11+ Entrance exams and assessments

05th May 2017

About seven years ago I was asked to contribute to a new range of textbooks aimed at pupils preparing for the 11+ exam. It was a clear sign that the publisher, a stalwart of the independent preparatory school world, recognised the growing demand for Y7 entry over the more traditional 13+. For years, school leaders have been calling for updates to the Common Entrance test, labelling it as an exercise in fact regurgitation over skills and aptitudes. And parents have been voting with their feet, an ever increasing number choosing 11-18 schools for their children, keen to have them properly ensconced in the right educational environment before the teenage years hit.

But surely the same issues with the admissions system remain? Namely that too many schools base their admissions decisions on exam performance alone.  If schools genuinely seek well rounded pupils with a wealth of diverse skills and attributes, then surely their assessment process must overtly focus on identifying this?

Schools should never be judged purely on their exam results and nor should children. Far better is an admissions process which gets to know each of the pupils as individuals, which interviews every candidate and maintains an ongoing and careful dialogue with feeder schools throughout the process. Of course schools can and should set academic benchmarks as part of this process, but this should only form part of an overall picture which sees the right pupils placed in the right schools.

If we are truly to address the issues surrounding the 11+, and we owe it to the mental health of pupils and parents across the country to do so, then schools must focus on devising an admissions process which has the ethos, vision and values of the school at the heart of it.  For far too long archaic systems have existed, almost indistinguishable from school to school, which pit 10-year-old children against one another in exam rooms across the country on cold, January mornings.  This in no way replicates the experience these children will have at their chosen Senior school, so why start that way?

Far better is an assessment morning which remains true to what the school stands for – in our case excellence, courage, perseverance and respect.  In this way we are able to select the pupils who we know will make a difference to one another, and have a positive impact on our school community through their seven-year journey with us, rather than it simply being an exercise harvesting future GCSE and A level grades from 10 year olds.  And of course in a truly values based community, academic success comes as a bi-product.

Rosie Gill