|Purpose||Determining admission to selective secondary schools.|
|Offered||To Year 6 school pupils|
|Restrictions on attempts||Single attempt|
|Countries / regions||Parts of the United Kingdom|
|Scores / grades used by||Selective secondary schools|
The eleven-plus (11-plus) is an examination administered to some students in England and Northern Ireland in their last year of primary education, which governs admission to grammar schools and other secondary schools which use academic selection. The name derives from the age group for secondary entry: 11–12 years. The eleven-plus was once used throughout England and Wales but is now only used in counties and boroughs in England that offer selective schools instead of comprehensive schools. Also known as the transfer test, it is especially associated with the Tripartite System which was in use from 1944 until it by 1976 had been phased out all over the UK.
The examination tests a student's ability to solve problems using a test of verbal reasoning and non verbal reasoning, with most tests now also offering papers in mathematics and english. The intention was that the eleven-plus should be a general test for intelligence similar to an IQ test, but with the addition of testing for taught curriculum skills the test now measures aptitude for school work.
Introduced in 1944, the examination was used to determine which type of school the student should attend after primary education: a grammar school, a secondary modern school, or a technical school. The base of the Tripartite System was the idea that skills were more important than financial resources in determining what kind of schooling a child should receive: different skills required different schooling.
Within the Tripartite System
The eleven-plus was created by the 1944 Butler Education Act. This established a Tripartite System of education, with an academic, a technical and a functional strand. Prevailing educational thought at the time was that testing was an effective way to discover to which strand a child was most suited. The results of the exam would be used to match children's secondary schools to their abilities and future career needs.
When the system was implemented, technical schools were not available on the scale envisaged. Instead, the Tripartite System came to be characterised by fierce competition for places at the prestigious grammar schools. As such, the eleven-plus took on a particular significance. Rather than allocating according to need or ability, it became seen as a question of passing or failing. This led to the exam becoming widely resented by some although strongly supported by others.
The structure of the eleven-plus varied over time, and among the different counties which used it. Usually, it consisted of three papers:
- Arithmetic – A mental arithmetic test.
- Writing – An essay question on a general subject.
- General Problem Solving – A test of general knowledge, assessing the ability to apply logic to simple problems.
Some exams have:
Most children took the eleven-plus in their final year of primary school: usually at age 10 or 11. In Berkshire and Buckinghamshire it was also possible to sit the test a year early – a process named the ten-plus; later, the Buckinghamshire test was called the twelve-plus and taken a year later than usual.
In Northern Ireland, pupils were awarded grades in the following ratios to pupils sitting the exam: A (25%), B1 (5%), B2 (5%), C1 (5%), C2 (5%), D (55%) and there was no official distinction between pass grades and fail grades.
There are 164 remaining grammar schools in various parts of England, and 69 in Northern Ireland. In counties in which vestiges of the Tripartite System still survive, the eleven-plus continues to exist. Today it is generally used as an entrance test to a specific group of schools, rather than a blanket exam for all pupils, and is taken voluntarily. For more information on these, see the main article on grammar schools.
Eleven-plus and similar exams vary around the country but will use some or all of the following components:
Eleven-plus tests take place in September of children's final primary school year with results provided to parents in October to allow application for secondary schools. In Lincolnshire children will sit the Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning. In Buckinghamshire children sit tests in Verbal Reasoning, Mathematics and Non-Verbal reasoning. In Kent, where the eleven-plus test is more commonly known as the Kent Test, children sit all four of the above disciplines; however the English paper will only be used in circumstances of appeal. In the London Borough of Bexley from September 2008, following a public consultation, pupils sitting the Eleven-Plus exam are only required to do a Mathematics and Verbal Reasoning paper. In Essex, where the examination is optional, children sit Verbal Reasoning, Mathematics and English. Other areas use different combinations. Some authorities/areas operate an opt-in system, while others (such as Buckinghamshire) operate an opt-out system where all pupils are entered unless parents decide to opt out. In the North Yorkshire, Harrogate/York area, children are only required to sit two tests: Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning.
England has 164 grammar schools, 85% of which are academies at liberty to set their own individual admissions criteria including the type of entrance tests they set and what weighting is given to each one. Schools frequently form consortia to set a common test or get the local authority to administer it but despite this there might be about 70 different 11+ tests set each year across the country  meaning it’s no longer possible to talk about the eleven plus test as a single entity.
The actual marks from these tests, referred to as raw marks, are never disclosed, instead parents are given Standard Age Scores (SAS). A standard score shows how well the individual has performed relative to the mean (average) score for the population although the term population is open to interpretation. GL Assessment who set the majority of 11+ tests say it should be, “a very large, representative sample of students usually across the UK”  however grammar schools chose to standardise their tests against just those children who apply to them in a given year as this enables them to match supply to demand.
Test results follow a normal distribution resulting in the familiar bell curve which reliably predicts how many test takers gain each different score. For example, only 15.866% score more than one standard deviation above the mean (+1σ generally represented as 115 SAS) as can be seen by adding up the proportions in this graph based on the original provided by M. W. Toews).
By standardising on just the cohort of applicants, a school with for example, 100 places which regularly gets 800 applications can set a minimum pass mark of 115 which selects approximately 127 applicants filling all of the places and leaving about 27 on the waiting list. The downside of this local standardisation, as it has been called, is parents are frequently unaware that their children are being judged as much by the standard of other applicants as their own abilities. This has led to criticism from some quarters such as this five minute animation on the subject of the 11+ test.
Another issue with the lack of national standards in testing is it prevents any comparison between schools. Public perception may be that only pupils who are of grammar school standard are admitted to grammar schools however other information such as the DfE league tables calls into question the existence of any such standard. Competition for places at Sutton Grammar School is extremely fierce with, according to an online forum over 2,500 applicants in 2016. Official statistics show 100% of those admitted to Sutton Grammar School have, “high prior attainment at the end of key stage 2”, compared to only 44% of those who attend Skegness Grammar School. The Grammar Schools Heads Association’s Spring 2017 newsletter says the government are considering a national selection test which would remove the lack of consistency between different 11+ tests.
Between them, GL and CEM earn an estimated £2.5m annually  from setting and marking the 11+ tests. Releasing the raw marks would bring some clarity to the admissions process but attempts to do so have generally been unsuccessful. GL have used the fact that they are not covered by Freedom of Information legislation to withhold information, whilst their main rival CEM successfully argued in court  that, “one of the benefits of its 11+ testing is that it is ‘tutor proof'” and releasing the raw marks would undermine this unique selling point.
When a standard score is calculated the results is a negative value for any values below the mean. As it would seem very strange to be given a negative score Goldstein and Fogelman (1974) explain, “It’s common to ‘normalise’ the scores by transforming them to give a distribution with a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15” . Thus a normalised SAS of 100 indicates the mean (average) achievement whilst a score of 130 would be two standard deviations above the mean. A score achieved by only 2.2% of the population. Most, but not all, authorities normalise follow this convention. The following table showing the normalisation values used by some for 2017 entry (tests taken in 2016).
|Dover Grammar School for Boys||100||15|
|Henrietta Barnett School||100||15|
|The Latymer School||100||15|
|Torbay and Devon Consortium||100||15|
|West Midland Boys||100||15|
|West Midland Girls||100||15|
|Dame Alice Owen||106||15|
|South West Herts||106||15|
|King Edwards Consortium||200||30|
|Wirral Borough Council||234||15|
The system in Northern Ireland differed from that in England. The last eleven-plus was held in November 2008. A provision in the Education Order (NI) 1997 states that "the Department may issue and revise guidance as it thinks appropriate for admission of pupils to grant-aided schools". Citing this on 21 January 2008, Northern Ireland's Education Minister Caitríona Ruane passed new guidelines regarding post-primary progression as regulation rather than as legislation. This avoided the need for the proposals to be passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly, where cross-party support for the changes did not exist. Some schools, parents and political parties object to the new legal framework. As a result, many post-primary schools are setting their own entrance examinations.
The eleven-plus was a result of the major changes which took place in English and Welsh education in the years up to 1944. In particular, the Hadow report of 1926 called for the division of primary and secondary education to take place on the cusp of adolescence at 11 or 12. The implementation of this break by the Butler Act seemed to offer an ideal opportunity to implement streaming, since all children would be changing school anyway. Thus testing at eleven emerged largely as an historical accident, without other specific reasons for testing at that age.
Criticism of the eleven-plus arose on a number of grounds, though many related more to the wider education system than to academic selection generally or the eleven-plus specifically. The proportions of schoolchildren gaining a place at a grammar school varied by location and gender. 35% of pupils in the South West secured grammar school places as opposed to 10% in Nottinghamshire. Because of the continuance of single-sex schooling, there were fewer places for girls than boys.
Critics of the eleven-plus also claimed that there was a strong class bias in the exam. JWB Douglas, studying the question in 1957, found that children on the borderline of passing were more likely to get grammar school places if they came from middle-class families. For example, questions about the role of household servants or classical composers were far easier for middle-class children to answer than for those from less wealthy or less educated backgrounds. In response, the eleven-plus was redesigned during the 1960s to be more like an IQ test. However, even after this modification, grammar schools were largely attended by middle-class children while secondary modern schools were attended by mostly working-class children.
Passing – or not passing – the eleven-plus was a "defining moment in many lives", with education viewed as "the silver bullet for enhanced social mobility." Richard Hoggart claimed in 1961 that "what happens in thousands of homes is that the eleven-plus examination is identified in the minds of parents, not with 'our Jimmy is a clever lad and he's going to have his talents trained', but 'our Jimmy is going to move into another class, he's going to get a white-collar job' or something like that."
- Fletcher, Tony (1998). Dear Boy: The Life of Keith Moon. Omnibus Press. pp. 9, 11. ISBN 978-1-84449-807-9.
- "Transfer Procedure – Department of Education, Northern Ireland". Deni.gov.uk. Retrieved 17 October 2009.
- The Education (Grammar School Ballots) Regulations 1998, Statutory Instrument 1998 No. 2876, UK Parliament.
- "Kent Test Guidance". How2Become.
- CEM set tests for 28 different LAs, consortia and individual schools and claim to have 40% of the market. Extrapolating would suggest there are approx. 70 different sets of tests in total.
- GL Assessment A short guide to standardised tests. 2013 GL Assessment Limited.
- Data source: England_ks4final.csv. Field 39, PTPRIORHI shows the Percentage of pupils at the end of key stage 4 with high prior attainment at the end of key stage 2.
- The online forum www.elevenplusexams.co.uk try to provide as much information as possible about the tests and include the following page on Surrey schools https://www.elevenplusexams.co.uk/schools/regions/surrey-11-plus
- The Grammar Schools Heads Association’s website went offline in early July 2017 but a copy of their Spring newsletter is still available from Schools Week’s website http://schoolsweek.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/GSHA_Newsletter_SPRING_2017.pdf
- Coombs v Information Commissioner, EA/2015/0226, 22 April 2016, page 11. CEM told the Information Commissioner they earn £1m from 40% of the market making £2.5m a reasonable estimate for 100% of the market.
- ] Freedom of Information request made for information relating to the 11+ exams used by Altrincham Grammar School for Boys, who stated, “Our examination provider, GL Assessment Limited (GL) is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOI) as it is not a public body.“
- Coombs v Information Commissioner (ibid) page 5.
- Goldstein H and Fogelman K, 1974, Age standardisation and seasonal effects in mental testing. Downloaded from http://www.bristol.ac.uk/media-library/sites/cmm/migrated/documents/age-standardisation-and-seasonal-effects.pdf
- Released by CEM into the public domain 26 June 2017, https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/cem_11_test_results_2014_2016
- "Future uncertain as 11-plus ends". BBC News Online. 21 November 2008. Retrieved 27 June 2009.
- Anne Murray (3 February 2009). "Ruane urged to publish legal advice on transfer plans – Education, News". Belfasttelegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 17 October 2009.
- "The tricky path from peace to harmony". Public Service. 21 January 2008. Archived from the original on 22 July 2011. Retrieved 17 October 2009.
- Szreter, S. Lecture, University of Cambridge, Lent Term 2004
- Sampson, A. Anatomy of Britain Today, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1965, p195
- Hart, R.A., Moro M., Roberts J.E., ‘Date of birth, family background, and the Eleven-Plus exam: short- and long-term consequences of the 1944 secondary education reforms in England and Wales’, Stirling Economics Discussion Paper 2012-10 May 2012 pp. 6 to 25. http://www.management.stir.ac.uk/research/economics/working-papers
- Sumner, C., ‘1945 – 1965: The Long Road to Circular 10/65’, Reflecting Education, Vol. 6, No. 1, April 2010, p.97. http://reflectingeducation.net
- Sampson, A., Anatomy of Britain Today, Hodder and Stoughton, 1965, pp.194–195
- Kynaston, D., Modernity Britain: A Shake of the Dice 1959-62, Bloomsbury, 2014, pp.179–182
- Kynaston, p.192
- Taylor, Matthew (28 July 2005). "Teaching union calls for return of 11-plus". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 October 2009.
- Beckett, Francis (15 October 2002). "Not so special after all". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 October 2009.
- Baker, Mike (15 February 2003). "What future for grammar schools?". BBC News. Retrieved 17 October 2009.
- "School admissions 'socially divisive'". BBC News. 31 January 2003. Retrieved 17 October 2009.
- "State schools 'failing brightest pupils'". The Guardian. 23 May 2005. Retrieved 17 October 2009.