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Should My Child Take the 11 Plus?

In this feature we look at the pros and cons of your child taking the 11 Plus with a view to gaining a place at a grammar school

First, you need to establish whether it is a feasible proposition, and for that, we suggest you read through Can My Child Sit the 11 Plus?

What is a Grammar School?

Grammar schools are state-funded schools where selection criteria are applied to determine a child’s suitability for the school - the 11 Plus Exam is the preferred method of doing this.

Grammar schools are sometimes referred to as 'Selective Schools,' and the main yardstick for selection is academic ability. However, other considerations with a lower weighting may come into play such as:

  • The distance the child lives from the school
  • Whether or not they have siblings at the school
  • Primary school reports
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Statements from primary school teachers

Are Grammar Schools Better than Comprehensive Schools?

Most parents have a very high regard for grammar schools, and this leads to fierce competition for places. Typically, there will be five or more applicants for every place available.

The top of the school performance tables is always dominated by grammar schools, BUT that’s not to say they cannot be beaten. Some non-grammar schools (such as Michaela Community School in Wembley and Brampton Manor Academy in East Ham) regularly appear in the top 50 secondary schools in the country, with over 100 grammar schools trailing in their wake. It's worth investing a little time to understand the schools in your area. A good place to start is the Government School Performance Tables where you can search by postcode.

What are the Benefits of Grammar Schools?

The three most frequently quoted benefits are:

  1. High academic standards with a challenging curriculum
  2. More opportunities for extracurricular activities
  3. Smaller class sizes

The rigorous selection process means that only the most able students will be present at the school. This ensures that students are surrounded by a concentration of like-minded talent where their lessons are unlikely to be interrupted by disruptive classmates. It is often cited that this environment encourages children to achieve their full potential.

Curriculums at grammar schools are often more wide-ranging and challenging. Success in these areas can give students a competitive edge when applying for jobs and university places.

It is typical for selective schools to offer a greater range of out-of-school activities such as debating societies, sports, music, drama, and art. These activities make for a rounded education that develops important life skills such as leadership, teamwork, and time management.

Grammar schools usually have slightly smaller class sizes than comprehensive schools in the same area. The principal advantage of this is that teachers can devote more time to each individual and thereby get a better understanding of students' strengths and weaknesses so that a bespoke learning programme can be devised.

In addition, smaller class sizes provide a supportive learning environment where the more introverted students feel comfortable and more confident.

What are the Downsides of Grammar Schools?

The three most widely considered downsides are:

  • Stress within a competitive environment
  • Limited interaction with different demographics
  • Reduced self-esteem

It is possible for children to experience stress and anxiety at the time of the 11 Plus exam because it is likely to be held in an unfamiliar setting (not their own primary school), with unfamiliar teachers overseeing it and in accordance with strict test requirements. From the onset, it will be useful for parents to talk to their child’s primary school to find out where the entrance exam will take place for any given grammar school.

Leaving primary school and embarking on secondary school education can be stressful for any child but even more so if most school friends are destined for a different school. Remember that a relatively small percentage of children will go to grammar school, so it may be that established friends are lost.

Successful entry to a grammar school may then bring its own problems… Children might suddenly find themselves in a very competitive environment that is quite different from the more casual conditions they experienced at primary school. Expectations will be high and this can lead to over-emphasis on academic achievement at the expense of a 'well-rounded education'.

The nature of the 11 Plus ensures that only high achievers are admitted to selective schools, and these will probably be drawn from a relatively narrow demographic. As a result of this, children might miss an opportunity to interact with people from diverse backgrounds. This, in turn, might detrimentally affect a child’s ability to relate to people with different views and with lower educational expectations.

At this tender age, it is all too easy for a child to acquire a superiority complex because they have been chosen for an elite education at grammar school. Here again, this might impair the ability to empathize with people from a wide range of backgrounds in later life.

Is the 11 Plus Important in Deciding the Right School for My Child?

Getting a good result in the 11 Plus exam is the usual prerequisite for attendance at a grammar school. If you decide that grammar school education is the right path for your child, the 11 Plus cannot be ignored.

Will My School Make the Right Decisions About My Child Taking the 11 Plus?

The responsibility for deciding a child's educational future rests firmly with parents. Schools will advise about the likelihood of a child securing a place at a grammar school, but this advice can be taken or ignored.

Is My Child Clever Enough for Grammar School?

Grammar school entry is a competitive process with only the brightest students securing a place. Without a thorough understanding of the ability of your child's peers, it is very difficult for parents to make a judgment.

The people who are best qualified to advise you are teachers and tutors. Your child's teacher will usually be happy to give you an honest appraisal. In addition, many private tutors are happy to give a free consultation during which they can give you their assessment. Why not google '11 Plus Tutors in My Area' to find tutors who will be willing to help?

Other than Academic Ability, What Else Should I Consider Before Deciding to Try for a Grammar School Place?

For most parents, there are at least 6 other important considerations:

  1. Does your child WANT to go to a grammar school?
  2. The quality of the grammar schools in your area
  3. The quality of other secondary schools in your area
  4. The proximity of the schools to where you live
  5. Your views about 'selective education'
  6. Your willingness to pay to go to a private school

How Do I Find out More About My Local Grammar Schools?

Our Grammar School Ofsted - Table lists all the grammar schools in the country along with their most recent inspection date and ratings. There are 163 grammar schools in England, and for the sake of comparison, you might like to know that for the entire country this is the summary: Outstanding = 86, Good = 73, Requires Improvement = 2, Serious Weaknesses = 1, Special Measures = 1.

If you want to learn about student numbers and gender breakdown at the various schools, then Grammar School Boys/Girls - Table is the place to be. 57 grammar schools are exclusively for boys, 61 are exclusively for girls, and 45 cater to both boys and girls.

For a quick alternative to wading through endless website pages to find admission policies for grammar schools, please see our Clickable list of admission policies to be taken directly to the pages you are looking for.

What are the Alternatives to Grammar School?

There are 3 major possibilities to consider:

  • Comprehensive schools
  • Private Schools
  • Home Schooling

Comprehensive Schools

Comprehensive schools provide a more inclusive environment that welcomes children of all abilities and backgrounds. They offer a broad range of subjects and extracurricular activities, giving your child the opportunity to explore a range of interests and develop new skills.

Comprehensive schools are often larger than grammar schools, which means they often have a wider range of facilities. For example, they may have dedicated sports facilities, music rooms, and science labs. This can give your child the chance to try new things and develop their talents in a supportive and encouraging environment.

Comprehensive schools are often more reflective of the real world than grammar schools. Your child will have the opportunity to mix with children from a variety of backgrounds and social classes, which can help to prepare them for life beyond school.

Private Schools

These offer exceptional opportunities for learning, with smaller class sizes and a more personalized approach. The schools have a strong focus on academic achievement, with a range of extracurricular activities designed to support this. For example, they may offer additional tutoring or study groups to help your child excel in their studies. They may also have a range of specialist facilities, such as science labs or art studios, that can help to inspire and challenge your child.

A further benefit of private schools is that they can offer a more exclusive and intimate environment for your child to learn in. With smaller class sizes, your child may have more opportunities to interact with their teachers and receive individualized attention and support.

Very often, private schools come with an option to provide board for children, and this means that distance from home is less of a consideration. This type of school is often the most viable option for parents who travel extensively and are seldom at home.

Geographic location of the school is of secondary importance, but costs are often a determining factor. You can expect to spend in excess of £60,000 a year for a place at Brighton College or Oxford International College! If your budget can stretch to these eye-watering amounts, then it might be worth a read of Most Expensive Boarding Schools In The UK 2023.

For those with more modest means, The UK’s Most Affordable Private Schools is a good place to start.

Home Schooling

If you're interested in a truly personalized approach to education, you could consider home schooling your child. This can allow you to tailor their education to their specific interests and abilities and provide a more individualized approach to learning. The practice received a considerable boost during the Covid lockdowns and was a great testing ground for parents to find out just how easy (or difficult!) it really is.

For children with a very sensitive disposition or with special learning difficulties, home schooling provides education within a guaranteed loving and caring environment.

About 1.4% of children in the UK are home-schooled, which compares with nearly 4 times this figure in the USA. In both countries, there has been a steady increase during the last decade, and the expectation is that the trend will continue. However, home schooling comes with associated difficulties:

  • It can be time-consuming and requires significant dedication and expertise
  • Patience is an unconditional pre-requisite
  • Combining the role of teacher and care-giver is not always easy to achieve
  • Providing a well-rounded educating that involves interaction with children of the same age can prove challenging, but there are any amount of support groups throughout the country that, amongst other things, promote socializing

Despite the potential drawbacks, an increasing number of parents elect to go for a system that offers one-to-one support throughout all or part of the child’s learning journey.

Home schooling is sometimes referred to as 'Home Education' or 'Elective Home Education,' and the UK education system provides for parents who want to take their children out of traditional schools and educate them at home either individually or in groups. The government web page at Educating your child at home will set you off on the right track if you want to learn more about the legalities.

Is Sitting the 11 Plus Worth the Effort?

There are a plethora of things to think about, but here is a list of the main questions for your individual consideration:

  • How good are the local grammar schools compared with local comprehensives?
  • What is the proximity of the schools to your home?
  • Is transport to and from school likely to be a problem? Does the school have arrangements for transport?
  • What are the views of teachers and tutors about the suitability of grammar schools?
  • What are your political views on selective education?
  • Have you considered alternative types of school?

Over-riding all of the above is the happiness of your child. Does he or she WANT to go to grammar school? Children usually spend 7 years at their secondary school, and it is highly improbable they will do well if they wished they were at a different school!

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