Ahhhh the eleven-plus (11+) exam, a tale as old as 1944, when the school system was rearranged. It entitled all children in the UK to free education between the ages of 5 and 15 where they would attend primary schools up to the age of 11 before moving on to continue education at secondary schools.
At this time, there were 3 types of secondary school: Grammar, secondary modern, and technical.
Nowadays, with the likes of academies, state boarding, and faith schools all being added to the roster, it can be difficult to know the best pathway for your child.
As such, we have compiled the ultimate guide for you on the 11+ exam, the opportunities it presents, and the best way to approach it to ensure that your child passes and is accepted into the right secondary school.
So let's get started, shall we...
The 11+ is in essence an entrance exam for particular secondary schools, used by grammar schools and independent (private) schools alike to identify the most academically-able children.
The exam is taken in primary school by students either near the end of Year 5 or at the beginning of their time in Year 6. This is a year in advance of students starting in their chosen school in Year 7 - all going well!
Should you be looking to change to a grammar school or independent school from Year 8 or Year 9, there are other entrance exams called 12+ and 13+ which indicate a later transfer.
Grammar schools are state-funded secondary schools that have a strong focus on academic achievement and select pupils on the basis of ability. This is in contrast to non-selective, all-ability comprehensive schools where anyone living in the catchment area is eligible.
Not every county across the UK runs the 11+ for entrance into grammar schools, so first off, you need to make sure you are in a location that does use it before even contemplating it. The full list of counties that use the 11+ still can be found below:
The simple answer is no. There are 2 main exam boards for the 11+, each with their unique exam questions, tests, and mark scheme so it is vital you know which one your child is likely to do to help prepare them best.
The 2 boards are CEM (Durham University) and GL Assessment.
Whilst it is not a perfect science, the exam you sit is dependent on the area you are in. Below you can see a list of which counties run each exam board.
While the content and structure of the exam depend on the exam board being used, it will typically focus on a combination of:
As you would expect, the content of subjects like Maths and English in the exams naturally follows the national curriculum but reasoning exams are unique and not part of the UK curriculum, so it is important to know exactly what they involve.
Nope. Taking the 11+ is at the discretion of both the students and parents if they want to attend a grammar school in the UK. So if you are happy with your child attending a comprehensive or state school then the 11+ will skate on by.
It is important to know if you live in an area like Buckinghamshire, children are automatically registered for the 11+ and it will require opting out.
Not sure about the registration process? Check out what it's like via your local authority website here.
This comes down to the individual. While not every child is suited for a grammar school, it is important to remember that where they end up is not set in stone and what works for one student does not necessarily work 100% of the time.
So, if you think your child has potential and will do well in our entrance exams then give the 11+ a go, whilst keeping in mind the following questions:
This should be the first step, before anything else, you need to know if it is even possible to take it where you live and how it works specifically in your area.
It is a regionalised exam, so the topics and subjects that your child will be tested on will vary greatly depending on the location of you and the school you are applying to.
The best course of action is to call the school you wish to gain entry to and ask them directly about the entrance process.
It is up to the individual, but the earlier preparation begins for children under 7/8 years old, the better.
There are plenty of resources available online that will aid in providing your child with a head start and give them an extra edge or input just enough knowledge into their brain that you need before they sit their test.
You can also look into a private online 11+ tutor on Sherpa Online who can provide your child with the support they need during a timeframe that suits you. Tuition historically has the greatest impact over 12-18 months.
Just like with any service, it is important to conduct some of your own research. There are hundreds of thousands of tutors out there all able to tutor the 11 plus but experience and value for money are incredibly skewed.
Most tuition agencies and sites out there promote university-level students as tutors and while they provide a good value they have very little experience when it comes to the practical application of 11 plus concepts and theories in a classroom environment.
What's unique about 11 plus is the way it tests your knowledge and reasoning. It is very different to anything students of that age have seen before and that's done intentionally!
The aim is to separate critical thinkers from those that can only answer questions in the same format as they have done before. This makes it even more important to practice specific 11+ questions and spend time with a specialist tutor that can help nurture that level of critical thinking in time for exams. Check out our blog on what to expect in the 11+ Exam so you can get an idea of what they look like - It can be tricky even as an adult!
Sherpa Online has qualified UK teachers and professional tutors in a whole host of subjects and levels, including 11+ specialists with prices starting at just £20 per hour.
Congratulations, it’s time for applications! Passing doesn’t automatically guarantee a place as schools will have different policies on place allocation.
They may prefer students that already have siblings at the school and will consider how far away you live and whether your child receives free school meals. So try applying to multiple schools to avoid disappointment.
In the unlikely event that your child doesn't get the results they were hoping for in October, there is the possibility to appeal the decision by the time places are confirmed in March. Consider applying again for a later selection at 12+ or 13+.
Your child won’t be alone in this as there can be up to 8 applications for every 1 place. There will still be many options for a rich education in your local area, so consider your options and remember that we’re always here to help.
Whichever path you take from here, secondary school is an exciting and challenging time. Your Explore Learning tutors are here to help with the leap, so your child can take on the challenge fearlessly.
Looking at the big picture, 11+ is a uniquely high level of assessment for students so young. It is supposed to be testing, but above all else, it should be a positive and confidence-building process. The skills they learn through preparing for these exams will last a lifetime.
There is always another chance to achieve their best (whatever that may be) throughout their academic career. Our 11+ specialists know this better than anyone and are great mentors when it comes to keeping expectations in check and enjoying the process without focusing too hard on the result.
Have a question you need answering? Check out our forum.
Want something else to read and get those cogs turning? View our other blogs here.
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