The eleven plus examination was devised to select candidates for grammar schools. In 1906 more places were offered to children in secondary schools. After 1944 it was decided to have different types of schools – and hence the need for selection.
When the supply of places in the more favoured educational establishments exceeded the demands of the candidates, then a selection device was needed.
The examination system has grown and grown – from `O’ level examinations – which changed into the more favoured GCSEs. `A’ levels and the International Baccalaureate (I.B.) are used, in part, for selection for places in university and colleges. Along the way we have had Key Stage 1 and 2 SATs examinations – and we used to have Key Stage 3 SATs. In among this huge logistical exercise we have children trying to win places in private and grammar schools. The Common Entrance, for example, is a highly competitive examination at the age of thirteen.
At the top end of the secondary school teachers try as hard as possible to help their children to earn good grades – this allowing, in some cases, entry to favoured seats of higher learning. But sixth form courses are not intended to be `preparation for degree courses’. Indeed if one day some minister decided to abolish the GCSE, the sixth form would need to bear the brunt of children being challenged by a number of subjects – as in the I.B.
A large number of primary teachers feel that KS2 SATs tests should not be used to test the width and balance of a school – and some teachers also feel that a system of grading of schools should be abandoned because league tables simply can not sum up the whole ethos and spirit of schools. Personalised learning and continuous assessment are the present `buzz words’.
In eleven plus terms there is a real justification for keeping the examination. Quite simply the eleven plus provides motivation for learning and encourages competition.
There must be always be some objections to an examination system that is inseparable from being competitive. One strong point is nearly always made – that competition is not good for children of primary school age.
The goal of winning a place in a grammar school cannot be transferred to a child who wants a place in a comprehensive school. The child who is set on a comprehensive will need to work equally as hard as a child aspiring towards grammar – but the emphasis and the syllabus will need to be different.
Until a better system is found the eleven plus remains the best method of ensuring the right children have the chance of a grammar school education. Naturally are some children who miss out a place completely unfairly. Until teachers are involved in selection and a system of continuous assessment is introduced, the eleven plus will need to stay in its present state.