-performing students can fall short of the admittance mark and therefore preparation is key to success. It should also be noted that the mark needed to get into a grammar school can change each year and is dependent upon location. Nobody can state for certain what score is needed to get into a grammar school.

To learn more about the 11 plus exam, visit our dedicated 11 plus exam page right here. This page tells you all you need to know about the exam and gives answers to the most common questions.

Why Are Some People Against Grammar Schools?

Not everyone has been waving their fan flags for grammar schools and the 11 plus exam. Some Labour MPs even tried to get them shut down in some cases. Public votes prevented this from happening and grammar schools remain a part of the English and Welsh landscape, even if the numbers of grammar schools are not increasing.

The issue that those Labour MPs and some parents have with grammar schools is that they claim that a grammar school hinders social mobility. Social mobility refers to the ability of one person to exceed the expectations of their original social class and thus move up a social and economic class. At the age of 10 years old (the actual age most children take the 11 plus exam despite what its name tells us) students are determining their future based on one exam alone.

If they do not achieve well in this exam, they are put on a path with fewer opportunities for social mobility. Although their argument does have some currency, it does fall short in a number of areas and it has resulted in many counter arguments.

The Counter Arguments

The arguments against grammar schools are not as valuable today when social mobility is made more possible by top universities accepting more students from comprehensive education than only private schools or grammar schools. In fact, thousands of university students each year attend university off the back of secondary education and Cambridge University has just accepted a record number of pupils from state schools.

The argument that grammar schools and the 11 plus exam are determining a child’s entire future and preventing social mobility, is becoming a less convincing argument. Simultaneously, grammar schools continue to provide excellent environments to push pupils to achieve their full potential.   

It could be argued that the only barriers to social mobility are a lack of access to grammar schools. Today, just over 160 grammar schools exist in the UK, and there could have been more. If more of these schools focusing on academic subjects were to be created in dispersed areas of the UK, more people would have access to a stellar standard of education that may eventually lead to improved social mobility.

What About the 11 Plus Exam Itself? 

When there are a limited number of places for children to attend a grammar school, the only fair way to allocate places is to hold some form of assessment. The 11 plus exam is that assessment and there is no fairer or more convenient way of understanding a child’s current level than testing their abilities, despite the pressure that brings.

The whole process of preparing for an important exam at this age also gives insights into how a child will respond to crucial exams in the future. It remains the most effective way of identifying high-performing students.

Of course, that does not mean that the 11 plus exam is perfect. One of the examination bodies of the 11 plus exam has come under scrutiny for how they make their exams. Yet, these governing bodies have also responded to criticism and redesigned the test to make it a better fit for purpose.

Grammar Schools Now Focusing on Disadvantaged Children

Another way that grammar schooling has responded to claims that they prevent social mobility can be answered with statistics. Today there are 11,000 more students in grammar school education compared to back in 2010 - and this number is set to grow. But the important thing to know is who are actually getting these places?

These grammar schools are securing more places thanks to government funding (upon a successful bid) however, this funding is only granted if they commit to giving places to children from disadvantaged areas or backgrounds. This could be one of the reasons why almost 100 grammar schools have now implemented policies to attract children who have not had an equal opportunity in academia.

So, Is the 11 Plus Exam Here to Stay?

After all the voices within the conversation have been heard, the reality is that grammar schools are not going anywhere in the near future and with them, the 11 plus exam will remain. Those who oppose grammar schools because they feel these schools reduce social mobility may change their opinions over the coming years as they follow the Oxbridge example in prioritising disadvantaged students.

What Does This Mean for Parents?

This means any parent wanting to get their child a place at a grammar school will have to learn more about the selection process and the exam. Helping your child prepare for the exam in a supportive environment is key to success.

However, there are also many top tips to help your child prepare for the test and special ways you can help them succeed. One of these special ways is by getting a private tutor - but this can be too costly in time and money for parents, especially parents with financial pressures.

The other solution is to enrol your child onto an 11 plus preparation course specifically designed to tutor for these types of grammar school entry exams.

What Is An 11 Plus Preparation Course?

An 11 plus preparation course is a convenient online study aid designed to help pupils with the 11 plus exam specifically. It encompasses subject matter and question types that the student will be exposed to in the real exam, as well as many hints and tricks to prepare for reasoning questions that are often considered to be “unteachable”.

Having the course online allows parents and children to study at a time that suits them and their schedule rather than a tutor’s schedule.  Online portals also allow you to track progress easily, which goes a long way to keeping students motivated and engaged with their 11 plus preparations.

Where Can You Find 11 Plus Preparation Courses?

There are multiple 11 plus preparation course providers on the web, but it is always recommended to choose a course that has been developed by tutors and teachers with 11 plus exam experience.

The 11 plus preparation course developed by 11 Plus Success is just that. It is a course designed by professionals who have already helped many grammar school hopefuls jump for joy on results day. For the best chance of securing that grammar school acceptance letter, choose our affordable and effective 11 plus revision course!

For more information on the 11 plus course, grammar schools and relevant topics, remember to check out the latest posts on our blog soon!
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