What is a Grammar School Test?

To be selected for grammar school children aged ten must be amongst the highest performers in the eleven plus exam. There are only 163 grammar schools in England so competition is fierce

Grammar School Grammar schools are controversial. The reason being that they get to choose which children they accept. And they usually only take the brightest. But who qualifies as the brightest? Well, generally, children in their final year of primary school will have to take a test. Those who achieve the best results are chosen. The rest are consigned to the regular school system.

In 2018 there were 163 grammar schools in England. Out of a total of more than 3,000 secondary schools, you can imagine how fierce the competition to get into one is. That being the case, you will want to give your child the best possible chance of making the grade. This article will help by clarifying what exactly a grammar school test is.

Selective schools

You may have heard the phrase “selective schools”. Grammar schools fall into this category. The reason grammar schools are often referred to as selective schools is because, as I said earlier, they get to select or choose which pupils they accept.

This is meant to be based on ability. That’s where the selective tests come in. They are designed to test for intelligence rather than knowledge. However, parents can hire private tutors to coach their child for the entrance tests (the 11+, eleven plus, or 11-plus). This often means that brighter children from poorer backgrounds fare worse in the exam than less gifted children from richer ones.

Sadly, this is the way of the world. So to give your child the best chance it would be wise to find out as much about the tests as you can, and to coach them on the sorts of question they will face.

The eleven plus exam

The usual test for entrance to a grammar schools is the eleven plus. Unlike most other exams, the eleven plus is taken at the beginning rather than the end of the school year. Children in year 6 (if their parents have applied to enrol in a grammar school in year 7) take the test in September. There is no “pass” or “fail”. Instead children are marked on how well they did and the ones who perform best are the ones that are accepted. For example, if there are 20 places available at a grammar school, the top 20 scores will be the ones that qualify. A child who scores 95% but is the 21st highest scorer will miss out.

There is no “standard” 11+ test. The exam varies throughout the country. However, as a rule, it will consist of two or more sections taken from the following list: maths, English, verbal reasoning, and non-verbal reasoning.

Grammar schools select children on intelligence

Now, I said earlier that academic ability is not counted in the selection tests. They are a measure of intelligence rather than of learning. That’s where the two “reasoning” sections come in. Non-verbal reasoning is similar to the IQ tests you may have seen conducted by MENSA. The questions are in the form of pictures and they test skills such as spatial awareness or the ability to spot patterns. Verbal reasoning is similar, though the questions are posed in words. These are a test of logic and, as their name suggests, reasoning.

Maths and English are the only parts of the 11+ exam which are taught in schools. The reason they are included in the test is not to check academic knowledge. It is to test a child’s ability to learn. To understand the verbal reasoning questions a good grasp of English is required. Similarly, to do well in the non-verbal reasoning (and also but to a lesser extent, the verbal reasoning one) being skilled in maths will help.

The history of the grammar school system

Very old grammar school

The first grammar schools appeared in England in the 16th century. In fact, the oldest (Bridgnorth Grammar School) is still around today, though it is now an academy. But these original grammar schools share little other than their names with the modern ones.

Grammar schools as we know them began with the 1944 Education Act imposed in the final year of Churchill’s war ministry. The act split children into two separate classes who would attend two very different types of school. Grammar schools were for “the brightest” and concentrated on academic studies to prepare their students for university. Those less fortunate were sent to secondary moderns which focussed more on preparing children for manual jobs.

The post war Labour government opposed this idea, believing that it reinforced the division between the wealthy and the rest. That being the case, the phasing out of grammar schools began soon after their introduction. Comprehensive schools, which included children from all backgrounds, and aimed to get the best from each of them, started to replace the two other models.

Though it began in the 1940s, the eradication of grammar schools is not yet complete. Local authorities run by Conservative councils have been slow to make the changes. That’s why grammar schools are much more common in certain areas of the country. The vast majority are found in the wealthier south and east of England.

The School Standards and Framework Act of 1998 forbade the creation of any new selective schools. Even so, old selective grammar schools still linger on. So, if you live in an area served by a grammar school it would be beneficial to your child to attend. Because they accept only certain pupils, grammar schools do tend to outperform comprehensives in exam results.

The future for grammar schools

The future of grammar schools may well be limited. In 2018 a report by Durham University advised the government to remove grammar schools from the state system. The study, which looked at more than half a million pupils, found that selecting children on their ability at such a young age had a detrimental effect on disadvantaged children and damaged social cohesion.

Despite this the current Conservative government has no plans to phase out grammar schools. So, for the time being at least, they remain a part of our education system. That being the case, those of us who can take advantage of them would be well advised to do so.

So, now you know about the grammar school entrance exam, but there is a good deal more to learn about education. You’ll find answers to your education questions in our Knowledge Bank. We have scores of articles packed full of useful information for parents. We also have tips and advice on other aspects of parenting, like keeping children active or ensuring they are safe online. Take a look and see what you can find out today!

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