CAN YOU TRUST THE TEST?
Many people who take the 11+ test find the results are unreliable as academic ‘ability’ is not fixed at 10 years old. You can read comments on this theme here.
Children with undiagnosed SEND have no chance
My very bright daughter (many teachers described her as ‘gifted’), ‘failed’ the Kent Test despite scoring above the overall pass mark, but came a point under in Maths. She had very little tutoring, her primary school (who were very much against the test which I now understand why) said it was highly likely she would pass with ease. Opening the email to say she was ‘suitable for high school’ was horrific – how was I going to tell her? My daughter had dreamt of going to grammar school for years, although neither myself nor her father attended one coming from outside of Kent. The ambition was hers.
On receiving the result, my daughter sobbed uncontrollably for hours, I had to sleep with her that night and was so exhausted, she couldn’t go into school, which she loved, the following day.
Ours is a long story but in short, my daughter has subsequently been diagnosed as having the processing speed of a child with dyslexia. She should have been given extra time, with one expert telling us that it would have been near impossible for her to pass the test without access arrangements, and it was incredible that she achieved as highly as she did. This test did not measure her intelligence at all. It’s nothing more than an exercise in how quickly children can mark the paper with some getting ‘lucky’ on the day. How many other children like her are there?
It’s a cruel, outdated system which clearly does not work. My daughter went to the local school which ‘nobody wants to go to’ who were in fact wonderful. It’s a nurturing school with opportunities for everyone – as it should be and has arguably more opportunity than the grammar school which I hear is resting on its laurels and is more concerned with getting A* out of it’s students at whatever cost.
The head teacher of my primary school told my mother there was no point in me doing the 11+ as I wouldn’t amount to anything. I still did it, achieved well and I’m now a Highly Specialist Speech and Language Therapist!
I failed the 11+
I felt useless and it took years to overcome the failures. Like my cohort in secondary modern I have gone on to get professional qualifications a degree and a masters degree. Within the cohort there are head teachers, civil engineers and airline pilots….all deemed to be failures at 11. To divide children at such a young age does not seem sensible or just.
Neurodivergent Thinkers shut out.
I went to a grammar school back in the nineties. I had no issues with it. For the 2 years I was there, before leaving for another school, it was okay. Years later my son, who is vastly more intelligent than I was at his age, had suffered in the state school primaries due to racialized bias from teachers and classwide behavioural issues and unknowledgeable senco’s, but who had flourished for his last 2 years in a private school (for which we remortgaged our house).
Having put hard work and effort in to catch up with his extremely well-educated peers, despite his (late) autism and dyslexia diagnoses, he tried out for the same grammar I had once attended. But this time, wealthy parents who had had their children in the private school system since they were 3 years old, and who forked out thousands on extra tuition a year in addition to private school, and who could afford to continue to send their child to a private school, instead chose to take up grammar school places. Besides this, actual intelligence gets lost in the 11 plus system (I was for a long time an 11 plus tutor) and an outdated testing method which excused brilliant but not neurotypical Thinkers, meant the grammar school lost out on my son’s talent. Their loss.
11+ is discriminatory for dyslexic kids.
My son is August born, so had turned 10 about 6 weeks before he took the 11+. He had received tuition for around 18 months prior as is the norm for most kids in our area (Trafford). It was a topic of discussion in the playground amongst parents since they were in Reception class with everyone saying how you ‘need’ to get a tutor from Year 4/5.
My son was considered really bright by his junior school and was more or less expected to pass. He didn’t. He failed by around 5 marks and went to the local ‘High School’. Some of his friends passed and others also failed narrowly. This led to some parents seeking private fee paying schools because the ‘High School’ was either not considered good enough or they thought their child would not be a good fit.
A few years later it turned out my son is actually dyslexic, with slow processing speed being the main feature for him and entitling him to extra time in exams. Now, imagine if he’d got that in the 11+, but apparently even if he had a diagnosis that would not have allowed him any reasonable adjustments in 11+ which would be considered discriminatory in any other exam or assessment.
Grammar schools are considered ‘better’ because they get better results, but this is largely because they cream off the most academically able students, take fewer SEN and deprived kids, and hot-house them through exams. The teachers at my son’s high school are just as good if not better and I find I pretty insulting that my son would be labelled by some as ‘not academic’ and therefore belongs in a non-academic school. He got great GCSEs and is starting at University next week.
For many children of a broadly similar ability the exam becomes little more than a lottery of luck rather than a test of ability
In my time tutoring for the 11-plus I have encountered many situations and outcomes that have led me to conclude that the selective system we have in Trafford is unfair. I’ve seen many very bright children not pass due to exam nerves and less able children hit lucky on the day and pass. You either pass or you don’t – having a bad day or panicking is just seen as an excuse. For many children of a broadly similar ability the exam becomes little more than a lottery of luck rather than a test of ability.
My daughter believed she wouldn't go to university
My daughter failed Kent’s 11+ and for years thought she wasn’t smart enough to go to university. She told me this year’s later when she got a first in Computer Science from a Russell Group university. No one should trust this test. I know people will say her outcome was good so none of this matters, but what is the point of dividing children and making them doubt themselves, if the test can’t even do a good job of selecting children who deserve to be in grammar schools?
From 11-plus failure to Cambridge
It was 2007: I vividly remember being ten years old, in Year 6, and standing in my primary school’s IT suite by the printer. It was a bright, white and long room with no natural sunlight, but it must have been the morning. Two friends in my class came up to me, excitedly asking for the outcome of my grammar school entrance exam results. To this day, the pit of heartache and embarrassment that radiated across my stomach and cheeks resonates so clearly with me. The girls expressed their sadness when I had to admit to them that I hadn’t passed and wouldn’t be joining them in the next journey of their lives. I can’t remember much after that painful moment’s worth of memory, but I probably remained my upbeat self to congratulate them for their success. Deep inside I would never really be the same.
I spent the Summer between primary and secondary school filled with dread, embarrassment and shame, which are emotions that a child should never have to feel so profoundly. Even the etymology of the word ‘grammar’ resonated with me at the time: those children in attendance were the intelligent and studious, and I would not have the same opportunities to learn as them. It was us and them. I had convinced myself that I was going to the ‘failure’ school away from my friends, in another catchment area which housed my last choice of school, and I felt that my life was over before I knew it. The gossip which had pervaded the classroom for months between the exam results and our final day of school had provided a platform of perpetuating self-doubt: I strongly believed that I had something to prove and that I had already begun life behind everyone else.
No child should feel the need to take their blazer off when they are walking around the next town after school, but I did. The purpose of education is to foster feelings of pride, belonging and hope, but these opportunities and memories are snatched from many children who live under the selective regime. This is by no fault of my secondary school, and at the age of twenty I could not be prouder to have attended there: my school taught me how to think independently, learn ambitiously and most importantly, to recognise that everyone is valuable in the classroom and beyond. And yet, the ugly, invisible barricade was cemented under my feet, and for the next five years I treated my education as an extrinsic activity to escape.
My breach in the barrier arrived in 2013 when my hard work had paid off and I had gained places to most of the local grammar schools for sixth form. I arrived at my chosen school and I rapidly developed, falling back in love with learning again. My teachers saw signs of potential in me and convinced me to consider applying to Cambridge University, a place which in the cartography of my life I would never have dared to map, let alone pursue.
However, it would be idealistic to say that the consequences of failing the selective system had been suspended for me: I had significantly lower GCSE results which affected my eligibility on certain Higher Education access trips, was consistently assumed to have taken exams from ‘easier exam boards’ and my A-level target grades were comparatively low. I had arrived at a school brimming with opportunities which I quickly realised my old school never had: we had few school productions and sports teams, no official music lessons or exams and were given no choice of language to study, to name a few. The paradox is that comprehensive schools provide a home for the rich variety of individuals that form the tapestry of our area and country, and to not have such varied opportunities in recognition of this is a monumental injustice.
To reach my dream of reading English at Cambridge, I had to become one who benefitted from the grammar school as opposed to being broken by it: my secondary school could not offer an English Literature A-Level course for me to study and I had to move on. Again, my intention is not to blame the schools themselves but rather the government which dictates the existence of a needlessly brutal, damaging system, whilst widening the chasm by severing comprehensive school funding.
A comprehensive education opens both doors and minds: it produces the well-rounded and compassionate individuals that the world so desperately needs. After starting at Cambridge in 2015, I will graduate with a pride of my background that I will take with me for the rest of my life, and I can truly say that I have channelled my experiences into passion and success. However, I have always wanted to dynamically use my success to help cultivate the same for others as opposed to dwelling in it, which I now realise is the result of my education’s ability to teach the fundamental truth that everyone has something to offer in life. I am both determined and excited to see more comprehensively educated students achieve what they are so capable of, but more progress and pressure is urgently necessary if we are to ensure that all students are aspiring towards what they deserve.
However, a decade has passed and sadly nothing has changed: my little sister is now another victim of another cycle of school admissions, who is already suffering after a year of preparation for a morning’s worth of exams. Unlike myself, I vow to ensure that her own self-worth transcends beyond the badge of her blazer, which she and every child should be able to wear with true pride.
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