PASSING AND FAILING
Comments on the theme of passing or failing the 11+.
Naively, I had no idea of the impact of living in a selective county (Kent) would have on my twin children when we moved to the county. One of my children had known SEND, so sitting the 11+ was never going to be an option. When it transpired that my other child was the brightest girl in her year in her primary school, and desperate to go to Grammar School (some older girls who she looked up to went), sitting the 11+ seemed to be the most obvious step. How wrong we were.
Having grown up in a fully comprehensive system, as a parent, I knew nothing about the 11+ and the lengths parents go to to get their child into grammar school, some tutoring for years. I will never forget the day my daughter sat the test, she was terrified and felt her whole future hung in the balance despite continual reassurance from us that it doesn’t matter. But it did, to her.
My daughter, an incredibly bright, ambitious girl who dreamt of going of Oxford from the age of 8, failed the maths element of the test by one mark. It was horrendous, having to tell your child that she was not going to her dream school, to avoid using the word ‘fail’ and to see a little girl, aged only 10 so utterly destroyed. We saw every single one of my daughters’ friends from other schools (and some who’s parents admitted were far less able) pass the test was devastating.
In one afternoon, my daughter lost all of her confidence, self-belief, ambition (she thought Oxford would be impossible) and fell into a depression. She was exhausted. What should have been one of her best years (Year 6) she has since told me was her worst. My daughter started year 7 in a local non-selective school, which ironically had a Grammar Plus stream and went on to win a full scholarship at a top public school. She has won numerous academic awards and is well on her way to do very very well at A level.
We have had to work very hard rebuilding my child’s confidence, she still doesn’t believe she’s ‘good enough’ despite being selected for the Oxbridge pathway in 6th form next year! The 11+ plays russian roulette with a child’s future and is not to be trusted. Conversely, I have seen children get into grammar school who simply should not be there and others who thrive post age 11. How as system exists where the academic outcome of children is determined aged 11 is simply baffling, totally unfair and must be abolished. Attending a grammar school makes no difference to the educational outcome of a child – results in non-selective counties such as Hertfordshire and Hampshire are prime examples of areas where children comprehensive schools flourish.
Mum was sitting in the garden, Dad was at work, it was a warm spring Saturday in Torquay, and I had mown the grass for the first time that year. My twin brother came from the front door with the post for mum. Two letters in brown envelopes from Devon Local Authority telling Mum where her boys would be going to secondary school. At that time all children in Torbay sat the 11+. Mum and Dad had chosen selective schools for my brother and me.
My brother’s letter was the first to be opened- he had done it! He had got my parents’ first choice of school; he was going to be a grammar-school boy. Mum was overjoyed, she told him how proud she was of him and how delighted Daddy would be when he got home from work. I felt the tension build as Mum tore open the second envelope, mum looked at it for a long while, then she re read it, tilting it away so I could not see what it said. I think she regretted opening the envelopes in front of us, and regretted the praise poured on my twin, she was trying to find the words to let me down gently. She did not have to, my tears welled up, and all I could manage was “sorry, mum”, and she put her arms around me and said that it did not matter. She cried as well.
Forty-five years have passed since that spring morning. Mum, was of course right, it certainly wasn’t the end of anything. But still, I feel sad for that boy of 10 and angry about the system that still causes such pain.
Being underestimated and doubting my abilities
I cried when my maths teacher decided to put me in the lower set at school for GCSE’s because he thought I’d struggle. Two years later I won the senior maths prize at A-level. The A-level was run by the same teacher.
But still the first bit is hard to erase from my head. Being underestimated has been a core theme in education and work. As has been a doubt in my own abilities. And that is the product of being a working class kid who failed the Kent Test and was told from age 11 they weren’t really good enough to succeed.
I passed the Kent Test but my friend did not. When it happened he told me ‘I am stupid.’ I don’t think he is stupid. We are both in top sets at our schools (we go to different schools) but he thinks he isn’t good at school because of the test.
Eleven-plus rejection to grammar sixth form
My family was posted to Lincolnshire late in the summer before I entered year six, and I had no idea that I was to be taking the eleven-plus shortly. Nevertheless, I was signed up to take it as the reputation of the non-selective schools was subpar at best, which I failed and my newfound friends passed after they received weeks of private tutoring. As we left primary to go to our respective secondary schools, I certainly felt inferior (at age 11!) and social divisions were evident between the two schools.
I went on to regain my confidence, with the help of my incredible non-selective school and achieved the grades to get into the only sixth form within reasonable distance… the grammar school I’d been rejected from.
The seven of us who joined the sixth form from my secondary school often felt different to the crowd at both a socio-economic class and intellectual level. After getting C’s and B’s at first, I reached a point where I was doing well and applied to Cambridge. A group of grammar students felt jealous of this success (they admit this now, telling me I was a ‘threat’ to their academic status), and I felt a lot of the teachers were condescending. Now at Cambridge, I still feel a tinge of imposter syndrome and a lack of confidence that the grammar school students have, but I would never have wanted to be a part of the grammar school culture from year seven.
My daughter was inconsolable
My daughter worked so hard for the test. She desperately wanted to go to the same grammar school as her sister. When the results came out and she didn’t pass, she literally collapsed onto the floor and sobbed for hours. Her closest friends had passed and she felt totally broken. My confident 10 year old suddenly felt like a failure in the blink of an eye. Two years of unnecessary tutoring and testing. It’s just too much, a flawed system that isn’t supporting our kids, it’s harming them. Three years on and she still brings it up.
Impact of 11+ on long-term family relationships
The 11+ exam puts an inordinate amount of pressure on families with multiple children. As parents who prepared our children for the 11+ independently, we found ourselves in the simply awful position of having three children pass the exam and one not. Despite all our efforts to boost the ‘comprehensive’ child’s confidence and self-esteem, she spent her entire high school years feeling inferior to her siblings. Had I known this would be the outcome, I never would have gone near the grammar school system, even though it has been positive for our attending children. This country should abolish grammar and private schools and divert investment into creating schools that are well-resourced and truly comprehensive, so that children don’t end up with lifelong low self esteem and damaged family relationships for the sake of one inane exam that fundamentally doesn’t prove anything.
Why do we put our children through this?
I have three boys two passed and one failed (the one most likely to pass). EVERYONE pays a fortune in tuition. So many first went to prep school. The wealth of the parents and hence the pupils at grammar schools is frightening. My boys at grammar school felt very poor (they are NOT). The battle to maintain a child’s confidence who fails is soul destroying. We never liked them for the two that passed but I didn’t feel I could pass my ideology onto my children. Grammar schools (at least in Amersham) so not allow social mobility. So much more I could say but even writing this makes me angry. Friendships split at such a young age…
My family and the 11+
My sister and I with 2 and a half year’s age difference and indifferent primary school records both passed the 11+. My brother, between me and my sister in age and with an excellent and consistent primary school record, failed his 11+. This may well have been because of a change of class teacher just before the exam. My parents appealed, to no avail as the new class teacher did not support this. My brother had no choice but to go to the local secondary modern. This still affects his self-confidence and he has said that I was the clever one in the family. Not so. Having attended a grammar school which later turned comprehensive and later taught in comprehensive schools I am clear that the 11+ is a flawed way of discerning a pupil’s ability and that a good comprehensive school is by far the best way of giving every child a real chance of a real education.
“Failure” no I won’t be!
At 10 years old I failed the 11+. My birthday is at the end of the summer. My parents were going through a traumatic divorce. I got in serious trouble with my Primary school as they were running “secret” 11+ lessons for a “select few”. I didn’t know I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone, so I told my cousin, who I walked home with. The experience was awful and traumatised me for years.
It impacts the majority of children’s self esteem in a very bad way when they fail the
11+. This is reflected in poorer behaviour and lack of ambition.
It would be great to live close to school and go to school with people who live by you
I passed my test and went to a Grammar, but most of my friends didn’t. I felt really bad because my sister failed the 11 plus, although she had been predicted to get a Grammar place. She actually got a higher score than me in the 11 plus but missed out because she was in a clever year. So she is cleverer than me but goes to a high school, and I go the Grammar School. That seems crazy and makes me feel bad.
My mum says that she wishes we’d never sat the 11 plus so we were both at the same school. It would make everything so much easier for our family – and I do miss being at the same school as my sister after going through primary school together.
I like Grammar and my sister likes her school. But it would be great to live close to school and go to school with your brother or sister, and people who live by you.
I hope the 11 plus and selecting people for different schools stops very soon, as there doesn’t seem to be a good reason to do it.
To feel at 11 that you are stupid
The 11 plus exam, it has to be accepted, creates many more failures than successes. I was one of them. To feel at 11 that you are stupid, that you have disappointed your school, your family, is a heavy load. It has set back the self esteem and prospects of hundreds of thousands, millions of us, and many have not recovered from it. And just as important, it has created the us and them, the have and have-not society that still persists today.
My daughter's experience of failing the Kent Test
I remember it as if it were yesterday. 4.30pm, the sun was shining and we were sitting by the computer waiting in anticipation for ‘THE’ e-mail.
My daughter loved school. She had great friends, was on the top tables for maths and English and got consistently high marks in tests. Learning was fun!
Living in Kent the buzz about going to grammar school starts early. Children were rushing to get tutors from year 3. I never really understood this. Surely, if your child has the aptitude they will pass regardless? I’d heard of parents bribing their children, telling them they’d be taken to Disneyworld if they passed.
She decided she would take the test, as all her friends were going to, and it was encouraged by the school. We got some books and did some tests online but we were pretty relaxed about it. Her teachers had assured us she’d have no problems passing, and even if it went wrong on the day they’d support a teacher appeal. We always said that it would be her choice. She should choose the school that she felt the most comfortable in.
We live in a very conservative area, which many would consider to be fairly affluent. The local non-selective secondary school happens to be in one of the poorest areas of the borough. It had worked hard to turn around its bad reputation of the 90’s having been completely rebuilt, changing its name, and bringing in excellent leadership. Despite this, I’d hear comments in the playground such as, “Well, there’s no choice round here. You have to go to grammar.” “I’m not sending my child to that school.” “If you fail we’ll look into a private school.”
The primary school were pushing everyone to try for a grammar, and so many parents told us you have to go! Maybe they knew something we didn’t?
Finally, the day came. Friends sent texts and posted on social media confirming the brilliance of their child.
“Yes, she’s passed.”
“Oh, you must be so proud of her, what a clever girl.”
“The first one of our family to go to grammar.”
“Who wants to go out to dinner tonight to celebrate?”
Then our email came through. My daughter had gone upstairs to text her friends to see how they’d got on. Some were not expected to pass but they had passed. No matter how they try to break the news the outcome was clear, ‘YOU’VE FAILED’.
I felt sick. I called her down, not knowing how I was going to tell her. The tears welled up in my eyes and soon in hers. I’d never seen her cry this much and I hated seeing my daughter, who I love SO much in pain. Real, physical pain. I turned to social media for hope that there may be someone out there in the same position as us, but they’d all passed. I felt so alone. I was the bad mother for putting her through it. I’d failed her. My daughter ran upstairs inconsolable. I began the process of letting friends know.
“Oh, I’m so sorry.”
“What! How did she not pass?”
“But she’s clever.”
“Well of course you are going to appeal.”
My aunt’s comment was most hurtful of all. “Even my granddaughter passed and we all thought she wasn’t as clever as your daughter.”
The next day we met with the head teacher who explained that two of her papers were way over the required score, but one was two marks under. Scores are standardised so being born in September there is no leeway. This means that a child who has been through the same amount of schooling but born in April for example, can afford to get more questions wrong but still pass. We were told by her head that she was angry with the panel. They didn’t even look at her books as they’d already put through too many children on that particular table and decided to call it a day.
So, my daughter was deemed unsuitable for a grammar education because they’d already put too many children through. Potentially with lesser scores, while another table could still be saying yes. I had no idea it was such a lottery! They told her that if parents really want to they can appeal, and she should easily get in based on her scores.
What they probably didn’t consider was that their casual remarks had already shattered a 10-year-olds confidence. A child they didn’t know, based on one day of tests that had marked her as a failure. She didn’t want to go to school the next day. She told me that she was stupid. Almost overnight her test results started to go down. She’d lost her spark. Her friends at school had all started to talk about catching the bus together and she was left feeling like an outcast.
We called the grammar schools and as predicted they said it wouldn’t be a problem at all based on her scores. The head teacher of her primary school had already said she’d be more than willing to write a letter of support. We had to make a decision. Her teachers said that they couldn’t understand how she had failed the test. She was one of the cleverest children in a very bright class, way above the national average. All of her friends and their parents couldn’t understand why we would not consider appealing. If there’s a grammar school in your area then you have to try and get in, don’t you?
We arranged a meeting with the local secondary school. They assured us that they would support her and that she wouldn’t do any better in her GCSE’s if she went to a grammar. They had a grammar stream where for English, Maths and Science the children were streamed to ensure they were pushed to the highest of their abilities. This was based on their SATs results, CAT testing scores, and feedback from their primary school. Not just one test! Her mind was made up. This was the school that was right for her.
Our daughter is now in year 9. She has a fabulous group of friends from all walks of life. Some of the children in her year passed the 11-plus but chose to go to this school because it met their needs better. Some have now left grammar school and joined this school, as they found the grammar school wasn’t the utopia they expected it to be. She still has close friends from primary school. Some are doing well at grammar and some are struggling. She continues to thrive. Not only academically but she has been given opportunities to lead as a house captain, choreograph dances for the school’s productions, she’s learning to play the flute and has been given several awards for her achievements.
The children she grew up with have similar financial backgrounds to us, live in the same area and just like us, want their children to do well in school. Yet for some reason by going to a non-selective school she has been branded as ‘not academic’.
We subsequently found out that some of her friends who passed actually got far lower scores and got in through the head teacher appeal. Had they been judged by the same table as those deciding my daughter’s fate, maybe they would have found themselves in the same situation? The difference is that they found themselves covered in glory and brimming with confidence while my child was left broken. It has taken a long time for her to regain her confidence. I owe most of this to her school. We and more importantly, our daughter have no regrets about our decision, yet we continue to face stigma from society.
Just recently there was a report in the local newspaper about a man who lives in a different part of Kent who had had been arrested for burglary. The report mentioned that he left our school in 1993 even though it has no relevance to the story and it wasn’t even the same school back then.
A local bus shelter was recently vandalised. People posted on social media that it must have been children from our school that were responsible, even though the children do not get picked up at that bus stop and there was absolutely no evidence. The thought that it could be the grammar school children was incomprehensible!
After our experience, I started to search for forums and joined social media to try and find people with their own stories to share. I needed to know I wasn’t alone. It’s hard not to get angry when people on social media are telling you that if you go to a comprehensive school ‘you’re not very bright,’ you’re ‘rif-raf’, you ‘don’t care about your child’s education, idiots’ and best of all ‘Kids who go to comps are all thugs and Sh!tes and so are their families.’
Is it any surprise that parents want their children to go to grammar school when this is the attitude? Even our own government believes that segregating pupils is a way of keeping the ‘clever ones’ away from those destined for failure.
I’m a Higher Level teaching assistant and governor at a local primary school. I’m starting my teaching degree in September. Passing the 11-plus is used as a measure of success. Many of the other governor’s children go to grammar school and I’d be putting myself in a very awkward position if I let my true feelings show. Year after year I see children, some forced into it by their parents, taking a test which has little bearing on their academic ability. Many are children who would be far better suited to a mainstream education, but this doesn’t fit in with their parent’s social status. There are always going to be some children who are exceptionally bright, but in my experience as a mother and an educator, most are amazingly average! The question has to be, why do people feel children need to be taught in a separate school? Is it snobbery? Is it because they need to feel special? Why do they think their local school couldn’t meet their needs?
I know we are the lucky ones. Two other local schools have recently been put into special measures. If you live in an area where the school is underperforming then you really do have little choice. But why could money not be spent on getting these schools up to standard? Going to a grammar school does not turn your child into a genius. If they are happy, they will achieve and I for one will never give up on them.
Many children do not fit an all-or-nothing grammar/secondary modern system
Our son was put on the gifted and talented list (‘G&T’ as my step-mother calls it) for maths in Year One. He is passionate about maths and science and his ambition is to be an astrophysicist. He is not so passionate about English though. Despite my protestations that people like Brian Cox need to be able to present their ideas clearly and convincingly, he still struggles to see the point.
That is why it is so difficult to choose the ‘right’ school for him. Do we send him to a grammar school where he will 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 will get the English support he needs but may not reach his full potential with the maths?
Well last Friday, our dilemma was solved because we received his 11-plus results. I refuse to use the ‘f’ word, so instead I will just say that he did not pass. His maths and non-verbal reasoning were good, but the verbal reasoning score was a full 30 points lower. There does not seem any point in appealing, and we are lucky to have a good comprehensive just around the corner from us (we live in a nonselective 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 was not 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 are 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 they are more likely to fail than pass.
My son may have just had a bad day, but now he is labelled a failure
We decided to enter our son for the grammar school entrance exam, because he is very bright and always did well at school. He wanted to do it, because he wanted to go to the same school as his friends and they were all sitting the exam.
It is kind of expected, in Trafford, if your child is reasonably bright that you will put them in for the exam. There is then the question of whether to get a tutor. You are told by those who have previous experience that “you have to get a tutor”, the kid will have no chance otherwise.
Despite being clever, and being tutored, my son failed, by five marks. He was 10 years and 6 weeks old when he took the exam and he says that he found it very stressful. (I’ve heard of children being sick as they wait in the queue to take the exam, because of the pressure to succeed.) My son may have just had a bad day, but now he is labelled a failure. Fortunately, he found the positive in the situation, “I didn’t really want to go there anyway, Mum.”
However, he says that some of his friends who also ‘failed’ to make the grade now feel as though they are not very clever even though they are. These children are now 12 years old and have spent the first year of their secondary school careers feeling like failures. These are not necessarily children who are ‘less academic’ and will be better placed taking a technical career path (whatever that is supposed to mean). Lots of these children are bright, engaged and enthusiastic learners who want to do well. They just didn’t do as well in one exam, on one day when they were 10 years old.
My son is a brilliant mathematician, a “maths genius” according to his maths teacher and he loves computing. His friend is a fantastic writer, but he struggles with his self-belief because he thinks he mustn’t be that clever… because he failed an exam. They will succeed though, but not because of the selective system. Any success they achieve will be in spite of it. But they will always carry the knowledge that they failed their 11-plus and that makes me sad.
Children should not be judged failures at 10 years old
I had moved to Kent with my 10 year old daughter and sadly I had no clue how a grammar school system worked. I soon realised how corrupt it is. Parents who know what they’re doing pay for test tutors. I don’t blame them at all, it works! It just leaves poorer parents at a clear disadvantage. How can anyone support a system so unfair?
My daughter failed the test and was terribly upset because her friends all passed. My shy daughter, who was already worried about secondary school, had to look at a whole different set of schools to her friends. Why can’t friends who are all at about the same level at primary school, just go to school together? If I’d known Kent had this system I wouldn’t have moved here. No one ever criticises Kent’s school system in public, so I hope a site like this might help people say what they really think!
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