These are the most recent submissions to the site.

A soul destroying experience

March 6, 2023

My daughter scored over well over 332 but just under the required 109 in one of the papers. She was therefore deemed ‘not suitable for grammar school.’ Being relatively new to Kent, we had no idea what the 11+ entailed and the enormous disadvantage she faced by attending a small state primary school who do not support the Kent Test. It’s been a soul destroying experience for my daughter and one I wish we never had the misfortune of experiencing. The appeal was a joke, and the response my subsequent complaint to ESFA which ended up straight back into the arms of KCC is laughable. The system clearly is not fit for purpose and I cannot understand how it has survived in Kent for so long.

Kent Mum

If grammars didn't exist parents would be much happier and less stressed

February 28, 2023

The reality of living in an area which maintains a girls’ and a boys’ grammar school is just starting to sink in. We are not from Salisbury and had no reason to understand its schooling system before we moved here but it is very different to what we were both exposed to as children. We were both comprehensive educated children who went to university and gained a lot from our mixed schooling. Salisbury is dominated by CofE schools which seems inexplicable. It leaves parents who care about these things with very little choice.

This junior school has a very good academic record and in the last year it has become apparent to us that this is clearly based on its perceived ‘success’ in getting children through the 11+ and into the two Grammars. This school streams from it’s first year intake at 7. It is considered to be a ‘crammer for the grammar’. Children are pushed hard and I feel that, consequently, this has a knock on effect even on the infant school, not least because it causes parents to start stressing out about their child’s progress even at Reception stage! I find the whole situation uncomfortable and deeply worrying.

For example, I have frequently heard parents discuss and agree with the streaming of 5 year olds at the infant school my son attends. They believe this will allow ‘the best to progress’ and get through the 11+. Parents also highlight on the children’s faults and abilities in relation to the 11+ e.g. ‘he’s good at reading but not problem solving and he needs to improve if he’s to get through the 11+’. The other high schools are considered to be lower than the low and parents are horrified at the thought their child should attend one – one told me ‘I don’t know what I’ll do if he fails the 11+’ and her child is 6! I also feel that it filters down to teachers who feel they are under pressure to demonstrate ‘progress’ above what is required even by the arbitrary targets they work to.

I feel we suffer the double whammy of faith schools and 11+ selection in this area and it alarms me that very few people seem concerned about it. Yet, if these grammars didn’t exist, parents would undoubtedly be much happier and less stressed. It’s an awful situation to be in.”

Salisbury mum

School differences in Kent

February 9, 2023

We all know that when exam results come out the grammar schools look great, and the other schools just can’t compete. There are other small things that happen at school that are reminders that all schools are not equal. My son’s been selected to represent his school in a maths event. He’s so negative about it, because he attends a non-selective school. He’s joking about the school coming last, but it’s not a funny joke to me. The grammar schools will obviously win this contest. Kent’s system means the other schools are designed to be second. In other areas there is no unhealthy divide, no reminders that a school is less good at key subjects, or that children are second best. Selective education is toxic, it’s an unhealthy way to brand and divide children.

Kent mum

A Lost Year of Schooling.

February 9, 2023

Being born an August child, and at the age of 10 in a Halifax junior school I was to sit the 11 plus. I remember being shown a past exam paper as if this was all I needed to know to pass the exam. Consequently a total failure and ended up at a Secondary Modern one month after my eleventh birthday. I never did see Mrs Rothwells “top” class at junior school, a year lost. Hence by July 1962 I was out of the school system at the age of 14 with no qualifications, what a start to life. I had to get away. So I joined the Royal Navy for 9 years trained to maintain and repair radio and radar systems, later qualified as an Incorporated Engineer. I spent a lot of time playing catch up on that lost year.

Halifax, West Yorkshire.

11+ and the legacy of failure

February 7, 2023

No one wants to discredit children passing the 11+ BUT and IT’S A BIG BUT, the advantage of receiving preparation for it in educational and cultural terms is well documented. There are thousands and thousands of people who didn’t pass but who have had successful and meaningful careers/jobs and lives in many different fields. The 11+ plus is an anachronism and should not categorise children at such an early age. While it is perceived as being taken at ten or eleven, the actual starting date is much earlier in primary and junior school through streaming and knowing parents. It has been haunting for many children as a misguided example of their potential. It is also a single test of one type of ability which has been and is more highly valued than other talents, skills etc. Shame on those who advocate it as the only pathway for children and in not passing have made them feel failures, sometimes well into adulthood like many recorded here. If you listen to ‘The Life Scientific’ you will find examples of people who didn’t find their way until they left school, in particular Prof. Chris Elliott who developed his interest in Food Safety and Microbiology after leaving school at 16 and getting a job where he developed his interests. The eleven plus should not have now or in the future define you.

DIANE ROBY researching the consequences of failing the eleven plus following the 1944 Education Act. Previously a School Counsellor.

Inclusiveness is the future

February 5, 2023

Northern Ireland still has an 11+ and it’s called the transfer test. Both selective and non-selective schools sit the same GCSEs and A levels. Let’s stop pretending otherwise. There is absolutely no need for the mental health crushing transfer test. Inclusiveness is the way forward.

NI citizen

I "didn't get" my transfer test and still feel it

February 4, 2023

26 years ago I opened up a letter that shattered my confidence. I spent the whole weekend in tears. I “didn’t get” my transfer test. There were many reasons why, but that’s not the point, kids or adults, shouldn’t be defined by a letter or numbers on a page at any point in life.

NI mum

Transfer test results

February 4, 2023

Transfer test results today in our house. Takes me back 35 years ago to when I was 11 and got the lowest grade possible. Wish I could say that it didn’t hurt for years, but it did. It shouldn’t have. You are more than just a grade and it won’t define you, it’ll make you stronger


11+ years later and i'm still traumatised

January 26, 2023

when i took the test, there was so much pressure on me, not only by the school system but by my parents. They could never afford private school and the comp school in my area was grossly underfunded and had a poor quality of education. Growing up i was always told i was bright, so when i gt the results back it was like my whole world came crumbling down. My self esteem plummeted as did peoples confidence in me . once they found that i had failed they treated me completely differently, i went from family prodigy to family dunce, I hated it and would still call those few months after the 11+ the worst part of my life in my nearly forty years of living. There is no need to do this to such young children. Abolish it.

former student from kent

Grammar school catchments prioritise white middle class people

January 10, 2023

I just found out that my postcode has been taken out of the catchment area for almost every local grammar school and that’s mad. I feel really bad for these kids to be honest. The 11+ should be for kids who don’t have mummy and daddy connections, not people who buy second homes in Kingston for an exam.

If your parents can’t afford to send you to private school without breaking themselves, and they can’t afford buying a second home, or moving into a grammar catchment area, and they can’t even afford 11+ tuition then they’re the families that need to be prioritised.

It’s actually sick how the system has been gamed over the last 10 years, and it’s so obviously a classist and racist attack. I know for a fact that so many white parents who sent their kids to grammar schools were shocked that their kids were the minority, they HATED it. They hate that these kids are coming from Hounslow and Croydon and mixing with their precious Tarquin, they hate that their special little boy is making friends with the “wrong sort” because the schools are full of kids who got in on smarts and aren’t white or middle class.

So what did the schools do? Well, first they stopped prioritising test scores, and sorted by catchment instead. Now, if you didn’t live in KT1-KT7, you had to be exceptional to get in, while local kids can be relatively mediocre and still make it. Then they tighten up their catchment area IMMENSELY

As in removed ~20 postcodes. Who can afford to live in KT1 to KT7? Which class and race of people tend to live there? Middle Britain has ruined grammar schools simply because they couldn’t stand poorer and browner kids doing well.

Now those kids who were exceptional, who might have still made it despite the odds being against them, just don’t get any chance. And I’m not really for grammar schools, but they exist and are a lifeline, so they should be used as such. I don’t think they’ll flourish as much as they have done in the past if they’re going to be filled with mediocre white kids rather than a huge range of kids from all sorts of backgrounds. It’s crazy that 4000 kids were fighting for about 100-200 spots, but this isn’t the solution

I’m just using Kingston because I’m familiar with it, but all the local grammars are doing the same thing. It’s very insidious that a system designed to help lesser privileged kids is now being manipulated to stay as a white middle class establishment. That’s just wrong.

Kingston parent

Thoughts of a Kent non-selective school head moving from the selective sector

January 8, 2023

When I trained as a teacher I initially took a job in a super-selective grammar school teaching economics. I stayed in that school for a decade, progressing into senior leadership during a time that the school secured an Outstanding grade. Here is what I learned…

Selective schools are lovely places to work. Committed and long-serving staff along with generally highly supportive parents. Teachers recognise their privilege and that their school is not representative of wider society. They do the very best to help and support students.

Despite people moaning about the grammar school sector, I think that it is often forgotten how poorly funded selective schools are. The difference in funding in a county like Kent between two schools of similar size (selective vs non-selective) can be huge. Embarrassingly so.

Recruitment is relatively easy. I’ve known situations where up to 20 applications were received for a role with tight shortlisting procedures applied. That contrasts starkly with non-selectives in the same area that might advertise for six months for a role with no interest. The knock-on implication of this in selective counties is that national challenges in teacher recruitment are magnified in non-selective schools meaning that those children most in need of good teachers often don’t get them. This issue has existed for decades.

Often, staff in grammar schools are exceptionally well qualified subject experts. When I joined my selective school, there were already 13 staff with PhDs. I ended up completing one myself, to support my leadership progression. This was not unusual, and and yes lots of work. Teachers in selective schools don’t have it completely easy. It is a challenging job in different ways to non-selective. The amount of marking can be immense as can be the level of extra-curricular involvement of staff.

Many teachers in selective schools know that they could be in leadership roles earning much more in other schools but instead choose to work in selective communities where they are highly supported and valued by all. I can’t help feeling that this is a loss of skill.

In selective counties, if you want to teach A Level in many facilitating subjects with good class sizes and outcomes, you must work in a grammar school. It comes with considerable pressure, however, to help students secure Russell Group and Oxbridge places. It’s hard work!

In grammar schools, there is a self assuredness. Often far less bureaucracy and naval gazing. No worry about being put in category. Almost guaranteed strong progress. Parents that tend to support come what may and children that arrive with a strong learning habits. So, the secret of success of selective schools is their very exclusivity, strong values, academic rigor, and confidence to ignore the viccistudes of the inspection system or teaching fashions. Tradition is their friend.

Does that mean I support grammar schools? As a father, yes, but as a headteacher of a non-selective, no. If I were creating a system from scratch, I think comprehensive education is ideal. Yet, if you want your child to do well, grammars can also offer huge opportunities.


11+ Refuser

December 15, 2022

This story, at first glance, makes me sound like a hypocrite. Why? Because my older child scraped a pass in the 11+ and went on to get a first in Maths from a very competitive entry university. Despite the fact that her village primary school consistently produces just 10-15% 11+ successes. (And that’s a high result for a primary in this county!)

However, my older daughter spent the next seven years driving herself to prove she was as good as her peers – which wasn’t good for her mental health. Her amazing Grades at GCSE and A level don’t tell the whole truth about her experience of selective education. She says she “hated” most of her school experience especially the sixth form, which she had hoped would be an improvement. All teachers were interested in, she believed, were high grades. Now 24, and into a career, she is still working out how to create a liveable work-life balance.

Another part of this story concerns my other child – the 11+ refuser. She told us, aged 9, that she wouldn’t be taking the test. She encouraged several of her friends to refuse also.

As we live near a county which is non-selective and her year had fewer students in it, she went to a comprehensive (not her catchment secondary modern). Like her sister, she worked hard, and got an excellent degree from a competitive entry university. However, she was surrounded at her university by people from selective schools, either private or state grammars. Her close friends refused to believe she had been to a comprehensive; but she didn’t tell most people because there were judgemental remarks about comprehensive schools.

Why didn’t I consider our local secondary modern school? Because the opportunities are much better at the comprehensive in the next door county – a better range of subjects, lower staff turnover, better extra-curricular offer, more consistent homework policy, and yes, better exam results. Everyone is at a true comprehensive: students aiming for Oxbridge and students aiming for apprenticeships. It’s not a perfect school by any means, but staff showed they cared about my younger daughter, no teacher ever set limits on her achievements and she had until she was 18 to prove herself (better than taking a test at age 10 – the true age of most 11+ takers)

I used to be a secondary school teacher, mostly in comprehensives, but more recently, supply teaching in secondaries and grammars in the selective county where I live. I taught English, a subject everyone takes. And this is the truth: there are bright, academically able students in every type of school and there are hard workers too. The biggest differences? Grammar school parents pay for more private tuition (GCSE and A level) and expectations are generally higher at grammars from staff, from parents and from students themselves. In other words, there is a lot of social manipulation and paying towards higher grades. If a child is perceived as “one of the brighter ones”, they’ll often achieve more on average. Then there are the more generous grammar school teacher assessments – included in coursework for various subjects at A level. Add the fact that grammars have a lower staff turnover and don’t forget that grammars are “pickier” about who gets to take certain A levels (skewing their statistics).

If I hadn’t learned all this from teaching, I could have simply observed it in my own daughters’ experiences.

The 11+ does damage even to many who pass it – because it leaves a legacy of handling any challenge through hyper-conscientiousness. It does damage to those who fail or who are too terrified to take it, because they carry with them a feeling of exclusion from an elite within their peer group.

Anxiety about the 11+ starts very early. 5 or 6 year olds hear parents say “Blue table children are seen as 11+ passes” etc

My younger daughter was never on “blue table” and she worried about that like hell. At the age of 5.

My daughters were relatively lucky but I’ve seen too many children in tears in this village and I’ve heard too many parents uphold the myth that grammars are “where they want to work hard”.

It’s a system that doesn’t select the most able children and doesn’t indicate achievement at 16,18 or beyond. It isn’t helping lower income families because too many grammar places go to children from private preps. It favours boys over girls because they score lower but there is an even number of places for boys and girls.

It’s damaging nonsense.

Parent and ex-Teacher, Bucks

The school is left with the ones that couldn't afford tutoring and the ones who have failed

December 15, 2022

I live in Totnes and the 11+ is BIG round here. My son is about to start the local comprehensive secondary school, as we decided not to tutor him for the test. Yet all of his friends did the test and passed. It’s hugely sad and disappointing that the local community of schooling from 11 years and upwards is split up like this here. The grammar school is a half hour bus ride out of Totnes, so it’s not even local. The local school is left with the ones that couldn’t afford tutoring and the ones who have failed. Very very sad.

Totnes parent

The eleven plus is a damaging and divisive process

December 12, 2022

John Prescott in his biography “Fighting Talk” outlines how failing the eleven-plus “gave him a great sense of failure”. Like John Prescott I also failed my eleven-plus. For many of us who did so that early judgement that we were not bright enough to have academic aspirations was immensely damaging. Self-expectations were lowered and self-esteem battered. Reading his biography it is very easy to empathise with the recurring theme that the “scarring experience” of being labelled an educational failure at eleven sticks with you for life. It certainly took me several decades to rid myself of the belief I was not bright enough to succeed in my chosen career. I could be in a room of fellow professionals and never feel I fully belonged. I had failed the selection criterion at eleven and therefore must have had a lesser intellect than others in the room.

I still remember from my school days those pupils in my class brighter than me whose parents could not afford to fund them in further education, as mine could. They did not have the second chance I had – they had to suffer the provision on offer as their only chance in education. That some fifty years on still strikes me as ability stifled by the flaws of selection.

I also recall that in the top set of my secondary modern the girls seemed so much brighter than the boys. Why was that? There were two single sex grammar schools in the area and it was rumoured to ensure balance of numbers that the pass mark for girls was set higher than the pass mark for boys. I cannot prove or disprove this, this was vey much the era of Jim Callaghan’s “educational secret garden.” However, my personal observations would suggest some credibility to this belief. If so how fair a system was it on those girls who had a secondary modern education even though their eleven plus marks might have been better than boys who were selected?

On the issue of social mobility I genuinely wonder just how much time those grammar school advocates have spent trying to seek the viewpoint of those who could offer a first-hand insight into the adverse impact of selection and a secondary modern education? Do they, even momentarily, reflect that maybe the reason they do not hear many counter arguments to their viewpoint might be because most of those who had a secondary modern education never had the remotest hope of moving in their social circles because of the selective system they so eagerly advocate?

Frankly the myth of grammar schools and selection being a tool for social mobility needs to be quashed at every opportunity. The demise of grammar schools in the 1960’s and 1970’s stemmed from a public sense that the process was damaging to too many young people. Educators who strive for greater fairness for all students now need to do everything within our collective power to remind people that these very same arguments still hold strong today.

Chair of Governors and retired headteacher

Failing the 11 Plus still hurts

December 12, 2022

I will never forget 55 years ago when I failed the 11 Plus. It was degrading and those that failed knew it was the end of their school life. Child abuse.

I made it. I worked and gained an Open University BA Degree. I taught for 40 Years, 4 years as Deputy Head and now in my second year as Head. My 46 year career finishes in Summer 2023. But failing the 11 Plus still hurts.


Psychological damage

December 10, 2022

It is no exaggeration to say that the aftermath of the 11 plus exam left me psychologically damaged, and set a chain of events in motion that led me to being diagnosed with depression in my late 20s.

Although I went to university and gained a degree in Computer Science from which I’ve managed to carve a decent career, I am now in my late 40s and this injustice is still one that hangs over me to some extent, even to this day.

My experience of the test and the grammar school system that went with it, was that it was divisive and came with a distasteful attitude of elitism. At the time, I took my failure to pass the test as a body blow, as I felt it was passing judgement on my entire primary school career. I very much felt that “the system” was out to “put me in my place”.

I do believe very much in excellent schools for all, and teaching to the ability of every child so that they can reach their maximum potential, however in my opinion the 11 plus and the grammar school system was never the way to achieve that, and in my lifetime I would like to see it scrapped.

Former pupil in grammar school system

Selection by economics

December 8, 2022

I live in a county with grammar schools and have children. It’s selection by economics. We have money for tutoring, which means doing well at the 11 plus and grammar school. Also there are a large amount of private primary schools which are geared towards sending children onto grammars after.


Failing 11 plus could have ruined my life

December 2, 2022

In 1953 or 4, without any warning my Junior school presented me with a test. I had no idea what it was for. Later that year my parents received a letter telling them I had failed the 11+ and would go to the local Secondary Modern. When I was 13 a teacher came into my class and told me that I was now able to change to one of the new Technical Schools. I was asked to decide there and then. Naturally I refused to move, what did I know.

There was no such thing as GSCEs for us thickos. At 15 we were on our own. If you didn’t want to work in a factory the services were the only real option. Fortunately the Royal Navy took me as an electrical mechanic. In those days the training in theory and practice was first class. I had signed up for 9 years but the time didn’t start till I was 18. Nearly twelve years later I left the Navy the year before the Open University started. Now just a few months from my 80th birthday I have an BA Hons in Maths and one in Philosophy from the OU. I have an MA with distinction in Philosophy and Society from Manchester University . I recently learned to play the clarinet and play in the local amateur orchestra. I have chaired and been on the boards of several charities. I have had a good and productive working life and was able to retire early at 58. But for chance it could have been so different.

The 11 plus is divisive and grossly unfair. The whole idea of enforced selection is demeaning and wastes talents for the country. Education is manifestly the key to the future prosperity of this country and to fulfilment in the potential of its people. Yet those people who drive the National Curriculum seem to have no idea what is required for a good all round and balanced education

Fortunately I now live in Scotland with no selective state schools.


11+ Failure 1950s

December 2, 2022

I was at an excellent private school in the 1950s. We were trained for the secondary school and also for the London area 11+. Because we lived in Middlesex I had to take their particular 11+ which was very different, and I only had about 3 sessions of private coaching. I passed the exam for the school but failed the 11+ so my parents had to pay the fees for this secondary school.

I lost all confidence in myself and only managed 4 O-levels in less important subjects i.e. not maths!

For countless years this early trauma affected my life so badly.

Grandparent from Kenton, Harrow, although my experience was in what is now Barnet, in the 1950s.

My 11+ 'failure' is thriving at comprehensive school

November 24, 2022

My son has just received three 9s, five 8s and two 6s (in English, his tricky subject) at GCSE, and has been to Oxford Uni for a look around . He could have applied to grammar school for sixth form but chose to stay at the comprehensive that has supported him so well. Here’s what I wrote six years ago just after he’d failed his 11+…

“I’m very much aware that my comfortable middle-class lifestyle owes much to the fact that my parents sat the 11+ in 1951 and passed. In 1979 and 1981 respectively, my brother and I followed suit. What we all had in common was that apart from Granny making Dad wear his best corduroy suit, nobody was prepped in any way for the exam — we just went and did it. Not everyone in our family passed though, and the difference in life outcomes for my aunts and uncles, and their children and grandchildren, was and is dramatic.

“My husband was educated comprehensively in his home country, and he has always wondered whether a grammar-style education would have given him that extra push. Not that he’s done badly, but you can’t help wondering, can you? That’s why I let him persuade me to enter our son for the 11+. One thing we did agree on though was that he wouldn’t be tutored. We felt it was too much pressure at his age, but it does seem to be very difficult to pass without it these days.

“Our son was put on the gifted and talented list (‘G&T’ as my step-mother calls it) for maths in year 1. He is passionate about maths and science and his ambition is to be an astrophysicist. He’s not so passionate about English though. Despite my protestations that people like Brian Cox need to be able present their ideas clearly and convincingly, he still struggles to see the point.

“That’s why it’s so difficult to choose the ‘right’ school for him. Do we send him to a grammar school where he’ll be able to pursue his passion for maths, but where English is always going to be a struggle? Or do we send him to a non-selective school where he’ll get the English support he needs but may not reach his full potential with the maths? (UPDATE: he did)

“Well last Friday, our dilemma was solved because we received his 11+ results. I refuse to use the ‘f’ word, so instead I’ll just say that he didn’t pass. His maths and non-verbal reasoning were good, but the verbal reasoning score was a full 30 points lower. There doesn’t seem any point in appealing — we do feel he’d struggle in a grammar school and we are lucky to have a good comprehensive just around the corner from us (we live in a non-selective authority which borders a selective one). He is a resilient child and we are confident he will do well.

“He is a great example, however, of the kind of child that could slip completely through the gaps in an all-or-nothing grammar / secondary modern system, like my cousin who was brilliant at maths but wasn’t even offered the chance to sit the ‘O’ level — the only option was the CSE.

“Every year, our local comprehensive sends a couple of pupils to Oxbridge, and a greater number to other Russell Group universities. We’re not happy that our son has had to face disappointment at such a young age, but we do feel relieved that the dazzling and confusing array of choices we faced has been narrowed down to one good school that will take him as far as he wants to go. Imagine if all families had a school like this on their doorsteps — children could go back to being children again, instead of spending their evenings and weekends being hot-housed for an exam that statistically, they’re more likely to fail than pass.”

Parent from Berkshire

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