11+ Tests on rise despite criticism

This year, there was a 4.6% increase of the number of students who registered to take the 11-plus exam, with 4,641 Kent schoolchildren receiving their results.

Grammar schools were able to offer an extra 200 places thanks to additional government funding this year.

Once mandatory in schools across England and Wales, the 11-plus is now voluntarily undertaken by students in the boroughs and counties of England and Northern Ireland that offer selective schooling for secondary education.

The exam tests pupils on their English, Maths, verbal and non-verbal reasoning and is used to determine their academic aptitude and whether they qualify to apply for a place at a grammar school.

Grammar schools are a point of controversy in modern British society.

The 11-plus is a notoriously difficult examination and private tutoring of the test is a common occurrence in areas which still test the 11-plus.

Critics of the 11-plus claim that as not all families have the resources to do this, the 11-plus is considered to be harmful to the majority of those from disadvantaged social backgrounds.

Starting secondary school is an experience that many children find daunting, does the 11+ add more stress to children before they even get there?

Children who come from families who are able to afford tutoring are at a significant advantage when taking the exam.

Statistics indicate that fewer than 2% of grammar school students are on free school meals, attesting that the vast majority of pupils in grammar schools come from higher-income families.

In May 2018, education secretary Damian Hinds promised a £50m fund to grammar schools that agreed to consider more applications from disadvantaged children.

The money would be put towards helping selective schools expand into ‘satellite campuses’, which Hinds states ‘will give parents greater choice in looking at schools that are right for their family and give children of all backgrounds access to a world-class education’.

This was heavily criticised by shadow education secretary Angela Rayner, who argued ‘continued obsession with grammar schools will do nothing for the vast majority of children. They do nothing to improve social mobility’.

Regardless of the ongoing debate around grammar schools, England still has 164 grammar schools remaining. Kent alone has 33 grammar schools, 20% of the national total.

Mr Isaac French, taught at both a grammar and a comprehensive school in Kent during his PGCE.

He highlights the impact that the 11-plus can have on students’ wellbeing, saying: “It causes anxiety at a young age for students, be it self-inflicted or parent-inflicted, as there is a drive for that eleven-year-old to pass the test to get what is perceived to be a better standard of education.”

“You get Year 7s coming into comprehensive schools who have been affected quite strongly by the 11-plus and who now have anxieties attached to testing. The exam works for a specific type of student.”

In 2016 the Kent Education Network surveyed head teachers across the country and found that 93% of heads agreed that failing the 11-plus can impact young peoples’ self-esteem.

Many of them expressed concern regarding the pressure of additional tuition and a damaging pass/fail judgement at such a young age.

With the current government remaining an advocate for selective secondary education, and the increase in children sitting the 11+ implies that grammar schools are likely to stay.